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The Buccaneers held their third and final mandatory mini-camp practice at One Buccaneer Place on Thursday morning.
Just as the players were starting to take the practice fields for stretching and warm-ups, Tampa Bay unveiled a special guest – quarterback Jay Fiedler, who walked along the porch of One Buc Place with quarterbacks coach Paul Hackett.
Fiedler, who was in street clothes, then walked out onto the practice field and talked with head coach Jon Gruden and some of the team’s coaches and players. Fiedler was in attendance for the entire practice, but he had not been signed to a contract.
Fullback Mike Alstott, center John Wade, linebackers Derrick Brooks and Ryan Nece, cornerback Ronde Barber and defensive end Simeon Rice once again served as team captains for calisthenics.
Bucs rookie wide receiver Maurice Stovall and cornerback Brian Kelly did not practice for the second straight day. Stovall is nursing an ankle sprain while Kelly has an injured toe.
Although he suited up for the practice, second-year tackle Chris Colmer, who is coming off of offseason shoulder surgery, did not see action during Thursday’s workout.
Fiedler had to like what he saw from Tampa Bay’s backup quarterbacks – Tim Rattay and rookie Bruce Gradkowski. Neither player was particularly sharp during Thursday’s practice in terms of throwing tight spirals. In fact, some of their passes were flat out wobbly.
However, Gradkowski showed the ability to put some power behind several of his throws on Thursday. He fired a few accurate passes down the field, which was something he hadn’t really done well the previous two days.
Gruden spent a significant amount of time with Tampa Bay’s wide receivers during the first part of the practice. Gruden was really emphasizing the importance of running hard and precise routes.
“Find the ball and snap your head,” Gruden shouted. “Let’s get our depth and locations right.”
Bucs starting QB Chris Simms, who put the finishing touches on a strong three-day mini-camp Thursday, was encouraged by Gruden to display his arm strength during the receiver warm-up drills.
“This quarterback will wear you out now,” Gruden said of Simms. “Throw it hard, Chris. Rip their head off!”
For the second straight practice, Gruden grew frustrated with rookie Boone Stutz, who is one heck of a long snapper but has had some challenges as a tight end in Gruden’s offense.
“A smash route isn’t 8 yards and out,” Gruden yelled to Stutz after the rookie ran the route wrong. “You’re (expletive) killing me, man.”
From there, Tampa Bay conducted its first 11-on-11 session of the practice, and it was an interesting one.
This was easily the most spirited team session of the three-day mini-camp, and that says a lot since all three workouts have had a lot of energy.
This session was split down the middle – the offense had some good plays and the defense had some good ones. This led to a lot of fun trash talking between some of the players.
“Come on Clayton. Come on Clayton, “Bucs Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Brooks said to WR Michael Clayton as they both started jogging onto the field to take reps in the session.
Clayton responded by nodding his head and jawing right back to Brooks in a fun manner.
When things didn’t go the offense’s way, Gruden wasn’t pleased, especially when the mistakes made were self-inflicted. For instance, Gruden grew angry with some false start penalties during Wednesday’s practice at Raymond James Stadium, and some of those same problems persisted on Thursday.
During the 11-on-11 session, Bucs tackle Torrin Tucker brought out the “Chucky” in Gruden when he was penalized for a false start, which prompted the head coach to make the offense huddle up again.
“Come on, Tucker,” screamed Gruden. “That’s Dallas Cowboy (expletive) [stuff]. What the (expletive) did we trade with them for?”
It became obvious that Gruden was growing tired of the mental errors, especially the penalties, and rightfully so. The Bucs were, after all, called for a franchise-high 131 penalties in 2005.
With officials already in attendance and monitoring the practice, Gruden made it clear that he was going to start holding everyone accountable for penalties.
“Every time they false start and you’re in at quarterback, I want you to ride their ass,” Gruden yelled at Gradkowski. “You got me?”
Clayton and Bucs WR Joey Galloway turned in strong performances Thursday, with Galloway using his speed to separate from defensive backs and Clayton once again finding the soft spot in zone coverage.
Although Galloway is regarded as a deep threat, the Bucs seem to be making an effort to have him work the short-to-intermediate part of the field on crossing and drag routes, and slant patterns. This makes a lot of sense seeing as Galloway is extremely dangerous with the ball in his hands and capable of gaining a lot of yards after the catch.
Although he’s competing at the right tackle position, Bucs rookie Jeremy Trueblood saw some action at left tackle Thursday. He and Bucs defensive end Andrew Williams had a couple of interesting battles. While he didn’t manage to get by Trueblood’s 6-foot-8, 320-pound frame, Williams did a nice job of penetrating the offensive backfield and diagnosing a few misdirection plays later on in practice. Trueblood is just so big that he makes holding off a player with Williams’ pass-rushing ability look effortless at times.
Tampa Bay was criticized for selecting Trueblood with its second-round pick, but he arguably is ahead of first-round pick, guard Davin Joseph in terms of comfort level and ability at their respective positions heading into training camp. That’s not a knock on Joseph – it’s a credit to Trueblood.
The first 11-on-11 session ended with a sour note after rookie tight end T.J. Williams fell to the ground over on the right sideline after running a route. After being tended to by several trainers, Williams was helped onto a cart that drove him into the locker room for further evaluation. Williams, a sixth-round pick, likely was a long shot to make the team. If he misses a significant amount of playing time due to injury, Williams’ chances of making the active roster this year will be slim to none.
Once that drill concluded, the Bucs conducted a 7-on-7 session. Simms showcased his strong and accurate arm by firing a perfect pass down the right sideline for David Boston, but the veteran receiver had the pass slip off his stretched hands. Although cornerback James Patrick had good coverage, Boston probably should have caught the ball.
Boston wasn’t the only Bucs receiver guilty of dropping a pass. Second-year WR Paris Warren dropped a perfectly thrown ball from Gradkowski during the 7-on-7 session.
Safety Kalvin Pearson had another impressive practice. On Wednesday, he thrived on the blitz, but much of his success during Thursday’s workout was in coverage.
After the 7-on-7 session concluded, the Bucs dedicated some practice time to special teams. This is normally the least exciting part of practice from an observer’s standpoint, but sparks did fly during punt return drills when CB Juran Bolden and WR Chas Gessner exchanged words and eventually shoved each other before their teammates separated them.
Gessner was upset with Bolden for putting him on the ground with an illegal block to the back. It’s a good thing their teammates broke them off each other as this truly could have been one heck of a fight as the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Bolden and the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Gessner have big frames.
Bolden took out his frustration on Tampa Bay’s offense when the Bucs took the field after the special teams workout to conduct an 11-on-11, hurry-up offensive drill. Just a few plays into the session, Bolden jumped a slant pattern and pass thrown by Rattay and intercepted it, which drew considerable praise from his defensive teammates.
Once that session ended, Tampa Bay sent kicker Matt Bryant onto the field to attempt field goals. He had been perfect in the first two practices.
After starting off Thursday’s session 2-of-2, Gruden and Bucs special teams coach Richard Bisaccia decided to give Bryant a real challenge by having the players simulate crowd noise and having Gruden’s assistant, Paul Kelly, trigger the air horn he uses to help coordinate practices while Bryant lined up to attempt the kick. Despite the “crowd” and air horn noise, Bryant drilled the field goal attempt.
After a brief goal line session, the Buccaneers ended their third and final mandatory mini-camp practice a few minutes ahead of schedule. The players will be off between now and July 27, which is the day they’re scheduled to report to training camp near Orlando.
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