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The Buccaneers held their first night training camp practice in years on Thursday at Disney's Wide World of Sports. The night practice made for much cooler conditions than what the team is normally used to with their day practices. In temperatures under 80, the Bucs practiced in jerseys, shorts, and helmets.
There were some familiar faces in attendance watching the practice in retired players and former Buccaneers Mike Alstott and Warren Sapp. Both players spent practice mingling with the former teammates and coaches.
There was a number change made on the Bucs roster as wide receiver Brian Clark went from 18 to 87. Sitting out the practice was quarterback Jeff Garcia (calf), fullback B.J. Askew (ankle), cornerback Sammy Davis (hip), Ben Troupe (undisclosed), running back Kenneth Darby (undisclosed), and wide receiver Joey Galloway (groin). After warming up, the players were led in stretching by team captains Ronde Barber, Derrick Brooks, Chris Hovan, and Davin Joseph. After stretching the position groups split off to begin their workouts.
Once again, Davis missed practice with a hip flexor strain. That's a real tough injury for a cornerback to recover from due to the fact that corners have to turn their hips and run with receivers and do so much backpedaling down in and down out. With the solid play of reserves like veteran Eugene Wilson and rookie Elbert Mack in camp this year, Davis needs to recover from this injury in a hurry if he wants to make the team.
This Buccaneers team is in very good shape thanks to a rigorous offseason workout program. The only player who could really stand to be in better shape is rookie defensive tackle Dre Moore and he is making some good progress.
Perhaps the fact that the team is in such good shape is the reason why this is one of the easiest Buccaneers training camps Pewter Report has seen in our 20 years of camp coverage. But no pads for a night practice? Come on. Night practices are perfect occasions to don the pads.
Actually, not having contact 48 hours prior to a preseason game is a smart idea. Perhaps the Bucs should have had a padded night practice earlier in the week instead.
As the receivers and tight ends worked out there were poorly dropped passes from tight end Jerramy Stevens and wide receiver Michael Clayton. Both have been sure-handed throughout training camp. Clayton made up for his drop later with a couple of excellent catches.
While much of the practice was a walk-through, the Bucs coaches were not tolerating any slow down in the tempo in and out of the huddle or moving from drill to drill.
"Pick up the tempo Cortez," yelled Gruden.
During the individual practice period, the secondary worked on hitting the 7-man blocking sled one by one. The defensive backs were hitting the outside of the sled and then using a rip technique as they charged past the sled. This was to simulate shedding a blocker and then coming free on a blitz.
Defensive backs coach Raheem Morris was working on blitzing during Thursday night's practice. Morris spent time working with the safeties first, then the cornerbacks, and was going over teaching points about knowing which gap to shoot through on the blitz.
"Come off the edge hard," Morris said. "Don't go slow. Don't think – just react."
After the blitz period, Morris had his defensive backs work on tracking deep balls into the end zone. Veteran cornerback Ronde Barber was up first and he made a great pick in the back middle part of the end zone near the waist-high mesh fencing that borders the practice field. His momentum carried him into the fencing where he grabbed Pewter Report's Scott Reynolds by the shoulders in a surprise bear hug.
"Man, I wish I was in pads tonight," Barber said with a big grin. "I would've taken you out, Scott."
On the last rep, Mack, who has had two interceptions in the team portion of training camp this summer, made a diving pick in the back of the end zone that drew applause from his teammates and the fans in attendance.
As the players went over plays, the Bucs played at about half speed and walked-through the setting up of plays. There were two plays that stood out to look as if they would produce big yardage. One was an effective receiver screen to rookie Dexter Jackson. There was plenty of running room as the blocks were made and Jackson got downfield. The other play was a deep pass down the right sideline from quarterback Brian Griese to tight end Alex Smith. The defense was caught in a blown coverage and Smith had nothing but open field in front of him.
During the goal line reps, defensive end Kevin Carter once again played some tight end when the Bucs went into a three tight end personnel group. Carter has been seen playing tight end at least once a week since camp has started. So far, he's only been used in a blocking capacity, but the veteran has said that he would love the opportunity to catch a pass for a touchdown. Time will tell if Carter gets his wish.
One of the main reasons why Gruden wanted to have a night practice was to have his return men field the ball under the lights considering the Bucs have four preseason games at night this year, in addition to three regular season night contests. Tampa Bay spent about 10 minutes of practice working on its return game once the sun had set with rookies Clifton Smith and Dexter Jackson fielding punts, in addition to Micheal Spurlock. All three return men successfully tracked the ball in the lights and made the catch when given the opportunity.
During the walk-through, Barber was talking with Alstott and general manager Bruce Allen. The walk-through was brief and the Bucs transitioned to doing some scout team work for the defense. The offensive scout team was giving the Bucs defense a preview of the Dolphins offense.
Here the offense is not trying to move the ball, but is solely focused on putting the ball in specific places to help the defense. The defense seemed prepared as they broke up many passes and got their hands on a few. Gruden and Sapp hugged and chatted throughout this session while Gruden waited for his turn.
Barber recorded the first pick on a pass from Josh Johnson that was essentially a jump ball down the deep middle of the field. Barber got position in front of wide receiver Chad Lucas, and the veteran defensive back caught the ball at the highest point.
The next play Barber could have recorded another interception but he dropped the ball. The pass from Johnson was intended for wide receiver Paris Warren. Johnson did complete a pass to tight end Daniel Fells against safeties Sabby Piscitelli and Will Allen. He also hooked up with Jackson against Jermaine Phillips. The best throw and catch for Johnson came on a pass with receiver Maurice Stovall who ran a slant downfield and was open against Piscitelli, Allen, and safety Donte Nicholson.
The Bucs did use have a few plays of three safeties. Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and Gruden have talked about incorporating some three safety sets into the defense, and the Bucs used some during Thursday nights practice.
Quarterback Chris Simms also was used in the scout team offense. Like Johnson, Simms was throwing passes to places for preparation purposes, and not with the intention of moving the ball downfield. Simms also had a number of passes broken up by the defense. Phillips almost made a one-handed interception but the pass fell to the ground. Safety Tanard Jackson dropped an interception from Simms in the front corner of the end zone as Jackson had stayed with running back Clifton Smith.
A great play that occurred in 11-on-11 was when safety Will Allen stepped in front of a Simms post pass intended for Lucas. Allen picked off the pass and dashed down the left sidelines for a 90-yard touchdown.
"Hey Will, go yard," Morris said, telling Allen to finish off the pick by taking it to the end zone.
There was one scary moment during practice when Wilson and safety Donte Nicholson ran into each other at full speed while trailing a pass intended for Maurice Stovall. The crowd gasped at the sound of Wilson and Nicholson colliding, which was frightening because the Bucs weren't in pads. Although both players were dazed, they did get up, appeared to be uninjured, and continued to see action during the rest of practice.
Simms did get some regular reps in the 11-on-11 two-minute drill. The offense started at the 20-yard line and had less than two minutes to move into field goal position. Simms did a decent job of moving the ball downfield. He made a quick throw to Lucas who got out of bound in front of cornerback Eugene Wilson. He hooked up again with Lucas in the middle of field on a slant, which prompted Simms to spike the ball.
The best play for Simms during the drive was a screen to running back Michael Bennett. The screen caught the defense by surprise and resulted in a big gain. Simms did make mistake on the following play as he held onto the ball too long and probably would have taken a sack from a blitzing Quincy Black.
During the scout team session for the defense, cornerback Aqib Talib made an excellent break up of a ball deep downfield. Lucas was in position for the catch with Talib sealed off behind Lucas. But the rookie quickly moved around Lucas and jumped in the air to bat the ball away. Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of Thursday night was that Talib was running as the first team nickel corner.
The two quarterbacks who went against the scout team defense were Luke McCown and Griese. McCown got the starting reps as he prepared to start Saturday night's contest. The young quarterback was on point in the practice and looks more than ready to go up against his brother Josh in Miami. The Bucs defense was giving McCown some of the 3-4 looks that he will see from the Dolphins.
McCown threw a perfect strike to Michael Clayton who ran a 20-yard out pass. Clayton had great hands and got both feet down. McCown also went downfield on a rollout and hooked up with Warren who was open in the end zone after getting by Marcus Hamilton. McCown under threw one pass that was ankle high, but wide receiver Antonio Bryant reached low and had awesome hands in holding onto the ball.
Of all the quarterbacks McCown clearly did the best job in the two-minute scrimmage. He threw quick outs to Stovall and Ike Hilliard. He also went in the middle of the field to Stovall who had got between Talib and Phillip Buchanon. McCown also benefitted from a great draw play to running back Earnest Graham, which got 20 yards. McCown killed the clock at the defense's 20-yard line.
Griese also received a great catch from Clayton who reached high and held onto a pass in front of Talib. Stovall was another target for Griese and they made a nice pass catch downfield in the middle of zone coverage against the scout team defense.
One of the more amazing plays that happened during the 11-on-11 session came when a quick slant from Griese bounced off Spurlock's hands and into the arms of Bennett, who was running a circle route out of the backfield. Bennett caught the ball in stride and took it straight up the middle. It was one of those bang-bang plays that happens in an instant.
In the two-minute drill, Griese did not do as good of a job with time management but did complete a number of passes. He connected with Clark for eight yards, but had an overthrow on second down. That caused the offense to run with Smith for a first down but that took a bunch of time off the clock.
Griese followed that with completions to Lucas, and Warren twice. Griese killed the clock and was inside the 40 when his turn was up.
At the conclusion of practice, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden called Sapp over from the sidelines and had the Bucs second all-time leading sacker address the team.
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