If you like this Pewter Insider Mini-Camp Report, we encourage you to subscribe to the Pewter Insider for more inside scoop on Bucs practices during this week’s mini-camps and training camp in July and August. 

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers held their first of four mandatory mini-camp practices at One Buccaneer Place on Tuesday morning. The temperatures were in the high 80s. Although it was overcast, Tuesday morning’s workout was held in hot and humid conditions.

Although the two-hour practice was mandatory, a few players, namely quarterback Jake Plummer, were missing in action. Plummer has gone on record as saying he’s retired, but he has yet to file his official retirement paperwork. Should Plummer not report to training camp, the Bucs can go after the 32-year old quarterback for as much as $7 million worth of bonus money he received while playing for the Denver Broncos.

The Bucs surrendered a 2008 seventh-round draft pick to the Broncos in exchange for Plummer. However, if Plummer reports that seventh-round pick will become a fourth-rounder.

Two other players – kicker Garrett Rivas and linebacker Jerry Mackey – were not in attendance, but it is believed that both players were released. Tampa Bay defensive end Simeon Rice and cornerback Brian Kelly were both in attendance for the morning practice. However, neither player participated.

Rice is rehabbing a surgically repaired shoulder and Kelly is coming back from season ending toe surgery to help remedy a degenerative toe condition. While Kelly is expected to participate in Tuesday afternoon’s practice, Rice will be held out of practice until training camp begins on July 27.

Five players – rookie guard Arron Sears, defensive end Charles Bennett, defensive tackle Darrell Campbell and tight ends T.J. Williams and Keith Heinrich – were held out of the morning practice as well.  Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said Sears is having something “minor” taken care of. Bennett sported an ice pack on his left knee and limped along the sideline during practice. Williams is still recovering from the Achilles’ tendon tear he suffered a year ago. Campbell, who has had an impressive offseason thus far, is nursing a lower leg injury. Heinrich has an undisclosed injury.

As usual, the practice started with stretching. Bucs linebackers Derrick Brooks and Ryan Nece, wide receiver Joey Galloway and fullback Mike Alstott led calisthenics. Rice was actually out on the field for calisthenics, but he jogged into the team’s facility once stretching concluded.

From there, the players broke into their respective positions.

Bucs defensive backs coach Raheem Morris worked with the cornerbacks and safeties on play recognition and footwork.

Defensive line coach/assistant head coach Larry Coyer took his players behind an open fence that surrounds One Buc Place’s practice fields to work on the blocking sled.

Bucs head coach Jon Gruden worked spent most of warm-ups working with the quarterbacks and wide receivers, which is quite common.

Offensive lineman coach/offensive coordinator Bill Muir worked with his players on footwork and technique.

Tampa Bay offensive lineman Dan Buenning, who is recovering from a season-ending knee injury, is making the transition from guard to center. Buenning didn’t participate in 11-on-11 sessions, but he did receive a plethora of snaps at center during 7-on-7 and other drills on Tuesday morning. Buenning also did quite a bit of shotgun snapping.

Gruden has changed up the reps at quarterback quite often this offseason, and Tuesday morning’s mandatory mini-camp practice was no different. Jeff Garcia took the majority of reps at quarterback. Second-year QB Bruce Gradkowski took the majority of the No. 2 reps behind Garcia.

Chris Simms, who has openly admitted that his timing has been off ever since he began throwing again after his splenectomy, and Luke McCown received a limited amount of reps during the workout.

That doesn’t necessarily mean the depth chart has been established at quarterback, though. Just two weeks ago Garcia and Simms took the majority of reps, and last Thursday McCown received a decent amount of work during an OTA.

Just by watching him, you can tell Simms isn’t the same player. He is struggling to regain his throwing form. Simms doesn’t look like he’s able to put his full strength into passes. He also looks a bit hesitant on some of his throws. During on a 7-on-7 drills, one of Simms’ passes was intercepted by cornerback Phillip Buchanon, who did a nice job of tipping the ball up in the air to put himself in position to haul in the pick.

At the halfway point in practice, Gruden yelled to his offense, “Let’s go! Let’s get the (expletive) jetlag out of our ass!”

The pace of the players quickened after that and Gruden achieved the desired results during his offensive installation period through a little motivation.

Out of all of the team workouts the media has been allowed to watch this offseason, this morning’s was probably Garcia’s worst. Up to this point, Garcia had been extremely impressive and efficient running Gruden’s offense. However, Garcia was off just a bit on Tuesday morning. He really struggled to get the ball to his receivers on short-to-intermediate routes, and his deep balls were off as well. Garcia also took too many chances this morning in terms of throwing into double coverage.

However, Garcia did have his fair share of good throws, especially on slants. He and Gradkowski hooked up with second-year wide receiver Maurice Stovall and veteran David Boston several times. Stovall was consistent and impressive.

Boston has had some outstanding practices this offseason and dominated at times on Tuesday morning. Although he’s not as fast as he was during his prime, Boston is back. He’s getting good separation from defensive backs and making nice catches. Boston did, however, drop one pass during warm-ups.

Gradkowski has come a long way since last year. You can tell he’s much more comfortable and confident in the offensive system. But you can’t help but temper your enthusiasm as Gradkowski looked impressive in training camp and preseason last year. That didn’t necessarily translate into success when he took over for Simms during the regular season.

Still, Gradkowski has been more accurate this offseason. One of his best throws of the practice came in 11-on-11 drills when he threw a perfect strike to wide receiver Ike Hilliard, who had beaten second-year cornerback Alan Zemaitis down the right sideline on a wheel route on the play for a touchdown.

Stovall had several solid grabs during the practice, including a one-handed catch on a crossing route. Stovall has been extremely impressive this offseason and is challenging wide receiver Michael Clayton for the starting Z (flanker) spot.

It’s interesting to note that although the Bucs value Boston as a reliable backup behind WR Joey Galloway at the X (split end) spot, Boston has actually been cross-training a bit. He lined up as a Z opposite Galloway (X) on a few plays today. The Bucs like the idea of having both Galloway and Boston on the field at the same time. Those two are the Bucs’ fastest receivers.

Speaking of the depth chart, it was interesting to Donald Penn take some first-team reps at left tackle with left guard Anthony Davis, center John Wade, right guard Davin Joseph and right tackle Jeremy Trueblood this morning.

Don’t read too much into this, though. The Bucs want to get a good look at Penn before they go to training camp. Veteran Luke Petitgout saw some limited action during the morning workout. He even had a great block to seal the perimeter on a long run by running back Cadillac Williams during 11-on-11 drills. Petitgout is expected to get even more work in this afternoon.

Running back Michael Pittman had a tough practice this morning. He fumbled the football during an 11-on-11 drill. Later in practice, Pittman got knocked to the ground and dropped a pass after cornerback Torrie Cox accidentally ran into him and caused the incompletion.

One of the most interesting elements of Tuesday’s morning practice was the extensive use of the 3-4 defense PewterReport.com has been reporting in its Pewter Insider stories this offseason. The Bucs have had three open OTAs (organized team activities) this offseason that the media has had a chance to view. Today was the first time we got to view the 3-4 defense and how defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin runs it.

The Bucs sprinkled in some 3-4 defense last year in an effort to give quarterbacks a new look and also to get linebacker Jamie Winborn on the field. This year, the Bucs plan on using this scheme more often, especially on passing downs, to generate a pass rush. Tampa Bay will still deploy its base defense – the 4-3 scheme – with great regularity. Just look for more 3-4 this year because of the addition of three talented, fast linebackers – Cato June and rookies Quincy Black and Adam Hayward.

The Bucs did a lot of position switches while running the 3-4. On one play, June and Hayward were on the outside with Winborn and Barrett Ruud on the inside (Brooks barely participated in the mandatory mini-camp today). On another play, Antoine Cash and Sam Olajubutu were inside and Black and Nece were outside. On yet another play, Black and Winborn were outside and Ruud and Hayward were inside.

The defensive linemen moved around, too. Justin Frick played nose tackle in one 3-4 set, flanked by Greg Peterson to the left and Jovan Haye to the right. On another play, Chris Hovan was at nose with Kevin Carter to the left and Greg Spires to the right. Yet another set had Ryan Sims at nose, flanked by Ellis Wyms to the left and Gaines Adams to the right.

At this stage of the offseason, Kiffin and his coaches are just getting a feel for the 3-4 and how the players look playing different positions. We’ll see how this experiment moves from the chalkboard of mini-camp and training camp to the laboratory that is the preseason. The team’s success or lack thereof in August will determine how much the 3-4 scheme is used this season.

The guess is here that it will be used to accent and compliment Kiffin’s 4-3 base defense and be used between 10-20 percent of the time.

During the individual unit sessions, Carter was really leading the way for the defensive linemen. During a pass rush drill against the full-sized tackling dummies, the 33-year old Carter wheeled around the corner and flew through the air like a pro wrestler off the top rope and tackled the QB dummy. This came as most of the other D-linemen just slapped the QB dummy after reaching it. Carter goes all-out all the time and his impact will be greatly felt during the training camp practices.

The more and more we see Hayward, the team’s sixth-round draft pick out of Portland State, the more Pewter Report likes him. His background as a safety allows him to drop in coverage with ease, and his prior experience as a defensive end gives him the tools to be successful in getting to the quarterback as a rush linebacker off the edge. It’s early, but Hayward has been a standout player and stands a good chance of making the team in 2007, perhaps at the expense of Nece, who lost his starting strongside linebacker spot to June.

Free safety Will Allen has shown great leadership ability during the offseason and has become more vocal out on the field. He’s a much more confident player this offseason in the presence of Morris, the new defensive backs coach who worked with Allen extensively during his rookie season in 2005.

Allen made a great read on the ball in 7-on-7 drills and got in the way of wide receiver Chad Owens. That allowed Buchanon to step in front of Owens and pick off a pass. An impressed Morris yelled, “Oh, yes! I like that, P-Buc!”

Buchanon had a great morning practice, recording another interception in practice by picking off a pass intended for Mark Jones. Zemaitis, who has struggled this offseason in practice, picked off Gradkowski as he was trying to throw the ball away. This was one of the few bright spots for Zemaitis this offseason, who appears to be slow to react to the ball physically and mentally. He’s doing too much thinking and not enough playing football.

Another cornerback who didn’t fare too well during Tuesday morning’s practice was Cox, who appeared to be too lackadaisical in his coverage and a step slower than usual.

Rookie running back Kenneth Darby has excelled on screen passes this offseason and showed great hands an impressive speed on a screen pass near the end of practice in 11-on-11 drills.

New fullback B.J. Askew also had a solid practice, taking a lot of reps in practice. Askew is a big fullback at 6-foot-3, 233 pounds and showed great hands and elusiveness on a catch in the flat as practice was winding down. Askew, a former halfback at Michigan, cut sharply to the left and eluded several Bucs defenders. He may have the best run-after-catch ability of any fullback in Tampa Bay in some time in terms of making defenders miss.

Of course, Alstott had good yards after catch ability, too, yet he often made his yards plowing through defenders. Alstott, who has not received a lot of reps during OTAs and didn’t see a lot of playing time during this morning’s workout, took some reps as a personal protector on punts.

The Bucs spent a decent amount of times working on special teams this morning. Punter Josh Bidwell looked good punting the football in terms of leg strength and ball placement.

Bucs WR Chad Owens, Hilliard and running back Cadillac Williams each fielded several punts.

The Bucs will hold another two-hour mandatory mini-camp practice at One Buc Place on Tuesday afternoon. Wednesday morning’s workout will be held at Raymond James Stadium. The Bucs will conclude their mandatory mini-camp with a two-hour workout at One Buc Place on Thursday morning.

If you liked this Pewter Insider Mini-Camp Report, we encourage you to subscribe to the Pewter Insider for the best inside scoop on Bucs practice during the rest of this week’s mini-camps and training camp in July and August. PewterReport.com serves as Bucs fans’ eyes and ears and produces daily PI practice reports at training camp.

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