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With temperatures in the 90's under the sun and little breeze, the Buccaneers held their third practice of their mandatory mini-camp at Raymond James Stadium on Wednesday. The players traveled to the stadium on buses from One Buc Place, and enjoyed the stadium environment. With music playing, the Bucs warmed up and stretched.
Bucs quarterback Jeff Garcia, guard Davin Joseph, defensive tackle Chris Hovan, cornerback Ronde Barber and linebacker Derrick Brooks led the team in warm-ups.
Running back Cadillac Williams (knee), running back Cory Boyd (knee) and tackle Luke Petitgout (knee) sat out of practice with their respective injuries. However, Williams was in attendance and Boyd was seen running up and down the stairs in the stands of Raymond James Stadium.
Having the practice at the stadium is beneficial for the media. At One Buc Place, it is very difficult to watch the offensive and defensive line practice. However, at the stadium the media is able to get a much better view.
Bucs offensive line coach Bill Muir worked with his players at the start of practice. He worked closely with Bucs rookie Jerramy Zuttah, who took several reps at center this morning.
"Step with depth and slide when blocking the one technique," Muir said.
It's interesting to note that Bucs assistant head coach Larry Coyer, who served as the team's defensive line coach last year, spent a lot of time watching Muir work with the offensive linemen this morning.
One thing that is also apparent is how Dan Buenning has fallen out of the starting lineup, but still is considered a leader in the group. Buenning often times is the first to take part in offensive line drills and always leads to the way to a new part of the field when the horn sounds after he each drill ends. Once Muir tells the players where to go, Buenning takes off running and yells the same thing to his colleagues.
Unfortunately for Buenning, he and QB Jeff Garcia had a botched quarterback/center exchange later in practice. While Buenning played center Zuttah lined up at left guard.
One more note regarding the offensive linemen. Per the rules of the NFL's media credentials for members of the press, Pewter Report cannot share all of the details of each practice with its subscribers. However, what we can tell you is that the Bucs might be looking to use Jeremy Trueblood creatively outside of his normal right tackle duties. If you want any more detail you probably should come to training camp and see for yourself, Bucs fans.
Wide receiver Joey Galloway practiced some, and wide receiver Antonio Bryant returned to play after sitting out Tuesday's afternoon session. There were some players that stood out.
Defensive end Gaines Adams looked very fast going through the drills. In fact, at times it looked like it took him half the time to go through the bags as the other defensive lineman. Adams' footwork is exceptional — there is a never a wasted step.
Defensive lineman Marques Douglas looks to weigh more than his listed weight of 292 pounds. Douglas moves well for his size and is very physical through the pads. He probably will standout more in full contact drills and scrimmages that come in training camp. Douglas finds a way to get the job done.
Similar players are defensive tackle Javon Haye and defensive end Greg White. They don't flash the technique that Adams does, but they still are effective. Haye particularly looks like a bull in a china shop with the chaos he causes.
Defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson looked fast and has the talent to be a pass rusher. Wilkerson did not have a big sack total playing in Kansas City (he only recorded one sack there), but he did not receive a lot of snaps playing behind ends Tamba Hali and Jared Allen.
Defensive lineman Greg Peterson looked much improved with his speed and footwork then he did at the organized team activity that the team held at Raymond James Stadium back in May. Another player that looked improved was rookie defensive tackle Dre' Moore. He knew what to do on each drill and did not need extra explanations from line coach Todd Wash, and teammate Kevin Carter.
However, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said Moore still needs to get in better shape in order to hold up in the hot and humid conditions over in Lake Buena Vista for training camp.
"He still has a long way to go to master playing pro football in this area of the country. It's hot," said Gruden. He's going to continue to have stamina issues until he gets himself into shape. Every 320-pound defensive lineman will tell you that. He's working at it. It means a lot to him."
Carter had one of the best practices of the defensive players. He is second only to Adams in the ability to do the bag drills. In the 11-on-11 scrimmages, Carter had a big day. On one play, he pressured quarterback Jeff Garcia, who scrambled but was pursued well by Carter, Haye, and linebacker Cato June. Carter blew up a run in the backfield by running back Michael Bennett. Carter also deflected a pass from Garcia after getting a good pass rush on another play.
The defense as whole improved their play in Wednesday's mini-camp over their performance in the last few sessions that the media has been allowed to watch. The Bucs practiced their red zone and goal-to-go situations. When the offense scored a touchdown the cannons from the pirate ship in the North end zone would fire. After a couple of offensive touchdowns, the defense was lobbying for the cannons to be fired for their efforts.
Tampa Bay's defensive backs were really on their game in the goal-to-go and red zone warm-up drills. The defensive backs worked with each other and covered each other in an attempt to catch and breakup fade passes.
Bucs strong safety Jermaine Phillips really stood out during this drill and hauled in a few passes for interceptions while his fellow DBs covered him. After having trouble creating turnovers in his first few seasons in the league, Phillips led the Bucs in interceptions last year with four and he looks to build on that success in 2008, which is a contract year for him.
But June came up with one of the more impressive plays of the day when he intercepted a pass from Griese in 7-on-7 drills. The interception came on a miscommunication between Griese and running back Warrick Dunn, who kept running when Griese thought he was going to stop. Once he secured the ball, June raced down the field through defensive line drills and other drills to the South end zone. His defensive teammates were yelling "Boom!" to taunt their offensive teammates as June made his way to the end zone.
Griese did not have a great outing on Wednesday. He had another pass interception on a play were he threw the ball to a receiver that was covered by multiple defenders. The pass was tipped by cornerback Darrell Hunter and was caught by safety Donte Nicholson.
Griese hooked up with receiver Maurice Stovall for a few completions. One was on a cross in the back of the end zone where Stovall went up high to catch the ball. After the catch, Stovall dunked the football over the crossbars shortly before the cannons fired.
Griese completed a number of passes to tight end Jerramy Stevens. They made a nice completion against Nicholson in 11-on-11, and then had three pass and catches during the Bucs' two-minute drill. Griese also completed a pass to receiver Brian Clark to set-up a 51-yard field goal for kicker Matt Bryant. Bryant nailed the field goal down the middle with plenty of leg.
Griese completed a nice pass downfield between the hashmarks to fullback B.J. Askew. At one point in the practice, Askew was running holding the ball in one hand and not tucked in to his body.
"Put it away, put the darn ball away," yelled running backs coach Rich Bisaccia.
One thing is for sure – the Bucs plan to get Askew more involved in the passing game and even on some running plays in terms of having the opportunity to touch the football.
"We're going to try and do that," Gruden said of Askew. "He's an integral role of our offense. He does have receiving skills and running skills. We'd like to use all of our backs. We have a number of backs, and he's certainly a guy we're going to use."
One of Griese's best passes of the practice came in an 11-on-11 drill when he hit rookie WR Dexter Jackson on a screen play near the left sideline. Jackson hauled in the pass and quickly headed up field for a 20-yard touchdown. Jackson is a raw receiver, but this play was impressive and is something Bucs fans shouldn't be surprised to see come the regular season.
The Bucs also used WR Michael Clayton on the same screen play during warm-ups, but he doesn't have Jackson's speed. Gruden knows this, which is why he was encouraging Clayton, who is a physical receiver, to catch and run the ball with authority on the way to the end zone.
"Break two tackles and score, Mike," said Gruden. "Run over somebody, Mike. There you go."
Gruden wants to see WR Maurice Stovall be more physical. During the same drills, he stressed this point to the 6-foot-5 Stovall.
"Don't be shy, Mo," said Gruden. "Be physical at the line of scrimmage."
Gruden really emphasized the importance of selling routes in goal-to-goal situations during warm-ups.
"Make me think you're blocking me. Sell the block," Gruden yelled to the receivers.
Clayton fared well during this part of practice, drawing praise from Gruden on more than one occasion.
"That's a touchdown right there, Mike. Nicely done."
Clayton also did a nice job in the red zone offensive play installation drills, where the receivers worked with the quarterbacks on stop-and-go, fades and double-in routes.
Bucs WR Cortez Hankton continues to catch Gruden's eye, especially in the individual periods.
"Nice job again, Cortez," Gruden said after one of his catches.
Wednesday's practice was a fairly loose one. Gruden had some fun with the players while coaching them up. One play during the goal-to-go play installments, one of the quarterback's passes was too high for Stovall, who only got one foot in the back of the end zone. One of the referees in attendance signaled an incomplete pass, and so did Gruden, who waived his arms back and forth across his chest to remind the players that the pass was incomplete.
Michael Bennett had a great run, making a cut behind the line and jetting around down the left side. Bennett's run wasn't complete as safety Sabby Piscitelli slapped the ball from behind him, which led to the ball rolling out of bounds. Dunn had some good runs as well. The Bucs ran a great counter run where Dunn sprung a big gain after an excellent seal block from guard Davin Joseph.
Quarterback Jeff Garica completed a pass to Stovall, who managed to get open against cornerback Marcus Hamilton. Hamilton broke up another pass from Garcia to wide receiver Michael Clayton. Garcia had another pass broken up on a ball intended for Clark. This time, it was cornerback Eugene Wilson with a nice pass defensed.
Garcia also threw late on play for an incompletion after Clayton ran a good route and had gotten open. Garcia and Clayton completed a pass in front of cornerback Aqib Talib on another play. Talib also did a good job of covering passes in the flat and was there to stop one for a minimal gain if the players were tackling.
Garcia checked down a pass to running back Clifton Smith, who was closely guarded by linebacker Derrick Brooks. The best play of the practice for Garcia may have come on a rollout where he had open field to run but saw tight end John Gilmore running a deep drag out and was wide open. Garcia put the pass on his numbers for a big gain.
Quarterback Luke McCown had a slow start to his 11-on-11 session when center Dan Buenning rolled a snap to McCown from the shotgun formation. McCown and Griese took turns as the second quarterback to follow Garcia after the starter got his reps.
"Get the ball up!" shouted Gruden.
McCown threw a pass incomplete to tight end Alex Smith, who looked like he could have maybe caught the pass had he jumped. McCown came back to complete a pass to wide receiver Ike Hilliard who got open against Hamilton. McCown also threw a bullet to receiver Cortez Hankton who drew a penalty flag on linebacker Matt McCoy for pass interference.
McCown then made perhaps the nicest pass of the day when he threaded a pass through double coverage to Clayton for a touchdown. That was the first offensive touchdown of the day and set the cannons off, which startled many people at the stadium.
"That scared the hell out of me," Gruden said regarding the cannons.
On a similar pass, McCown made a perfect pass to tight end Alex Smith.
There was quite a bit of trash talking going on at Ray-Jay today, evidenced by the fact that Smith was eyeing defensive backs Raheem Morris and pointing to the pirate ship while the cannons fired after the catch and score.
Bucs rookie QB Josh Johnson did not take any reps in team drills this afternoon. He worked closely with quarterbacks coach Greg Olson.
A nice catch was turned in by running back Earnest Graham, who appears to be in good playing shape. McCown threw the pass high in the flat and Graham leaped and snatched the ball in front of Brooks.
Tampa Bay dedicated a significant amount of practice time to special teams today. Michael Bennett, Phillip Buchanon, Micheal Spurlock and Dexter Jackson were each used as kickoff returners while Michael Clayton and Maurice Stovall each took some reps as lead blockers on those plays.
Jackson really got to display his straight-line speed on the kickoff returns, where he had some nice holes to run through. Gruden said Jackson would need to win that job in order to justify the Bucs' decision to select him in the second round in April.
"We better be real confident, okay?' Gruden said of Jackson's ability to earn the punt and kickoff return jobs. "That's one of the big reasons why he's been brought here. Ball skills and decision-making are things that can only be evaluated in game situations, so the preseason will have a lot to do with that. The guy has really shown an ability to do that in college. He is extremely quick and fast. We're excited to have him here."
After the afternoon practice concluded the Bucs boarded their buses, went to One Buc Place to get showered and changed, and then proceeded to Pin Chasers in Tampa for some bowling and team-building activities.
The Bucs are scheduled to hold their final mandatory mini-camp practice at One Buccaneer Place on Thursday.
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