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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers broke away from One Buccaneer Place to conduct a two-hour mandatory mini-camp practice down the street at Raymond James Stadium on Wednesday morning.
Although it was extremely hot, the practice featured some welcomed cloud cover and a nice breeze that made the practice tolerable.
Fullback Mike Alstott, center John Wade, linebackers Derrick Brooks and Ryan Nece, cornerback Ronde Barber and defensive end Simeon Rice served as team captains for calisthenics while music blared out of the jumbotrons at Raymond James Stadium.
Defensive tackle Anthony Bryant and guard Toniu Fonoti, both of whom were the only two players to not attend Tuesday’s workouts at One Buc Place, suited up and practiced with their teammates Wednesday.
Bucs cornerback Brian Kelly was held out of practice due to a toe injury, and rookie wide receiver Maurice Stovall was limited due to an ankle injury.
Once the players finished stretching, they broke off into units to work with their respective position coaches. What was interesting to note during this session was the fact that Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin was working with the defensive ends while new defensive line coach Jethro Franklin worked with the defensive tackles.
Franklin is attempting to fill some big shoes left by former Bucs assistant head coach/defensive line coach Rod Marinelli, who left Tampa Bay for a head-coaching job in Detroit last January. With Marinelli gone and Franklin in his first year with the Bucs, Kiffin likely will have an even more hands-on approach with the team’s defensive linemen this year.
Both Franklin and Kiffin deserve a lot of credit for the way Tampa Bay’s defensive line has performed through the first three mandatory mini-camp practices. For the second straight day, this unit, particularly rookie defensive lineman Julian Jenkins, penetrated the offensive backfield quite often. Although he’s playing both positions, Jenkins typically gets most of his penetration from the defensive end spot.
The Bucs spent quite a bit of time working in individual units on Wednesday morning. In fact, the team was still working in individual groups well over an hour into practice.
The Bucs appeared to be in the market for a veteran safety after Dexter Jackson left for the Bengals via free agency, and while that notion might still be true, Kalvin Pearson is doing his best to convince people otherwise.
Pearson, who was a special teams ace in 2005, has been extremely aggressive in practice, especially when playing near the line of scrimmage. He’s not afraid to mix it up, and he’s been a serious thorn in the offense’s side when he blitzes. On one play, Pearson came through the line practically untouched and would have recorded a sack had the drill been contact. During 11-on-11 drills, Pearson penetrated the backfield on a run blitz and wrapped up rookie running back Andre Hall for what would have been a 5-yard loss. Toward the end of the practice, Pearson stood out again in 11-on-11 drills by blitzing and sacking quarterback Chris Simms.
By this time, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden had seen enough from Pearson and his second-string offense, which really struggled in pass protection Wednesday.
“There’s too many [mess] ups,” Gruden yelled in frustration. “There’s too many individual mistakes.”
Gruden wasn’t the only one being critical of the offense. Nine-time Pro Bowler Derrick Brooks showed little patience for mental errors on the practice field on Wednesday. After one particular play in 11-on-11 drills, Brooks shouted in frustration to Gruden, “Your left tackle just made a mistake. Get him out of here.”
Kiffin was quite aggressive with the blitz calling again on Wednesday. However, some of his players were a little too aggressive in this area. Linebacker Ryan Nece was flagged by one of the officials in attendance for being offsides on a blitz that would have led to a sack had he not been called for the penalty.
Things were pretty heated between the offense and defense Wednesday. During 11-on-11 drills, Bucs defensive end Greg Spires and rookie tight end T.J. Williams nearly got in a scuffle after Williams took Spires to the ground while attempting to block him. Both players pushed and shoved a bit on the ground, and once on their feet, Williams ended the confrontation by throwing his hands in the air as a way of telling Spires he was not interested in scuffling with his teammate.
Tampa Bay’s offensive line remained intact for the second straight day, with Anthony Davis (left tackle), Dan Buenning (left guard), center John Wade (center), Sean Mahan (right guard) and Kenyatta Walker (right tackle) each starting.
However, Mahan once again saw a significant amount of playing time at center with the first-team offense. When Mahan was moved to center, Jeb Terry replaced Mahan as the starting right guard.
Terry has had an impressive mini-camp and could be tough for Mahan or rookie G Davin Joseph to beat out in training camp and preseason.
Although he has seen action at both guard spots, Terry is competing mainly for the right guard job. The competition is quite heavy over on the left side, where Buenning is attempting to hold off Fonoti for the starting left guard job. Buenning has been receiving all of the first-team reps at left guard.
Tackle Chris Colmer, a 2003 third-round pick, hasn’t seen action in the mandatory mini-camp practices, which is disappointing seeing as the Bucs were hoping he’d be completely healed from offseason shoulder surgery by the time these practices rolled around.
Although he finished last year on a strong note, Colmer appears to be in danger of being deemed a “bust” since he’ll be hard pressed to beat out Kenyatta Walker or second-round pick Jeremy Trueblood at this point, which in turn would make it difficult for Colmer to earn an active roster spot.
Bucs starting quarterback Chris Simms saw action with the first, second and third-team offense Wednesday. He was excellent in terms of throwing accurate passes and making good decisions. Simms was able to find his second and third options on the field on a consistent basis during Wednesday’s practice, and he appears to have a great command of the huddle. Simms easily has the strongest arm of Tampa Bay’s signal callers.
Tampa Bay dedicated a good portion of Wednesday’s practice to red zone drills. Simms thrived in this area, throwing touchdown passes to receivers Joey Galloway and Edell Shepherd. Those scores were immediately followed by deafening explosions from the pirate ship’s cannons.
With QB Luke McCown (knee) sidelined indefinitely, Tim Rattay and rookie Bruce Gradkowski received a good chunk of work on Wednesday. In fact, Gradkowski received nearly 40 percent of the reps.
Rattay makes good decisions more often than not, but his arm strength is really suspect. He short-armed a few passes to open receivers during practice.
At this point, Gradkowski, who still is trying to digest Gruden’s complex system, is a much better quarterback while scrambling than he is as a pocket passer.
If the mini-camp workouts are a sign of things to come, Tampa Bay’s offense should feature a few new wrinkles in 2006.
The Bucs dedicated several of their offensive snaps to pitch plays to last year’s Rookie of the Year, Carnell “Cadillac” Williams. The pitches have mostly gone to the right, which is interesting seeing as most of Tampa Bay’s success via the running game last year came on the left side of the line behind Davis and Buenning. Terry’s presence along with the additions of rookies Davin Joseph and Trueblood, all of whom are playing mostly on the right side of the line, could explain why Williams is getting a lot of work to strong side of the formation.
For the second straight day, WR Michael Clayton was on the receiving end of a reverse from Simms, and the play was successful again on Wednesday as Clayton raced up the left sideline for a big gain.
After conducting some 11-on-11 drills and a red zone session, Tampa Bay spent some time working on special teams. Kicker Matt Bryant was perfect on his field goal attempts for the second consecutive day.
The Bucs practiced kickoff returns this morning, and had running backs Andre Hall and Derek Watson, WR Edell Shepherd and cornerback Justin Phinisee returning them.
Rookie safety Jahmile Addae fell to the ground while attempting to cover a kickoff. He appeared to injure his foot or ankle. While he walked off the field on his own, Addae had a noticeable limp and was in some pain. The severity of his injury has not yet been determined.
With Addae out, CB Blue Adams got some reps at safety during 11-on-11 drills.
After the special teams drill concluded, Tampa Bay went back into 11-on-11 drills.
Bucs defensive end Dewayne White saw some playing time in place of Greg Spires at the starting left end spot. White, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in 2007, is pushing Spires for the starting job this year, and the fact that he is getting worked into the rotation, although not a surprise, is encouraging.
One player that arguably had the best practice on Wednesday was cornerback Torrie Cox. Cox was all over the football field at Ray-Jay. During one 11-on-11 session, Cox broke up a pass attempt thrown into the flat on one play and nearly intercepted another. Later in the practice during red zone drills, Cox showed off great timing and leaping ability by nearly intercepting a pass thrown into the corner of the end zone.
But Cox’s impressive play didn’t mean the Bucs’ wide receivers were rendered unavailable to the quarterbacks. Clayton did an outstanding job of finding the soft spots in zone coverage during Wednesday’s workout.
One thing that’s noticeably absent from Gruden’s playcalling is the swing pass. Instead, the Bucs appear to be attacking more in the short-to-intermediate part of the field with the running backs and tight ends. In fact, the Bucs ran a great middle screen to Cadillac Williams during red zone drills. That play might have produced a touchdown as the defense diagnosed the screen too late.
Williams also might have scored on a running play in red zone drills thanks to the huge hole opened up by left tackle Anthony Davis.
The Bucs came back with the middle screen to RB Michael Pittman later in the red zone drill, but Simms’ pass was off target and was nearly intercepted. But Simms made up for that errant throw by tossing an 11-yard touchdown strike to WR Ike Hilliard.
Like Williams, Pittman also busted off a long run by making a couple of nice juke moves along the way.
Bucs fullback Mike Alstott scored seven touchdowns last year, and all of them came inside the opponents’ red zone. While he might not receive as many carries this year, Alstott certainly will see the field as a decoy, just as he did on the final play of Wednesday’s practice when Simms faked the handoff to the “A-Train” and rolled out to his left before throwing a 6-yard strike to tight end Alex Smith in the back of the end zone for a touchdown.
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