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Tampa Bay won't conduct its first mandatory mini-camp under new head coach Raheem Morris until next week. The practices will be held at One Buc Place on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, but are closed to the public.
Not to worry – PewterReport.com will be in attendance and will bring you practice analysis, notes and observations from each practice.
But you don't have to wait until next week to get an idea of what type of system new offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski is in the process of implementing or what some of the players' goals are heading into the 2009 season.
We'll have more coverage next week, but PewterReport.com caught up with second-year quarterback Josh Johnson and center Jeff Faine earlier this week as both players participated in voluntary workouts.
Johnson and Faine are entering their second seasons with the Bucs, but they obviously play different positions and are at different points in their NFL careers.
For Johnson, who entered the NFL as a 2008 fifth-round draft pick out of San Diego, he appears to be fighting an uphill battle. Johnson spent his rookie season learning Jon Gruden's playbook. But with Gruden gone and Jagodzinski installing a new offense, Johnson could be the odd man out if the Bucs do indeed add a fourth quarterback as planned, right?
Not so fast.
"To be honest, I don't feel like I'm starting over because playing in the offense last year it was obviously the hardest offense in the NFL," said Johnson. "The transition so far has been a smooth one for Luke [McCown] and I. We've been picking it up well in meetings and I'm pretty sure Coach Jagodzinski has been impressed with the way we've been operating. We were just out there today going over what we'll be doing in the mini-camp. Everybody understands what is going on."
The Bucs kept four quarterbacks on their active roster last year in an effort to allow Johnson to learn Tampa Bay's complex playbook. While he was well versed in the West Coast-style of offense from his playing days at San Diego, Johnson played at the Div. I-AA level, so the transition from college to the NFL was a difficult one at first.
The good news for Johnson and his fellow offensive teammates is going from Gruden's system to Jagodzinski's seems to be like going from Calculus to Algebra.
"All offenses are quarterback-friendly to me. It's just a matter of how much preparation you put in to understand it," said Johnson. "When I first got here last year the veterans told me, ‘This is probably going to be the hardest offense you'll ever learn.' I took that into consideration and mindset, and that's why I worked as hard as I did to learn it.
"The terminology is a little different [in Jagodzinski's offense compared to Gruden's], but it's easier to pick up on. It's not as wordy. This offense puts guys in position to make plays. That's what I like. I feel like this offense will work for a number of our players. Next week I feel like we should be able to hit the ground running. I feel like we're picking up the offense well."
Faine, who became the highest-paid center in the NFL in 2008 with a six-year, $37.5 million contract, agrees with Johnson's assessment of the new offense, especially since the quarterbacks, Johnson included, will be taking some weight off his shoulders.
In Gruden's system, the centers were required to make line calls and blitz reads at the line of scrimmage. Those responsibilities will eventually be the quarterbacks' in Jagodzinski's offense, but Faine is helping the QBs with the transition.
"Eventually, I think it will take some off my shoulders," Faine said of the new offense. "Right now it's not because everybody is learning and I'm trying to help in the process with the quarterbacks and what not. They're being required to do a little more than they are used to in terms of calling the protections and some of the pre-snap calls and recognition. From a play call standpoint, the verbiage in the huddle is a lot less. We're talking about using probably a third of what we used last year.
"In some ways it's good and in some ways it's bad. Guys will have to remember a lot more from a standpoint of you're using key words to get an entire play across. With Coach Gruden you're telling the whole play. It will get us in and out of the huddle quicker, but you'll have to depend on guys to know exactly what is going on."
While there are a few West Coast concepts in Jagodzinski's system that are familiar to Johnson, Faine and the rest of Tampa Bay's offensive line will be required to zone block, which is not something they did under Gruden and former offensive line coach Bill Muir.
That means there will be a heavy emphasis on running the football. The offense is designed to keep the chains moving and score touchdowns, but Faine cautions that it might not be the most exciting offense to watch.
"The back gets one cut and gets up the field four or five yards, and then four or five yards to set up third-and-short," said Faine. "You have to stay on pace in this offense. It's not one where you can make up a ton of ground after giving up a sack or a penalty. You have to stay on pace. It's a slow and steady offense. It's not too exciting, I guess, but it's effective. I'm excited about it. With the offensive line up front, we can take over a game and really take advantage of some of the things the defenses give us."
But don't suggest Tampa Bay's offensive line, which had a bit of a nasty streak to it last year, will be finesse in nature. That simply will not be the case, according to Faine.
"It all depends on the runs," Faine said when asked how the Bucs will attack the run in the zone scheme. "It depends on inside runs and outside runs. With the outside runs you're going to try to get guys moving a little more laterally to try to get the holes open more. With the inside runs you're trying to get more pressure up field.
"It's not a finesse offense by any means. When you start talking about moving guys laterally some will say it's a finesse offense, but that's not what this is. I think Coach Jags and [offensive line coach] Pete [Mangurian] would take offense to that. You're still trying to get guys up the field and move guys, but you're also using things they do against themselves."
Faine, who at one time played between 315-318 pounds in New Orleans, currently weighs 288, which is down five pounds from his playing weight last year.
However, he said he and his line mates have not been required by Mangurian to lose or gain weight for the new zone-blocking scheme.
Mangurian has, however, worked closely with Faine and is emphasizing "the little things," including discipline.
"It's pretty good," Faine said of working with Mangurian. "He's been around quite some time and we're working to build a relationship. He feels it is important to have a good relationship between the center and offensive line coach, and I agree. It's something that is going to take this position some time to adjust. For some of these guys all they knew was Bill [Muir]. Fortunately, I've been in quite a few systems and been with quite a few O-line coaches, so I know the deal. For me personally, it's not going to be a big deal, but for some of the other guys it's going to take some getting used to and some adjusting.
"[Mangurian] loves focusing in on the little things. Footwork, the mental focus, jumping offsides, just things like that. Jumping offsides has been a little bit of a problem for us in the past. Early on when you're learning new plays you tend to lose some focus, and that's happened over the past week or so. He's harped on that and focused on that because it's something that can kill you, especially in this offense. It's three or four yards and a cloud of dust in this offense on every play, so you can't afford to put yourself five yards back. That's something that is very important."
The new offense likely will establish its identity as a run-first team with Earnest Graham, Derrick Ward and Co. But there will be plenty of opportunities to pass the football, especially off play-action.
"I'm pretty sure we are going to use some bootlegs and waggles," said Johnson. "The fact that we're working more out of a zone scheme now will help set up some of those plays as well, kind of like Denver did under Mike Shanahan. The fact that Luke and I are very athletic quarterbacks should be taken into consideration as well. We really haven't gotten into that part yet, but I'm pretty sure we're going to focus in on that a lot.
"I can't wait to see [the vertical element]. Just throwing to [tight end] Kellen [Winslow] one time, you saw the speed there. Just seeing what Jerramy [Stevens] and Antonio [Bryant] did last year with a lot of big plays, and Mike [Clayton] can get the down the field also. We got a lot of guys who weren't playing last year who can get up and down the field, so I feel like we can stretch the field this year. We'll see what happens when we start, but I'm real excited to get going to see where we end up with it."
Johnson is accustomed to throwing the football. He did it quite well at San Diego, especially in his senior season when he completed 68.4 percent of his 301 passes for 43 touchdowns and just one interception.
Although he has a slim frame that needs more bulk, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Johnson has a cannon for an arm.
"I feel like I can make every throw," said Johnson. "The thing about the NFL is being consistent with it all the time, and I have gotten a lot better with it. In the game you don't throw as much as you do in practice. For me practice is where you are getting evaluated, especially until the preseason starts. Getting more consistent is what every coach has preached to me, and to avoid getting lazy. Sometimes you have a tendency to get lazy (with consistency), and that is when everything breaks down. I've gotten a lot better with that. I continue to progress with that every year. That is what I work on now is staying consistent."
If Johnson sounds like a confident player, he is, and much of his confidence was built during his rookie season, where he had the opportunity to groom behind veterans Jeff Garcia, McCown and Brian Griese.
"A whole lot," Johnson said when asked how much he had developed since his rookie year. "I tell people all the time that I respect what [Atlanta QB] Matt Ryan and [Baltimore QB] Joe Flacco did last year, not only learning the playbook, but also understanding defensive schemes and being a leader of a football team. It's a lot. As a rookie it's a lot. It takes a lot of hard work and preparation. That's the way I've been training. You have to sacrifice, and that's what kept me motivated all last year when I knew I wasn't going to play. I knew what I was working for. I was working for this offseason, which is a big one for me."
Injuries had a negative impact on Tampa Bay's quarterback position, particularly for Garcia and Griese. But those injuries afforded Johnson some increased work on scout team in practice from the second half of the season on.
"I got a lot of reps in practice," said Johnson. "That was especially true when the injuries occurred. When Brian went down I was basically the scout team quarterback. I got a lot of work last year because I got to see take what I was seeing on film from other teams and translate it with our defense. That was good work for me."
Garcia was allowed to walk in free agency, but McCown was re-signed to a two-year, $7.5 million contract before free agency began. Griese, who has not been working with Johnson and McCown during voluntary workouts at One Buc Place, has started 83 games during his career, whereas McCown and Johnson have combined for seven starts.
But the competition is wide open at quarterback, and Johnson considers himself in the mix for Tampa Bay's starting job.
"From a playbook standpoint we are on equal footing now," said Johnson. "Those guys have been in the league a lot longer obviously, and I still have a lot to learn, but I've learned enough to where I can compete now. Being on the field, it's kind about going out there and playing as opposed to last year when I was thinking so much. They do have six or seven years on me, but I feel like I've prepared and learned enough in the past year to go out and compete to the best of my ability and try and win the starting job."
Faine has witnessed Johnson's maturation process firsthand. He said Johnson has come a long way since he first arrived at One Buc Place last May.
"I'm impressed with Josh's growth from when he first got here," said Faine. "When he first got here he was hesitant to say the snap count, and now he's taking good control of the offense. From what I've seen so far he's definitely grown a little bit and definitely has matured."
At just 27 (he will turn 28 next month), Faine is the oldest player on Tampa Bay's offensive line, and he's been impressed with what he's seen from his line mates, especially 2008 third-round pick Jeremy Zuttah and James Lee, who originally entered the league as an undrafted free agent with Cleveland before joining Tampa Bay's active roster last year.
"He's a very athletic guy, great feet and great attitude," Faine said of Lee. "That's the thing about the offensive line, across the board there isn't a [jerk], but we all are [jerks]. You know what I'm saying? There's not a sore thumb in the group. That's something I love about our group, and James Lee definitely fits that mold. He's extremely athletic, moves his feet well and works hard. I have nothing negative to say about him other than the fact that he's green. In my opinion, an offensive lineman doesn't reach his true potential until about three or four years into their career. It's tough. Give these guys credit because a lot of them have started from the first day here, and they're still not at that three-year period yet. I think they have stepped up tremendously, and I see our whole group, including Lee, just getting better.
"I thought Zuttah came in and did some great things last year. He's still green, too. I'm expecting some great things from him this year. He's been working hard this offseason. I told him he's been working a little too hard. He's over there throwing weights around like they're nothing. A lot of us are just getting back into it. I told him, ‘You've got to understand that it's a grind. You just got done with your rookie season, so take a little time off.' It seems like he hit the weights as soon as our season ended. It's a good thing, though. That's a good attitude to have, especially for a young guy working hard. He wants to get onto the field, and he's going to compete to do that."
Faine and Johnson are looking forward to working with all of their teammates in the team's mandatory mini-camp next week. What can people expect from Tampa Bay's first mini-camp under Morris and the team's new coordinators?
"Next week will be a learning mini-camp," said Faine. "I expect the second mini-camp [in June] to be quite high-tempo. It's going to be really high-tempo this time because no one really knows anything yet. You can say you know the plays, but once you get out there and the defenses start moving around someone could get hurt out there. Coach Morris hasn't said that is what it will be, but that would make sense to me for it to just be a learning mini-camp so we can continue to work through the system. That way, when we come back for the second mini-camp we can really fly around like we want to."