This story is intended to be read by Pewter Insider subscribers only. Sharing of the PI content with non-subscribers of this service can result in cancellation of your subscription to the service and/or further actions by the publishers.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers took the practice fields at One Buccaneer Place early Wednesday morning. The Bucs conducted their second mandatory mini-camp workout earlier than originally scheduled after having Tuesday afternoon's practice session rained out.
Wednesday morning's practice featured the players in helmets, jerseys and shorts with temperatures in the high 80s under partly cloudy skies. This morning's practice started with warm-ups and stretching. From there, the position coaches met on different parts of the field with their respective players.
For the second straight day quarterback Brian Griese and guard Arron Sears were not in attendance. Sears' absence has been excused by the team as he deals with personal issues, but Griese's absence is not excused.
Running back Cadillac Williams (knee), wide receiver Sammie Stroughter (hamstring), fullback B.J. Askew (illness), linebacker Matt McCoy (calf), defensive lineman Greg Peterson (knee), defensive end Stylez G. White (motorcycle accident/shoulder) and DE Gaines Adams (foot) did not practice for the second straight day due to their respective ailments.
With Adams being held out Jimmy Wilkerson started at right defensive end and rookie Kyle Moore took Wilkerson's place as the starting left defensive end. Wilkerson left the practice early with what he deemed "tightness." Although he's not expected to return for Wednesday afternoon's session, Wilkerson said he'd be fine for training camp. After Wilkerson left practice taking his place in the ‘go-package' was starting defensive tackle Chris Hovan.
Another defensive end, Jarriett Buie, also left practice early, but not due to injury. Buie was having a good practice having teamed up with defensive tackle Rashaad Duncan to sack quarterback Byron Leftwich.
Towards the end of practice, Tampa Bay head coach Raheem Morris kicked Buie out of practice during an 11-on-11 session after the undrafted free agent bull rushed left tackle James Lee and pushed Lee into Leftwich, which knocked the signal caller to the turf. Buie was not intending to knock Leftwich down.
Morris, who observed the play from the far right sideline, reacted immediately to the play, which appeared to be incidental.
"Buie, get the [expletive] out," Morris yelled while storming onto the field. "Coach, I want him out."
Throughout the organized team activities and during the mini-camp practices, the Bucs defensive backs have constantly practiced intercepting and breaking up jump balls. The linebackers have gotten work at that as well. The players work on making contact with the ball when it is at the highest point.
"Get up! Sky," yelled defensive coordinator Jim Bates to his defensive backs.
Second-year corner Aqib Talib made an amazing play as a wide receiver while safety Tanard Jackson was taking his turn defending a pass. Talib out jumped Jackson and reached over him to make an amazing catch. It drew cheers from the other defensive backs.
"That's what I do," said Talib.
Bucs running backs coach Steve Logan had his players working on the JUGS machine. The running backs were required to get off the line of scrimmage, shed a block from the dummy bag and then field the ball from the machine behind three more dummy bags.
The players fared well in this drill, although fullback Jameel Cox dropped a pass towards the end of the session.
"We've got to catch that," Logan yelled to Cook.
The Buccaneers consistently rotated their linebackers on Thursday with the first team defense in the different scrimmage sessions. Geno Hayes started out at Sam (strongside) linebacker at one point, and Adam Hayward saw some time as the Mike (middle) linebacker. Of course starters Barrett Ruud, Jermaine Phillips, and Quincy Black saw plenty of action at their normal positions as well. The second string defensive line had Louis Holmes at right defensive end, and Chris Bradwell at left defensive end. The defensive tackles were Roy Miller and Dre Moore. The second team cornerbacks were Kyle Arrington and Elbert Mack. The safeties were Donte Nicholson and Will Allen.
Allen also saw some time with the first team starters. The Bucs have been experimenting with using starting free safety Jackson as a nickel cornerback and putting Allen in Jackson's normal spot in the deep middle of the field. Jackson had an excellent blitz from slot. He jetted his way through the line, and had quarterback Luke McCown sacked.
The rookie Miller had a phenomenal practice. In fact he sacked Leftwich on three straight plays. The first sack Miller got to Leftwich with Bradwell and Holmes meeting him there. The next play Miller got there on his own, and the third sack had Holmes there an instant later. Miller was beating a combination of starters and backups on his sacks, and was quickly shedding his blockers. Miller came close to getting his fourth sack of the practice, but quarterback Luke McCown scrambled away from him and ran out of the pocket. All receivers were covered so McCown threw the pass away.
As the line was getting beat consistently by the defensive line, offensive line coach Pete Mangurian lost his patience with the unit.
"This is [explective] ridiculous men," said Mangurian.
Speaking of the offensive line, the second-team O-line was made up of left tackle James Lee, left guard Maurice Miller, center Sean Mahan, right guard Rob Bruggeman and right tackle Anthony Alabi. The starters were left tackle Donald Penn, left guard Jeremy Zuttah, center Jeff Faine, right guard Davin Joseph, and right tackle Jeremy Trueblood.
In the first team scrimmage quarterback Byron Leftwich got the first team reps. It was a rough day for Leftwich as he took a number of sacks. The offensive line did not have the best pass protection for Leftwich, but the veteran quarterback was holding onto the ball too long and was unable to scramble to escape the pass rush. What hurt Leftwich as well was him patting the ball before throwing it. That tips off defenders, safeties in particular, that he is about to throw the ball. Leftwich also was indecisive at moments, double-clutching before pulling the trigger and throwing the ball. Leftwich had a tough time throwing out of the pocket, hanging onto the football and failing to find open receivers downfield.
During the first 11-on-11 session of practice, Leftwich started well by completing a pass to wide receiver Antonio Bryant on a crossing route.
However, things quickly went bad for the offense. Leftwich misfired on a deep pass in the back of the end zone for WR Brian Clark, which fell incomplete. On the next play, Leftwich attempted to complete a pass to tight end John Gilmore near the sideline, but Hayes did a good job of breaking up the pass.
"Way to be hair trigger Geno," yelled linebacker coach Joe Barry, who hip bumped the second year linebacker. Hayes had an impressive practice and was flying all over the field.
Leftwich did find tight end Kellen Winslow wide open in the flat on the far side of the field. Leftwich hit him between the numbers. Linebacker Jamall Johnson over pursued, and Winslow sprinted down the sideline with nothing but open field in front of him. The play would have been a huge gain in a normal game. Winslow and Leftwich almost had another connection, but the linebacker Wilson had good coverage that forced an incompletion.
During the last 11-on-11 session of practice, Bucs second-year DT Moore batted down one of Leftwich's passes at the line of scrimmage, forcing an incompletion.
Leftwich did have some decent moments, but they came during the 7-on-7 session where there was no pass rush. He completed a pass to WR Cortez Hankton over safety Sabby Piscitelli near the sideline. Leftwich followed that up with a completion to WR Michael Clayton on a short crossing route with cornerback Elbert Mack in coverage.
Leftwich was fairly comfortable with the crossing patterns, evidenced by his completion to Clayton and Bryant, who got himself wide open vs. linebacker Angelo Crowell, who appears to still be recovering from his knee injury.
Perhaps Leftwich's best throw of practice came during the 7-on-7 session when he threw a 50-yard bomb down the left sideline to Bryant, who did a great job of catching the ball and falling into the end zone for the score. Bryant made the catch vs. Jackson, who had good coverage, on the play.
Although the defense had an impressive – and at times – dominating practice this morning, it wasn't perfect.
Safety Donte Nicholson put himself in position to practically fair catch an interception on a deep ball thrown by Leftwich, but he dropped the ball with two defenders standing around him.
McCown, who took the next set of reps in the initial team scrimmage, didn't fare much better, one of his first passes was intercepted by linebacker Quincy Black. The ball was intended for tight end Kellen Winslow inside the red zone. McCown did start out with the first team offense in other team scrimmage sessions.
However, the session wasn't entirely bad for McCown, who rolled out to his right and completed a 6-yard pass to Winslow in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown a few plays after his interception. McCown had some good chemistry with Bryant. The pair connected on a number of passes. One was a perfect throw that beat tight coverage by Talib. The pass was nearly broken up. McCown and Bryant also had big gain on a 20-yard out pattern that was a good throw and great catch.
McCown threw a fastball into the chest of wide receiver Cortez Hankton on a hard slant in the middle of the field. Hankton snatched the ball despite defenders flying towards him. Wide receiver Kelly Campbell had a bad drop after getting wide open in the middle of the field on an in route. McCown's pass was on the money, but Campbell started to run up field before securing the reception.
Rookie quarterback Josh Freeman practiced on the far side of the field and was difficult to observe. Pewter Report could see that Freeman was pushing the ball downfield regularly, and was throwing those passes accurately. He connected with wide receiver Amarri Jackson on about a 40-yard bomb for touchdown, and came close to another one to receiver Joel Filani but the pass was broken up by cornerback/safety Evan McCollough.
The Bucs dedicated a significant amount of time to special teams this morning. Defensive tackle Ryan Sims saw some work as a long snapper, running back Kareem Huggins showed some nice speed on a few punt returns, and punter Josh Bidwell got work in. It was interesting to note that Bucs linebacker Jermaine Phillips was serving as the first-team personal protector. However, both Clifton Smith and Dexter Jackson each dropped a punt during the practice.
"You have to catch the ball," Bucs special teams coach Richard Bisaccia yelled to Jackson after his drop in traffic.
Kicker Matt Bryant also got work in this morning. The team practiced having to run the field goal unit onto the field with 20 seconds remaining in a game and have Bryant attempt a game-winning field goal. He was successful as time expired on the clock.
Bryant did all of the kicking this morning. We suspect challenger Mike Nugent will handle field goal attempts this afternoon.
Nugent has his work cut out for him if this morning was any indication. In addition to his last-second field goal, Bryant was 4-of-4 on field goal attempts that ensued the game winner.
Towards the end of practice, Morris sent the veterans into the locker room and kept the rookies and first-year players on the field for some extra work.
But not all of the veterans went into the locker room. Bucs WR Maurice Stovall stayed behind to do some extra work with the bungee ball the players worked with on Tuesday morning.
Stovall did well in that drill, which is designed to help players focus on securing the football while driving for an extra yard or the end zone, but he fumbled the bungee ball during one of his final attempts. To make matters worse, Stovall fumbled the ball during practice on Tuesday as well.
That didn't sit well with Stovall, who took it upon himself to work more on protecting the football, which is something the coaching staff has put extra emphasis on this offseason.
"I had caught a ball yesterday and it popped out. That play was sitting on my brain all night and into today," said Stovall. "I figured I'd come in today and work on my ball security."