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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers took the field at One Buccaneer Place on Thursday morning for their third and final day of mini-camp practice under new head coach Raheem Morris.
Thursday morning's workout was the fifth practice of the mini-camp, and the first and only practice on Thursday. It proved to be a spirited workout, evidenced by the fight that broke out during the practice.
Skies were partly sunny and the temperature was in the high 70s with breezy conditions in Tampa.
The following players were not in attendance on Thursday's voluntary mini-camp practice: quarterback Brian Griese (wife is eight months pregnant in Denver), running back Earnest Graham (family situation), left tackle Donald Penn (perhaps a contract situation?), tight end Kellen Winslow (undisclosed), defensive end Stylez G. White (undisclosed) and cornerback Ronde Barber (undisclosed).
Wide receiver Kelly Campbell (undisclosed), cornerback Torrie Cox (undisclosed), linebacker Angelo Crowell (knee rehab), center Jeff Faine (back), and running back Cadillac Williams (knee rehab) were all in attendance, but did not participate.
Several players that were missing from Wednesday afternoon's practice returned to action on Thursday morning, including linebacker Geno Hayes, wide receiver Antonio Bryant and tight end Jason Pociask.
Bucs defensive backs coach Joe Baker had his left foot in a boot cast and he was on crutches. Baker has had a condition with one of the bones in his foot for some time and it apparently has gotten worse out on the practice field. But that didn't stop him from putting the crutches down occasionally and walking around, giving instruction to his defensive backs.
Former Bucs head coach Jon Gruden was known to get involved in practices and even covered wide receivers sometimes during workouts. New head coach Raheem Morris, who is nearly 15 years younger than Gruden at the age of just 32, gets involved in similar ways, but it was interesting to see he and special teams coordinator Richard Bisaccia throwing passes to receivers in warm-ups.
For inquiring minds that want to know, Bisaccia throws a better ball than Morris, although they both have decent arms. Morris' passes were a bit low for the receivers and Bisaccia had a better spiral on the ball.
After stretching, Tampa Bay conducted an 11-on-11 session that was a run install period. Morris liked how the Bucs, particularly running back Derrick Ward, ran the ball behind tackle James Lee and center Jeremy Zuttah in the zone-blocking scheme.
"Good job, D," Morris said to Ward after one running play.
Quarterback Josh Johnson had a nice play-action bootleg during the 11-on-11 passing part of the drill and completed a nice pass to Bryant near the sideline. Luke McCown also showed great mobility by buying himself time to throw and scrambling towards the sideline before throwing a laser to WR Cortez Hankton near the sideline. Hankton did a great job of keeping his toes in bounds as he fell out of bounds for the completion.
Tempers flared at the end of that play when tight end John Gilmore and an unidentified backup defensive player were involved in a scuffle that was quickly broken up by on looking teammates.
During the 7-on-7 drills, wide receiver Dexter Jackson short-armed a pass at the goal line from quarterback Josh Johnson. Jackson had a step on cornerback Greg Fassitt, but didn't sell out for the ball. Granted, this is a voluntary mini-camp and no one wants to risk injury, but several players have dove for passes on offense and defense over the past three days and Jackson needs to do something to shake his reputation as a soft player who shies away from contact. Diving for that pass not only might have registered a touchdown for the offense, but it might have earned him more respect from his players, coaches and team scouts who are evaluating his every move as an unproven player.
Fassitt getting beat by Jackson wasn't the only time an offensive player torched a Bucs defender. In fact, during most of the 7-on-7 periods, the offense had its way with the defense. McCown was exceptionally sharp, displaying a strong, accurate arm and some real confidence in his throws. As good as McCown was on Wednesday afternoon, he was even better on Thursday morning.
McCown had a great pass to Bryant on a crossing route on one play. He had similar success on a pass to WR Michael Clayton, who showed impressive speed while accelerating down the far right sideline.
McCown was really threading the needle on seam passes this morning. He threw a beautiful one to tight end Jerramy Stevens during 7-on-7s. The deep ball was placed in Stevens' hands just over linebacker Quincy Black for a 30-yard gain.
Stevens robbed McCown of a better completion percentage when he dropped a perfectly thrown ball across the middle of the field. McCown did a great job of looking off the defender to get Stevens open, but the tight end couldn't hold onto the ball with plenty of running room in front of him.
After the drop, McCown got on Stevens as he ran back to the huddle, saying, "Jerramy, come on. We've got to have that."
Stevens wasn't the only offensive player guilty of making a mistake during this session. Wide receiver Paris Warren used his hand a little too much to try and get open vs. CB Elbert Mack down the sideline, which drew a penalty flag from an on looking official.
While Hankton made a nice sideline grab earlier in this session, he had a costly drop on a great pass from McCown across the middle of the field.
One of McCown's better throws was a dangerous one during the 7-on-7 drill. McCown saw WR Anthony Mix get open down the left seam on a go route, but two defenders quickly blanketed him. But McCown didn't hesitate to throw up a jump ball for the 6-foot-5, 235-pound receiver, and that throw, which was refreshing to see from a Bucs quarterback, paid off as Mix grabbed the jump ball from the two defenders, fell to the ground and used his knee to secure the reception for a huge gain.
McCown then repeated his earlier success with Bryant by hitting him in stride on another crossing route after Bryant beat second-year CB Aqib Talib. The Bucs worked in a lot of play-action deep passes and intermediate throws this morning.
Clayton was on the receiving end of a great deep ball from McCown down the left seam. McCown placed the ball just over CB Kyle Arrington for the completion. Clayton also was on the receiving end of one of McCown's deep passes down the left sideline. Clayton had beaten Piscitelli on the play.
It was also interesting to note that Clayton, along with Clifton Smith and Jackson, were fielding punts this morning. Smith was also working as a personal protector on punts.
The defensive backs and linebackers were biting on head fakes and pump fakes by McCown and also had trouble staying with receivers when McCown rolled out. Defensive coordinator Jim Bates, who was more animated on Wednesday than he was on Tuesday, blew his top during the last mini-camp practice.
"Let's get this (expletive) going!" Bates yelled. "Come on! We're going through the paces! We're going backwards in this damn drill!"
Bates was imploring his defenders to make a play as McCown carved up the defense with precision passing
"Quit jogging!" Bates screamed. "Let's act like a team. Let's play like men! What the hell are we doing going backwards?"
While McCown was impressive, he wasn't perfect. During an 11-on-11 session later in practice, McCown threw an errant dump off that was intercepted by a ballhawking safety Sabby Piscitelli, who drew tremendous praise from Bates and his teammates.
New offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski had both McCown and Johnson throw vertically down the field to stretch the defense and showcase their big arms. McCown was clearly more accurate than Johnson, but the young quarterback has made huge strides since his rookie campaign.
Johnson made some nice passes this morning. He connected with WR Brian Clark down the sideline. The ball was nearly intercepted by Fassitt, but the pass had enough zip on it to get by Fassitt, which allowed Clark run up field for a big gain.
Like McCown, Johnson was also robbed by his receivers. On one particular play during 11-on-11, Jackson dropped a pass from the second-year signal caller.
Johnson has plenty of room for improvement. He needs to stop staring down his primary targets in the passing game. He also isn't as fast at reading defenses and getting rid of the ball as McCown, evidenced by the two sacks he took in 11-on-11 by DE Louis Holmes and DT Chris Hovan, respectively.
"Are you trying to get on the highlight tape? Yes, sir," Bates yelled to Hovan.
Johnson threw the ugliest pass of practice during the same 11-on-11 session. The wounded duck down the left sideline was intended for Bryant and fell incomplete. That pass was the exception, though, as Johnson has a strong arm and usually throws a tight spiral. To his credit, Johnson also got DT Chris Bradwell to jump offsides with a hard count on another play.
One of the best performers during 7-on-7 drills from the defensive side was second-year cornerback Elbert Mack, who was starting in place of Barber today. Mack had blanketed the receivers he had covered all the way through the 7-on-7 except for the very end when Bates inadvertently jinxed him while trying to praise him.
"Your guy ain't touching the ball, Mack," Bates said, right before wide receiver Maurice Stovall saw McCown scramble, break off his route and dash to the sidelines to make a nice 15-yard grab as Mack got lost in coverage.
The defense seemed to sleep walk through the 7-on-7 session and was only mildly better in 11-on-11 drills.
The Bucs have concluded their first mini-camp under Morris. They will not conduct more organized team activities until May, which is after the 2009 NFL Draft.