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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers opened the first of four mini-camp practices at One Buccaneer Place on Tuesday morning under sunny skies and temperatures in the low 90s. The Bucs will have
Quarterback Chris Simms was the only absent player for the mandatory mini-camp due to a well-documented rift with the team. Simms, who is in the final year of his contract but is clearly not in the team's plans this year, wants his release from the Bucs immediately. It is unclear as to whether or not Simms is skipping the mandatory mini-camp or has been told by general manager Bruce Allen not to show up.
Running backs Cadillac Williams and rookie Cory Boyd did not participate in any of the team workouts as they are rehabbing knee injuries. The injured Williams looked much improved over where he was a month ago, much less two months ago when OTAs started. Williams was running intermediate speed runs down the field. It is hard to say, but Williams looked like he was running at about 80 percent of his full speed.
"Shake the father's day off," said defensive backs coach Raheem Morris to his players as they warmed up.
The linebackers practiced breaking on the ball and picking up fumbles. They also worked on picking off interceptions. The safeties practiced blitzing, and the corners practiced their coverage on different routes.
On of the funniest moments of the practice was from defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin playing cornerback. As the corners were practicing defending slants, Kiffin took a turn at corner. Coach Morris was laughing and coaching Kiffin. At the snap of the ball, Kiffin was burned and all the defensive backs laughed. Morris did as well. Kiffin threw his visor and his players seemed to enjoy the levity.
The quarterbacks and running backs were actually working on some option plays during the individual period portion of practice. It's doubtful that the Bucs will run option in a live game situation because you just don't see it in the NFL. The option exposes the quarterback to a needless hit and the NFL is a quarterback league.
Yet, the Bucs have the mobility at the quarterback position with Jeff Garcia, Luke McCown, Josh Johnson and Brian Griese to run it on occasion, and McCown actually ran it twice later in 11-on-11 drills. Still, don't expect to see this on Sundays. NFL teams are known to do a lot of stuff that strays from the playbook in the offseason just to keep it interesting for the players.
The wide receivers spent their individual period working on catching deep passes thrown over their head. They had to track the ball and sprint underneath it while looking directly up at the sky. While the receivers made a valiant effort to try to catch most of the passes, Bucs receivers coach Richard Mann and his assistants were off target and not having a lot of success hitting receivers in stride.
When the quarterbacks joined the wide receivers for some pitch and catch, the result was much different. Bucs head coach Jon Gruden came over to work with the components of the passing game, as he usually does to start each practice.
Maurice Stovall made two one-handed catches back to back that were impressive. The quarterbacks were practicing rolling out to their left and to their right. While Stovall was catching everything that was coming his way in an effortless fashion, Gruden didn't want him to get too lackadaisical.
"Attack the ball!" Gruden yelled.
Rookie Dexter Jackson excelled early in practice at catching the ball and turning upfield, while veteran Michael Clayton continued to look great. He looks smoother, faster and is catching the ball cleaner and more confidently. Clayton had a great day from start to finish with only one noticeable drop on a pass that was sailing high and away from him.
The first half hour of practice during the individual period seemed a little off tempo and obviously Gruden noticed that, too. He wasn't screaming and yelling or unhappy, but he did implore his quarterbacks to turn up the heat.
"Can you put a little juice into it, please?" Gruden said to his passers.
On command, all four quarterbacks took the softballs out of their rotation and started whizzing some fastballs towards the receivers. The impact from the football hitting their gloved hands went from a "pift" to a "whap" or a "thud." The velocity picked up, passes were thrown on a rope and the receivers locked in and made some difficult catches.
While running some skinny post patterns the receivers began to stray from their routes towards the end of the period and Gruden got on their case.
"What's with all this weaving?" Gruden said. "Are you a bunch of drunk drivers?"
During the offensive installation period, Warrick Dunn and Michael Bennett continued to get what would be considered starter reps while Earnest Graham, who has made his first appearance at offseason workouts despite leading the team in rushing last year with 898 yards and 10 touchdowns, received minimal work.
In fact, Kenneth Darby and rookie Clifton Smith, who have been mainstays at One Buc Place this offseason, received more reps than Graham did. However, Graham received the first carry in team 11-on-11 drills, but his amount of reps didn't increase, as he was probably fifth on the team in terms of workload after Dunn, Bennett, Smith and Darby.
Tight end Alex Smith had a good day catching the ball, but looks rather pedestrian after the catch. Ben Troupe also received a good deal of balls on Tuesday morning and caught them cleanly. He also showed more speed than Smith after the catch. One of the plays was a tight end screen and Troupe showed good agility and lateral movement in weaving through blockers and defenders to get up-field.
Receiver Taye Biddle had a good start to practice, but dropped a catchable 5-yard out that drew the ire of Mann.
"C'mon now. You've got to catch that!" Mann yelled.
Biddle would get hurt and have to leave practice after inadvertently catching an elbow to the sternum.
Fullback Byron Storer in his second year and he looks like a completely different player. He's playing with more confidence and it's showing in his on-field performance. Storer is catching the ball much better this year, which is remarkable because he displayed hands of stone during training camp last year. But even more impressive is the speed and burst he possesses. Storer gets downfield quickly in pass routes and runs by some of the Bucs linebackers.
Perhaps the most interesting play of the day occurred in 11-on-11 drills with McCown throwing a quick out to rookie receiver Amarri Jackson at about the 20-yard line. Fast-thinking cornerback Phillip Buchanon closed quickly and punched the ball out of Jackson's grasp. Buchanon scooped the ball up and headed for the end zone while doing some showboating.
Jackson regrouped and took off after Buchanon, and in a move reminiscent of Bills receiver Don Beebe tracking down Cowboys defensive tackle Leon Lett in Super Bowl XXVII, the embarrassed rookie receiver punched the ball out of Buchanon's hands. McCown prevented the touchdown by knocking the ball out of bounds at the 2-yard line, preventing another defensive player from scooping and scoring.
After practice, Gruden was asked about Jackson's play and "He got another opportunity to show whether he belongs in the final 80," said Gruden, regarding why Jackson was signed after a try-out at the rookie mini-camp. "If he fumbles the football like he did today it's going to be hard on him. He's a big guy that is one heck of a competitor. He's a loose guy and he's confident. He's a pretty smart guy. I like him a lot. I like his potential. But we have to harness it and get some more consistency from him."
During the special teams portion of practice, Clifton Smith and Dexter Jackson were the primary punt return candidates. The other notable from punt coverage and punt return practice was how aggressive running back Michael Bennett was as a gunner. He has stood out to Pewter Report the entire offseason on special teams and has the speed and toughness to fight through blocks.
On Tuesday, Bennett easily split a double-team effort from two vise players. That drew some applause from the Bucs coaches and players who said, "Damn, Michael!" The big question that won't be answered until the preseason is whether Bennett likes to hit and if he has good tackling form. Bennett registered only one special teams tackle last year.
During the final 11-on-11 team session, defensive tackles Jovan Haye and Ryan Sims stood out. Haye showed improved flexibility in weaving through traffic on one play to get serious pressure on the quarterback, while Sims, a big 320-pounder, was seen hustling and tracking Clifton Smith downfield. It's easy for big guys like him to stand by the line of scrimmage and be bystanders, but it has been instilled in Sims to play to the whistle and that's what he's doing.
Another notable play that occurred in the final 11-on-11 session was an offsides call on linebacker Derrick Brooks, who was blitzing. The officials who are hired to referee practice threw a flag on Brooks, but that wasn't good enough for wide receiver Joey Galloway. Galloway, who was not involved on this particular play, was bemoaning the fact that no call was made on rookie cornerback Aqib Talib, who had his hands on a receiver and forced an incompletion on the play.
Galloway ran on the field, looked at the official, picked up the flag that was on the ground and threw it up in the air and yelled in disgust, "Illegal contact, man!" while his teammates laughed.
Linebacker Barrett Ruud had some good plays throughout the practice. In seven-on-seven, Ruud came very close to picking off a pass to wide receive Cortez Hankton from quarterback Jeff Garcia. In 11-on-11 he snuffed out a run at the line of scrimmage. That drew some loud praise.
"Good job Barrett," shouted linebacker coach Gus Bradley from across the field.
Brooks seemed to be on his game. He was right there for what would've been tackles on some check down passes. On play Brooks was flagged for lining up in the neutral zone as he blitzed. Throughout the practice the defense ran many blitzes. Safety Tanard Jackson got good pressure on McCown on one blitz that forced a quick pass to Michael Spurlock, which fell short and was incomplete.
Cornerback Eugene Wilson gave up some pass completions in the flat to Galloway and Dexter Jackson. Wilson was also flagged for holding receiver Amarri Jackson on one play. When the cornerbacks worked on guarding routes, coach Morris had Wilson take reps at right and left corner. The starting corners were the same as last year with Buchanon and Ronde Barber. When the defense went into the nickel formation they moved Barber inside to the slot receiver and put Talib in as the third cornerback.
Defensive lineman Jovan Haye stood out for looking to what would've been a sack of Luke McCown. The quarterback dropped back and started to scramble, but Haye closed quickly and the play was ended.
Cornerback Sammy Davis had an interception when his receiver slipped and Davis had an easy catch from Garcia's pass. Davis held the ball up on his way to the end zone.
The Bucs will hold another mini-camp practice Tuesday afternoon. Wednesday and Thursday there will be one practice each day, with Wednesday's session taking place at Raymond James Stadium. After this weeks mini-camp the Bucs will next meet at training camp in late July. Pewter Report will have more coverage of the Buccaneers mini-camp throughout the week.
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