The Tampa Bay Buccaneers held their third of four mandatory mini-camp practices scheduled for this week on Wednesday morning.
While the Bucs held two practices at One Buccaneer Place on Tuesday, the team conducted just one two-hour workout on Wednesday, and it was held at Raymond James Stadium. The practice was held under sunny skies and in hot and humid conditions. Temperatures were in the low 90s.
The team traveled from One Buc Place to Ray-Jay on buses, which pulled up to the field near one of the stadium tunnels. The players and coaches got off the busses and walked onto the football field with music playing on the stadium Jumbotron.
Bucs linebackers Derrick Brooks, Ryan Nece, cornerback Ronde Barber and fullback Mike Alstott led the team in calisthenics to start the two-hour workout.
For the second straight day, quarterback Jake Plummer, who says he’s retired, did not report for Tampa Bay’s mandatory mini-camp practices.
Also absent from Wednesday’s workout was cornerback Brian Kelly, who was left behind at One Buc Place to have knee bruise treated. Bucs head coach Jon Gruden listed Kelly as day-to-day.
Defensive tackles Kevin Carter and Darrell Campbell, tight ends T.J. Williams and Keith Heinrich, guard Arron Sears and defensive end Simeon Rice were held out of this morning’s practice as well.
Center Dan Buenning was limited again in practice. He spent a portion of the workout working with the team trainer. At one point during warm-ups, Gruden walked over to where Buenning was jogging and watched him.
Buenning, who couldn’t help but notice the stare he was getting from Gruden, turned to his head coach and said, “Looking good, eh?” Gruden responded by saying, “Looking good.”
You can’t help but get the impression that the Bucs are desperately attempting to upgrade the center position. John Wade has been the team’s starting center since 2003, but he’s 32 years old and his skills are on the decline.
The Bucs are really hoping the 6-foot-4, 320-pound Buenning can win the center job over Wade (6-5, 299) since the 2005 fourth-round pick brings more size and athleticism to the position.
Buenning is in the process of rehabbing his knee and won’t be 100 percent until training camp begins in July. He’s still been taking reps in several drills, just not 11-on-11s. If Buenning can win the starting center job and newcomer Matt Lehr, who, like Buenning, is versatile enough to play guard and center, can earn a roster spot, Wade could be the odd man out.
This position battle will become even more interesting once the pads come on in training camp.
Jeff Garcia and Bruce Gradkowski took the majority of snaps at quarterback again during Wednesday’s practice.
Simms threw some passes in warm-ups, but he was off target. Not only did he not have many reps during practice, Simms joined rookie QB Zac Taylor in taking mental reps with quarterbacks coach Paul Hackett during the special teams portion of practice.
“Get your rhythm, Chris, get your rhythm,” Hackett said to Simms in an effort to encourage the frustrated signal caller.
Take that for what it’s worth, but it’s certainly not a good sign for Simms. In fact, based on how the reps have been distributed to the quarterbacks this week, one could make the argument that Simms is the fourth-string quarterback behind Garcia, Gradkowski and Luke McCown.
The fact that Simms and Taylor – not McCown and Taylor – took the mental reps during this morning’s workout certainly supports that notion.
Not only is Simms not right physically from a throwing standpoint, he sticks out like a sore thumb at the quarterback position. Gruden doesn’t have to alter his playbook that much when Garcia, Gradkowski or McCown are taking the snaps from center. However, when Simms comes in things change. Simms is the only left-handed signal caller on Tampa Bay’s roster, and he’s not very mobile.
Gruden has been moving Garcia around a lot on play-action rollouts and bootlegs. Gradkowski and McCown have also run these types of plays. The way Gruden is using Garcia may remind some of how Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan used Plummer in Denver.
You just get the sense that Gruden’s offense is going to open up quite a bit this season now that he has a veteran quarterback who possesses the attributes he’s always craved in a signal caller.
If the Bucs feel Simms is still struggling to regain his throwing form in training camp due to the splenectomy, one has to wonder if the team will consider placing him on the Physically Unable to Perform list in an effort to buy him the time (six weeks) he might need to get right. This would allow Gruden to take his prototype quarterbacks – Garcia, Gradkowski and McCown – into the regular season, but still have the ability to call on Simms later in the season if he needs to. That’s speculation on our part, but we really wouldn’t be surprised if that scenario actually played out.
Bucs wide receiver Maurice Stovall continues to impress. During warm-ups, he made not one, but two one-handed grabs near the sideline and managed to keep his feet inbounds on both plays. Stovall, who is pushing Michael Clayton for the starting Z (flanker) job, actually took some reps with the first-team offense during an 11-on-11 drill today. He made the most of his reps.
On one particular play, Garcia audibled at the line of scrimmage and then called for the snap. Stovall did a great job of beating cornerback Sammy Davis and rookie safety Donte Nicholson near the left sideline and hauled in the pass for a touchdown. That play was one of several on the day that prompted the pirate ship’s cannons to go off in the stadium.
Garcia threw two more touchdown passes during red zone drills. His first TD pass came on a throw down the right seam to tight end Matt Herian, who had beaten rookie linebacker Quincy Black on the play. His second went to fullback Mike Alstott, who settled down in zone coverage and hauled in the pass in-between linebacker Derrick Brooks and cornerback Ronde Barber.
Garcia wasn’t the only one finding Stovall open on this day. Gradkowski hooked up with a wide-open Stovall after selling a great play-action fake during an 11-on-11 session. One of Gradkowski’s best passes came during a red zone drill when he threw a perfect strike down the right seam to Herian for a touchdown.
Clayton might have had his best practice of the week on Wednesday morning. He looked extremely quick and his hands were solid. Clayton did a nice job of hauling in a pass thrown down by his feet by Garcia during warm-ups. He also was effective in finding soft spots in zone coverage today. Garcia connected with Clayton several times in these situations downfield.
Joey Galloway doesn’t look like he’s 36. He beat rookie safety Tanard Jackson down the middle of the field for a touchdown during a 7-on-7 drill. He also was one of the few receivers to get separation from Tampa Bay’s defensive backs and linebackers during this particular drill. Give Jackson credit, though. He was only a step away from Galloway and drew praise from the defensive coaches.
Gruden put a lot of emphasis on getting plays called and having his players line up and get the play off in a timely manner.
“Eighteen seconds, 18 seconds,” Gruden said quite often.
Unfortunately, some of the players took Gruden too literally. The Bucs were called for two false starts on consecutive plays.
The Bucs were only sporting helmets, jerseys and shorts, so it was extremely difficult to evaluate the offensive and defensive lines. However, Tampa Bay’s O-line opened up some nice holes for running backs Cadillac Williams and Michael Pittman during the first 11-on-11 session.
For a 32-year old running back, Pittman looks extremely fresh and quick. Williams has been doing an outstanding job of catching balls out of the backfield on screen and swing passes.
Rice and Carter were at the stadium on Wednesday, but neither player worked out with the team. Both veterans spent much of Wednesday’s practice chatting and watching practice together. Promising young defensive tackle Darrell Campbell was rehabbing a leg injury and was limited in the individual periods.
The media got the first look at new defensive end Jeremy Pittman, who is a 6-foot-4, 250-pound rookie from Central Arkansas. Pittman was one of the players the Bucs brought in for try-outs during the three-day rookie mini-camp. Pittman is very undersized and needs to add strength and size to be able to effectively compete at an NFL level.
During the initial individual workouts, the defensive linemen went through their usual get-off-the-ball drills, re-direct drills and bag drills. Tampa Bay’s defensive linemen typically practice on the far side of the field at One Buc Place and it is often difficult to watch them without an obstructed view. The ability to roam around the stadium’s sidelines afforded Pewter Report a chance to be about 10 feet away from the bag drills and we took advantage of the up-close view.
The re-direct drills consist of coaches Larry Coyer and Todd Wash having the linemen fire off the ball and then quickly change direction at a 45-degree or a 90-degree angle without losing any speed or their balance.
Because the defensive line didn’t have a blocking sled at the stadium, the unit jogged over to the goal posts and practiced some open-hand punches to the padded goal post in the back of the end zone.
During the bag drills, nose tackle Chris Hovan was the leader of the pack and showed his trademark intensity. Bucs nose tackle Ryan Sims was chided by Coyer for looping too wide around the bags. Simms is clearly the biggest defensive lineman in camp and still needs to lose about 20 pounds to become quicker and even more effective.
“That’s your best work ever,” Coyer said to under tackle Jovan Haye after doing the bag drills. Haye was later inserted as the starter at the three-technique position during 11-on-11 team drills.
First-round draft pick Gaines Adams zipped through the bag drills with blazing speed. He is becoming more comfortable with these drills and has come a long way since the rookie mini-camp. When turning the corner, the former Clemson standout is doing a great job of dipping his hips and maintaining body control while rushing the passer. Adams’ bag work at the beginning of practice was the best Pewter Report has seen by far. However, Coyer had to get on him for using his hands better during another bag session later in practice.
Fellow rookie Greg Peterson has also made a lot of progress since the rookie mini-camp and you can see why the Tampa Bay coaches are excited about him. At 6-foot-4, 289 pounds, Peterson is oozing with athleticism and has such quick, fluid moves for a big man. He still struggles at times in team drills, but is really coming into his own in the individual work.
Former defensive line coach Rod Marinelli firmly believed that the Bucs defense never needed to practice 11-on-11 situations and that they could always get by just by honing their techniques and fundamentals during individual periods. For Tampa Bay’s defensive line, the individual periods are the most important times in practice. It’s good that Adams and Peterson are catching on so quickly.
While the defensive linemen were conducting their individual drills, the defensive backs and linebackers were also going through “indies” as the coaches call them. Defensive backs coach Raheem Morris and linebackers coach Gus Bradley had their groups go through interception drills to start practice.
Of the linebackers, Jamie Winborn, Ryan Nece and Adam Hayward did a great job of catching the football in practice. Once again, Brooks was limited with the number of reps he took today, but that was by design to save his legs for training camp and get some of the younger players more reps.
In the 11-on-11 team period, Phillip Buchanon started in place of the injured Kelly at left cornerback. Rookie Tanard Jackson played safety in the first series of 11-on-11, but started at right cornerback in the second series of team drills and got quite a bit of reps outside in place of Ronde Barber, who rested.
Tampa Bay didn’t run nearly as much 3-4 defense as they did on Tuesday at One Buccaneer Place. In fact, the Bucs rarely used the formation at the stadium, but did run it on the second play of the first 11-on-11 session. Hovan was at nose tackle, flanked by Greg Spires at left end and Haye at right end. The linebacking corps consisted of Barrett Ruud, Derrick Brooks, Cato June and Adam Hayward (we believe).
Things got a little bit testy between guard Jeb Terry and Pittman, the rookie defensive end. Terry threw Pittman to the ground, prompting Winborn to come to his defensive teammate’s defense.
“Wait a minute now, Jeb,” Winborn yelled as he confronted Terry. “That ain’t right!”
Terry and Anthony Davis look like they are playing with a major chip on their shoulder this offseason. Davis may not unseat new free agent Luke Petitgout at left tackle, but he’s putting on a full court press at left guard where he is battling second-round pick Arron Sears for the starting assignment. Davis is a tough competitor and possesses a nasty demeanor like he had in 2005 when he emerged as the team’s starter at left tackle.
Adams had a great pass rush against Petitgout on one play and would have sacked Garcia had the Bucs been playing tackle rather than two-hand touch.
As usual, the Bucs dedicated a portion of the practice to special teams work. Tampa Bay practiced kickoff returns and coverage.
Boston, Cadillac Williams, receivers Chad Owens, Efrem Hill and Mark Jones, and running back Earnest Graham fielded kickoffs.
The most interesting aspect of this part of practice was not the return men, but rather the players that were serving as lead blockers on the kickoffs. Clayton and Stovall, both of whom are two of the more physical players on the offense, handled those duties. The guess here is the player that doesn’t occupy the starting Z (flanker) job will handle lead-blocking responsibilities on kickoffs.
Other notable special teams participants included starting linebacker Cato June and new tight end Jerramy Stevens.
Bucs special teams coach Richard Bisaccia was happy with how the players performed during the kickoff drills. However, not everything was perfect. On one particular play, an unidentified player failed to block and open a gap for the kickoff returner.
“What are you doing? That’s your gap,” Bisaccia screamed. “Block his ass.”
Kicker Matt Bryant started off 3-of-3 on his field goal attempts. However, his final attempt, a 52-yarder, missed, which made him 3-of-4 on the day.
Tampa Bay ended the practice with another 11-on-11 session. But this time, the full team drill was run more like it would be in an actual game.
The offense gathered on one sideline and the defense gathered on the opposite sideline.
From there, the players faced off in a 2-minute drill. Gruden even used a handheld walkie talkie to radio plays in to the quarterbacks during this drill.
Garcia had some mixed results in the 2-minute offense. He attempted to throw a lob pass to tight end Alex Smith on the right side of the field, but linebacker Ryan Nece nearly intercepted it. Luckily for Garcia the pass fell incomplete.
However, Garcia bounced back from that poor throw with the audible and touchdown pass to Stovall, which was referenced earlier in this report.
The Bucs are scheduled to conduct their fourth and final mandatory mini-camp practice at One Buccaneer Place on Thursday morning. The Bucs then have a month off until reporting for training camp on July 26 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida at Disney’s Wide World of Sports.
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