The Tampa Bay Buccaneers took to the fields at One Buc Place in the late-morning on Tuesday for the first practice of the team’s three-day mandatory mini-camp. The temperatures were in the 90s under partly cloudy skies.
A few Bucs players were not in attendance for the mini-camp. That group included quarterback Brian Griese, guard Arron Sears, and fullback B.J. Askew. A few injured Buccaneers were present but not practicing due to their respective ailments. Running back Cadillac Williams (knee), wide receiver Sammie Stroughter (hamstring), linebacker Matt McCoy (foot), defensive end Stylez G. White (road rash) were rehabbing injuries with the training staff.
White went off with strength coach Kurt Shultz to work out in the weight room, while Stroughter worked out with head trainer Todd Toriscelli on the field.
Defensive end Gaines Adams left practice a little early after rolling his foot, and defensive tackle Greg Peterson was inside rehabbing a knee injury.
Tampa Bay enjoyed the return of a few players that have not been at the recent organized team activities. That group included linebacker Barrett Ruud, left tackle Donald Penn, and running back Derrick Ward. The Bucs new running back looked noticeably smaller than he did earlier in the offseason. Ward appeared to lose some weight and looked less bulky. He was definitely smaller than fellow running back Earnest Graham.
The running backs continued to work on their zone reads by avoiding rolling balance balls and cutting between two levels of them. The quarterbacks, tight ends, and wide receivers worked on end zone routes starting from the 5-yard line.
Early in the practice, wide receiver Maurice Stovall had some dominating reps. Stovall made some acrobatic catches going up high for passes in the back of the end zone and getting both feet in bounds.
“That’s it Mo,” yelled assistant wide receivers coach Tim Berbenich.
“Good feet,” shouted receivers coach Richard Mann.
Head coach Raheem Morris and offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski both watched this session closely. The Bucs had tight end Kellen Winslow’s reps synched up to be from quarterback Luke McCown. Winslow and tight end Jerramy Stevens also made some nice, athletic end zone catches. Both players worked on routes coming from the inside close to the hashes and with wide splits like wide receivers.
After the end zone session, the entire team worked on ball security drills. The offense had three stations set up that forced players to practice holding on to the football while a variety of obstacles tried to force fumbles. One of the drills had a teammate trailing behind a ball carrier, and the teammate would randomly slap at the football.
Running backs coach Steve Logan ran the most entertaining drill, and the drill that worked the players out the hardest. A football was attached to a bungee cord that was anchored around a goal post. Three cones were split out with one on a diagonal to the right of the player, one to the left, and one straight ahead. The players would start to run out from the goal post and Logan would point them to go to a particular cone. The cord gave them great resistance and the players had to strain hard to be able to reach down and touch the cone that was only a few inches off the ground. After touching a cone they went back to the goal post and did three reps before giving the ball to the next player.
Morris and Jagodzinski encouraged and heckled the players. All of the offensive players rotated into this drill except for the offensive linemen. The running backs are more used to this drill and performed it well. Some of the quarterbacks, tight ends, and wide receivers had to struggle to fight through the drill.
The quarterbacks stood out the most as being the most unaccustomed to that drill. They were so supposed to start in a passing setup and then take off running like they were escaping the pocket. McCown started out the drill.
“Reset, Luke,” yelled Morris at McCown.
“He didn’t touch,” shouted Morris at Josh Johnson.
“Hell no, he’s got to reset,” yelled Morris at Byron Leftwich.
Of the quarterbacks, rookie Josh Freeman did the best followed closely by McCown. Leftwich was clearly the worst, and he fumbled the ball on his third rep, and the ball went flying back to the goal posts.
The tight ends and wide receivers showed better at that drill, and players with height and long frames had an advantage with longer reaches to touch the cones. Winslow pulled up short of the cones, and seemed somewhat hesitant.
“Come on, Kellen,” yelled Jagodzinski.
Winslow said after practice that he hurt former teammate Braylon Edwards in this drill when the ball sprung loose and flew into Edwards’ stomach. Winslow indicated that the cones were a bit too far out for him.
Of all the players on the team, Stovall may have looked the best with the speed that he ran through this drill. Stovall’s frame and power allowed him to rip through it, and he did the drill the fastest of any player. Cheers for Stovall followed him after finishing the drill, and his first time through caused Logan to applaud. Stovall’s second time through was not as good as he lost control of the ball and it went flying back to the goal posts. When ever that happened Logan would shout ‘fumble’ repeatedly.
Wide receivers Michael Clayton, Antonio Bryant, and Dexter Jackson all performed the drill well.
“Come on, pit bull,” shouted Morris at Bryant. “My bad. You nailed it, A.B.”
Not all of the receivers were as good. Some of the receivers were holding the ball low and away from their body as they reached for the cones. Wide receiver Amarri Jackson lost his footing on one rep and was rolling over sideways to the goal posts being pulled by the bungee cord.
“High and tight, men,” shouted Jagodzinski. “You’re straining your ass off for a touchdown. They’re trying to rip it out.”
Never in Pewter Report’s history of covering mini-camp or training camp practices have we seen the Buccaneers emphasize turnovers and ball security the way they did on Tuesday morning. The Bucs defense always starts off with ballhawking drills with the defensive backs working on intercepting passes and the defensive linemen working on fumble recoveries and forcing fumbles. The linebackers work on all three aspects of creating turnovers.
Although cornerback Ronde Barber has not been written about much during Pewter Report’s Inside OTA articles, he has physically adjusted well to the bump-and-run man coverage style that new defensive coordinator Jim Bates has installed. Barber appears quick and as fast as ever. The interesting thing about Barber is that even though he has not made many plays on the ball during the practices that have been open to the public, Barber hasn’t given up many plays, either. Quarterbacks have been throwing away from Barber as he has been simply erasing receivers.
During the secondary individual session, safeties Donte Nicholson, Tanard Jackson and Sabby Piscitelli all dropped interceptions and did push-ups off to the side.
Cornerback Kyle Arrington, who appeared to hurt his knee last Thursday in practice and had to be carted off, was running around just fine. He later revealed that he was suffering from dehydration and cramping rather than an actual injury.
During the linebackers individual period, Quincy Black, who is the leading candidate for the starting strongside linebacker job, was working out with the defensive linemen. Black is the starting left defensive end in the Bucs’ “Go” pass-rushing package and was getting quite a bit of work at end on Tuesday.
The linebackers spent their individual session working on leaping up and intercepting the ball at its highest point. It appeared as if Geno Hayes and Rod Wilson had the highest verticals, making some sensational catches in mid-air.
The linebackers also ran around a huge hula-hoop that was placed on the ground and “sacked” a tackling dummy and pounced on a ball that was on the ground to simulate recovering a fumble. In the blitz simulation drills, Adam Hayward showed great burst around the hoop and really stood out.
The defensive backs were working on taking the right angle and making solo tackles along the sidelines, while the defensive linemen were working on tipping passes at the line of scrimmage and then catching the ball for interceptions.
In a Buccaneer first, the units rotated to different stations and worked on those drills with different coaches. Linebackers coach Joe Barry worked with the defensive linemen, defensive backs coach Joe Baker worked with the linebackers and defensive line coaches Robert Nunn and Todd Wash worked with the defensive backs. It was quite comical watching defensive tackles Ryan Sims and Chris Hovan attempt to sky up for the ball at the interception station, but defensive end Gaines Adams was a natural at it.
Over and over again, Bates could be heard screaming, “Get the ball, secure it!”
Once the defensive linemen got to the defensive backs station, defensive end Louis Holmes showed great speed in pursuing the ballcarrier to the sidelines. Bates instructed the defensive linemen to rush the quarterback, change direction as the pass was thrown to the flat, and then come out high on the ballcarrier, using the sidelines to help make the tackle.
The players and coaches really seemed to enjoy the ball security-turnover stations and it was very energetic and fun to watch.
In the 7-on-7 session, taking the first team reps on offense included McCown, Ward, and fullback Jameel Cook. McCown had an efficient session with a lot of short completions. Winslow, Cook, and running back Clifton Smith caught a number of those passes.
One of McCown’s best throws was an intermediate strike to Winslow, who caught the pass in between Piscitelli and linebacker Jermaine Phillips.
Leftwich struggled with his accuracy. He had Winslow open on an intermediate route in the flat, but aired the ball high and out of bounds. Winslow had worked himself free from safety Donte Nicholson.
On another play for Bryant, Leftwich should have thrown an interception but safety Will Allen, who has had a great offseason, let the pass slip through his hands and into Bryant’s arms.
Later on in the final minutes of the 7-on-7, cornerback Torrie Cox tormented Leftwich, nearly picking him off on back-to-back plays. Leftwich underthrew a pass to Bryant in the right corner of the end zone and Cox went up and nearly intercepted it. Bryant jumped up in the air and physically broke up the pass to prevent the turnover.
On the next play, Cox read Leftwich, dove for a pass in the flat that was intended for Winslow and dropped an interception. Cox showed he paid attention to the instruction from Wash and Nunn earlier in practice by ripping the ball out of Stovall’s hands after a short catch.
That drew praise from Bates and chagrins from Berbenich and Mann who screamed, “Come on, Mo! Hold on to the ball!”
Ruud didn’t make any splash plays in his return to One Buccaneer Place and looked a little gassed towards the end of practice, but he didn’t make many mistakes, either, and it’s clear that he has learned the defensive playbook and was on top of his assignments.
One other notable occurred during a special teams period. Dexter Jackson, Clifton Smith and running back Kareem Huggins were fielding punts from a JUGGS machine and attempting to distract each at the same time. Smith had a hand towel and was waving it right in the faces of Jackson and Huggins. All three players did a good job of blocking out the distractions and catching the ball with Smith doing the best job.