This story is intended to be read by Pewter Insider subscribers only. Sharing of the PI content with non-subscribers of this service can result in cancellation of your subscription to the service and/or further actions by the publishers.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers held their second practice of their three-day mini-camp under new head coach Raheem Morris on Tuesday afternoon. The temperature was in the low 80's with a some wind. Morris did his best Jon Gruden impersonation on Tuesday, spending a lot of time in the afternoon practice covering wide receivers on routes and observing the passing game in the 7-on-7 drills. Gruden used to spend the early portion of practice with wide receivers and quarterbacks and Morris followed suit today.
In addition to quarterback Brian Griese, running backs Earnest Graham and Cadillac Williams, and tackle Donald Penn being absent from Tampa Bay's second voluntary workout, center Jeff Faine, linebacker Angelo Crowell and cornerback Torrie Cox were held out of this afternoon's practice due to their respective ailments.
Crowell is recovering from a knee injury while Cox is working his way back from a knee ailment as well. Both players suffered their injuries during the 2008 season. The Bucs did not disclose the reason why Faine was held out of this afternoon's practice, but he, Crowell, Williams, and Cox were out on the practice field.
Taking Faine's place as the starting center in 11-on-11 drills was Jeremy Zuttah. Fellow backup Sean Mahan worked in at center as well.
Replacing left tackle Donald Penn with the first string was James Lee. The offensive line looked much looser under new offensive line coach Pete Mangurian. The group looked more at ease waiting for practice to start rather than under former O-line coach Bill Muir. With the latter, the offensive line was in line with helmets on ready to start running before the practice horn sounded.
The line also worked on much different drills then under Muir. Typically they would hit the blocking sled after warming up, but under Mangurian the line was working on a variety of drills practicing moving up field and hitting a blocking pad. Zuttah looked explosive and quick getting downfield and to the pad. Of the offensive linemen, Zuttah looked like the fastest.
The running backs were also performing new drills with some different equipment. Two huge balance balls were rolled laterally towards running backs as they went across the line of scrimmage. The balls were used to help simulate the backs working on low stiff arms to slap away potential arm tackles from defensive linemen.
New running back Derrick Ward uses a high and tight running style in terms of ball security. The high and tight running style became en vogue earlier in the decade when New York Giants running back Tiki Barber cured his fumbling problem by clutching the ball tight to his breastplate rather than carry the ball low around the waist in the cradle of his arm where defenders are more likely to strip it. It's obvious that Ward, who came from New York, was given the same instruction that Barber got with the Giants.
This afternoon's practice featured a few different aspects compared to the morning. One of the more noticeable things was the officials on the practice field, which was a common sight under Gruden in an effort to limit penalties.
Second-year wide receiver Dexter Jackson is known as a speed guy, but he didn't get a chance to put that speed on display much as a rookie due to a hamstring injury he suffered in rookie mini-camp. In the brief action the media was permitted to watch Tuesday afternoon, Jackson looked extremely quick running in and out of his routes. That's a good sign as Jackson will have to make an impact at receiver in order to make Tampa Bay's 53-man roster. During the 7-on-7 period, Jackson showed his speed by blowing by cornerback Aqib Talib on a vertical route down the sidelines.
In the first-team defensive set in the 7-on-7 drills were cornerbacks Talib (left) and Ronde Barber (right), safeties Sabby Piscitelli and Tanard Jackson and linebackers Jermaine Phillips (weakside), Barrett Ruud (middle) and Quincy Black (strongside). The second-team defensive backfield consisted of linebackers Adam Hayward (strongside), Rod Wilson (middle) and Matt McCoy (weakside), safeties Will Allen and Donte Nicholson and cornerbacks Elbert Mack (left) and Greg Fassitt (right).
Quarterback Luke McCown had a mixed 7-on-7 session this afternoon. He had a few passes that were nearly picked off, and linebacker Quincy Black was on the receiving end of a few of those missed opportunities. Black dropped one interception on a pass intended for tight end Jerramy Stevens.
One thing McCown did extremely well was throwing the ball to the flat, especially to the running backs. Last year, Jeff Garcia hindered the team's offense due to his arm strength, or lack thereof, especially on balls thrown to the running backs near the flat. McCown has the arm strength to zip the ball to the RBs in a hurry, and he also hits them in stride, which leads to yards after the catch. One of McCown's better passes this afternoon went to second-year halfback Clifton Smith near the right sideline.
McCown connected with tight end Kellen Winslow a number of times. Throughout the first day the speed that Winslow plays with really stands out. His foot speed looks similar to a wide receiver, and he runs excellent routes. Unfortunately McCown wasn't helped by tight end Alex Smith when he dropped a perfect pass down the seam of the defense.
Second-year QB Josh Johnson looks noticeably better in terms of accuracy compared to the last time Pewter Report saw him perform last year. His spirals are much tighter and his arm strength obviously isn't an issue. However, Johnson still needs to work on his touch and accuracy, evidenced by the ball he threw just over WR Michael Clayton's stretched hands on a deep pass down the left sideline during drills this afternoon.
Johnson had a pass in the flat broken up by Black, and the linebacker nearly intercepted the ball. Johnson did thread the needle and was nearly intercepted by cornerback Aqib Talib and safety Tanard Jackson on a pass to wide receiver Cortez Hankton. While he got away with a risky pass there as Hankton scored a touchdown on the play, Johnson, a second-year pro, came back with a great pass a little bit later.
Johnson had a beautiful completion to Winslow. After beating safety Sabby Piscitelli on a great out-route, Winslow caught the ball in-stride from Johnson and raced down the field. Safety Tanard Jackson flew across the field and met Winslow near the goal line. The fiery tight end yelled out as he went into the end zone with congratulatory slap from Jackson.
The last big completion by the offense came when Johnson hit running back Clifton Smith who beat safety-turned-linebacker Jermaine Phillips on an underneath comeback route. The rest of the receivers ran the defense out of the play and Smith exploded downfield for a big gain.
Bucs linebackers coach Joe Barry worked with his group on breaking on errant passes and intercepting the ball. Black carried that over into the scrimmage sessions. The third-year linebacker had a great practice and was constantly around the ball. New LB Niko Koutouvides showed some suspect hands by dropping a pick during this drill. Bucs defensive backs coach Joe Baker worked with his players on cornerback and safety responsibilities vs. the run and play-action passes.
Pewter Report will have more coverage of the Buccaneers three-day mini-camp on Wednesday and Thursday of this week.