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It’s definitely new a new day in Tampa Bay with the beginning of the Raheem Morris era at One Buccaneer Place. On Tuesday, at the team’s first voluntary mini-camp, which is an extra camp that is given to teams with new head coaches, it was noticeably quieter without the animated presence of head coach Jon Gruden and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. Skies were partly sunny and the temperature was in the low 80s on a breezy and humid day in Tampa.
Although Morris was known for being a hyped, enthusiastic defensive backs coach, he was noticeably reserved and business-like on Tuesday as a walk-around head coach, spending time with the defense as well as the offensive line as NFL Film camera crews captured his every movement. While the coaches were fairly quiet and subdued in their instruction to the players, loud hip-hop music blared from loud speakers along the sidelines, which signaled a changing of the guard from Gruden’s approach to Morris’ approach.
A couple other noticeable changes included kickers and punters participating in the warm-up drills with the receivers, running backs and tight ends. Punter Josh Bidwell, a former high school quarterback, was throwing passes with the quarterbacks while kickers Matt Bryant and Mike Nugent were jogging downfield catching passes.
Wide receiver Anthony Mix, who is 6-foot-5, 235 pounds, looks more like a tight end than a wideout.
One number change took place with tight end Kellen Winslow now donning jersey number 82 and tight end Jason Pociask now wearing number 84. Winslow’s speed stood out on the practice field. With his frame and speed, Winslow could easily pass for a wide receiver, and Mix could probably pass for a tight end.
There were a couple notable absences at Tuesday’s morning mini-camp. Quarterback Brian Griese, who has not been participating in the team’s offseason program, was a no-show, as was left tackle Donald Penn, a restricted free agent who has not signed his one-year tender worth $2.792 million. Running backs Earnest Graham (ankle) and Cadillac Williams (knee) are recovering from season-ending injuries and were not present, either.
Bucs officials informed Pewter Report that Griese’s wife Brook is eight months pregnant, and that he is in Denver with her. Graham is also tending to a personal family matter.
Speaking of running backs, one player who is participating on a try-out basis during the mini-camp is running back Omar Cuff, who was on the team’s practice squad at the end of last year. The 5-foot-10, 195-pound Cuff was a rookie out of Delaware last year and rushed for 1,945 yards and 35 touchdowns in 2007.
Cornerback Torrie Cox was back from last year’s stint on injured reserve. He is fully rehabbed from the knee injury he suffered at training camp and was running and cutting at full speed during Tuesday’s mini-camp practices.
Once the stretching period ended, Morris jogged over to the far left part of the grounds at One Buc Place to work with new offensive line coach Pete Mangurian and the team’s offensive linemen, minus Penn, of course. Morris’ interest in working with the O-line stresses the importance of the zone-blocking scheme Tampa Bay is in the process of implementing.
Holdover wide receivers coach Richard Mann worked with the wide receivers on cutting in and out of routes and catching the ball over their heads. The receivers caught the ball fairly cleanly, especially for the team’s first mini-camp practice, but WRs Michael Clayton, Paris Warren and Dexter Jackson each had drops during this session.
It is interesting to note that Tim Berbenich, who served as Tampa Bay’s assistant running backs coach in 2008, spent the first part of Tuesday morning’s practice working with Mann and the Bucs wide receivers.
Before splitting up, both the safeties and the corners were working on interception drills. Then defensive backs coach Joe Baker and assistant secondary coach Dwayne Stukes split their group up with Baker working with corners and Stukes working with safeties. While the safeties continued to work on catching the ball, Baker had the cornerbacks up in bump coverage stances working on lateral movement, shadowing and mirroring other corners (who were acting as wide receivers) at the line of scrimmage to deny their release from the line.
The defensive backs used to be the loudest group of Buccaneers due to Morris’ hyped approach. Baker and Stukes were much quieter by contrast. After the mirroring drills, Baker had his corners work on proper technique when it comes to tackling, including proper knee bend, hip explosion and arm placement. The Bucs did this while not having physical contact, which is forbidden during mini-camp practices.
Like the defensive backs, the linebackers were also working on ball drills as new coordinator Jim Bates has been stressing “turnovers, turnovers, turnovers” since taking over the defense this spring. Linebackers coach Joe Barry was working on interception drills with his squad and then spent time rolling the football on the ground like a bowling ball while his linebackers raced at full speed one-by-one to pick it up. This drill stresses fumble recovery skills of closely watching the ball as it bounces, timing the pick up properly and then scooping and scoring.
Bates watched this drill, as he did the defensive backs interception drills, and stressed “ball security” to his players as they came up with turnovers.
New linebacker Angelo Crowell, who missed the 2008 season due to a knee injury, was moving around effortlessly on the practice field. The same could be said of second-year linebacker Geno Hayes, who is coming off injured reserve due to a knee injury, was participating at full speed in the drills on Tuesday.