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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers hadn’t opened up an entire organized team activity to the media all offseason.
However, that changed Thursday when the Buccaneers opened their entire OTA, which was held at Raymond James Stadium instead of One Buccaneer Place, to the media.
Needless to say, this was quite a treat for Pewter Report, which watched every minute of the two and a half hour workout and brought along a pen and notepad to capture the following observations.
The voluntary practice featured the Bucs players in helmets, jerseys and shorts. The workout was held under fairly consistent cloud cover and in breezy conditions, making the weather in Tampa unusually cool and comfortable for this time of year.
Music was played on the stadium speakers as the players and coaches took the field for Thursday’s practice. Also on hand were officials and Florida Gators head coach Urban Meyer, who was invited to the workout by head coach Jon Gruden.
Several players, including tight ends Keith Heinrich and T.J. Williams, and wide receiver Mark Jones, did not participate in Thursday’s workout.
The fact that Williams is still sidelined by the torn Achilles tendon he suffered nearly one year ago doesn’t bode well for his chances of making the team this season, especially with Alex Smith, Anthony Becht and Jerramy Stevens on the roster.
Williams looks like he has lost some weight, but he also appears to be top heavy. He must also add some meat to his legs, which look too skinny. Williams looks like he has no calves, but keep in mind that he might have lost a significant amount of muscle mass in his legs due to the Achilles injury.
Left tackle Luke Petitgout and linebacker Derrick Brooks both missed the voluntary practice. Petitgout will be the best man at a wedding this weekend. Brooks is spending time with his family after losing his mother to breast cancer on Monday.
With Brooks absent, Bucs fullback Mike Alstott, cornerback Ronde Barber and LB Ryan Nece led the team in calisthenics.
Once the players finished stretching, the horn sounded and the players broke off into their respective position groups for individual drills.
At this point, Pewter Report publisher Scott Reynolds and I went our separate ways so he could focus on the defense while I watched the offense.
For all of the talk about Tampa Bay defensive coordinator working on implementing some new wrinkles this season, one of the first things that became apparent while watching the offense was Bucs head coach Jon Gruden has some tricks up his sleeve as well, and it goes beyond the shotgun formation.
Unfortunately, Pewter Report cannot disclose more details about the unique formations and plays Gruden’s offense was running, but Pewter Report can almost guarantee Bucs fans that they’ve never seen these types of plays run in Tampa Bay before, and the offense will definitely catch opposing defenses off guard should the Bucs actually decide to run these plays in the regular season.
Out of all of the offensive players that participated in Thursday’s OTA, second-year wide receiver Maurice Stovall might have been the most impressive.
The former third-round draft pick out of Notre Dame isn’t the flashiest player, but he’s consistent and reliable. He is probably known for using his 6-foot-5, 220-pound frame to outjump defenders, but Stovall actually looks quicker this offseason.
Stovall did a nice job of breaking in and out of his routes, per the instruction of wide receivers coach Richard Mann. Of all of the receivers on the field Thursday, Stovall might have been the only one that didn’t drop a pass.
In goal line drills, Stovall made an acrobatic catch by tipping the ball up in the air and hauling in the pass for a touchdown with his back on the ground while safety Jermaine Phillips attempted to cover him.
Most of the receivers, including David Boston, Joey Galloway, Chas Gessner and Ike Hilliard, had at least one dropped pass during the workout.
However, the player that had a severe case of the drops Thursday was Michael Clayton, who dropped at least three passes.
Needless to say, Mann became frustrated with Clayton’s drops. “Come on, Mike,” Mann said as he turned away from Clayton after one of his drops.
Clayton, a 2004 first-round pick, clearly has got to do a better job of catching the football on a consistent basis. He did, however, manage to pull it together in time for the full team drills. After dropping three passes in warm-ups and individual workouts, Clayton caught the rest of the passes thrown his way throughout the rest of the practice.
Gruden spent a significant amount of time working with the wide receivers this afternoon. Gruden was really placing a lot of emphasis on speed – not just in route running, but also in motions made before the ball was snapped.
“More speed, please,” Gruden yelled. “More speed.”
Before Thursday’s practice, several sources tipped Pewter Report off to the fact that they believe “Boston is back.”
It was only one practice, but Boston looked a lot better today than he did this time last year. He looks much quicker and did a nice job of separating from the defensive back(s).
Boston might not be as fast or as explosive as he was four years ago, but he definitely looks like he’s capable of making this team and making an impact on the Bucs offense in 2007.
One of the more intriguing prospects on Tampa Bay’s offense is WR Chad Owens. He stands out on the football because of his size, or lack thereof.
The 5-foot-7, 185-pound Owens is extremely quick, but he’s also very small. Owens is quicker than he is fast, and he’s pretty fluid in his moments. He’s got soft hands. However, it’s pretty easy to see that Owens will struggle against press coverage, and he isn’t exactly in a position to bail his quarterback out on overthrown passes, either.
Hilliard easily took the biggest hit of the practice during a 7-on-7 drill when he caught a pass from quarterback Bruce Gradkowski near the left sideline and took one step before colliding with safety Kalvin Pearson. The hit was accidental, but it was hard enough to cause an incompletion.
It’s tough to evaluate offensive linemen and running backs when the pads aren’t on, but Cadillac Williams and Michael Pittman appeared to have some nice holes to run through. Both players did a good job of catching the ball out of the backfield on swing and screen passes.
This was encouraging to see, especially for Williams, who struggled to catch the ball cleanly last year.
Bucs quarterback Jeff Garcia took the majority of the reps during Thursday’s practice. Does that mean he’s the leading candidate to start for the Bucs? No.
Garcia is still learning Gruden’s offense and needs some extra work compared to Chris Simms, who is entering his fifth season in the offense. Besides, Garcia, Simms and Gradkowski received reps with different players and in different personnel groupings.
Garcia certainly doesn’t look like he’s 37, and early indications are he’s capable of winning the starting job in Tampa Bay.
He doesn’t have Simms’ arm strength, but Garcia’s arm is strong enough.
In fact, Garcia was extremely accurate on the deep ball Thursday, especially during the early part of practice when he hit WR Paris Warren in stride on a 45-yard pass down the left seam, and Galloway, who beat cornerback Sammy Davis and safety Sabby Piscitelli, on a deep ball thrown to the left side of the field.
In addition to having the ability to move around inside and outside of the pocket, Garcia does a nice job of selling play-action passes. He also showed good pocket presence and decision-making ability in goal line drills when he wisely threw a ball into the stands in the back of the end zone when he felt pressure coming from both sides.
It was only one practice, but Gradkowski still appears to be having trouble with his accuracy on the deep ball. He was also quite erratic today. On one play he would look sharp, but on the next he would be way off.
Despite struggling in some areas, Gradkowski received a lot more reps than QB Luke McCown on Thursday. McCown’s reps during the workout paled in comparison to those taken by Garcia, Simms and Gradkowski, and as of right now McCown appears to be the odd man out. But it’s important to note that there’s still a lot of football to be played between now and September. Â
Last year’s starting left tackle, Anthony Davis, took the majority of his reps at left guard on Thursday. Davis is attempting to fight off second-round pick Arron Sears for the starting job there, but Sears appears to be the leading candidate right now.
With Petitgout not participating in the practice, second-year T Donald Penn received a significant amount of reps at left tackle.
Centers John Wade and Dan Buenning have been limited during OTAs due to their respective knee injuries and surgeries.
Wade, who is recovering from MCL surgery, is expected to be back on a full-time basis in two weeks. Buenning, however, probably won’t be ready until training camp.
Although both players are still recovering from their respective surgeries, they practiced snapping the ball during individual and group drills.
The Bucs could use some help at the center position, or at least that appeared to be the case during the final 11-on-11 session of Thursday’s practice.
With Garcia lined up in the shotgun, a formation Gruden has resisted using until this offseason, center Matt Lehr snapped the ball over his head on two consecutive plays.
Needless to say, Gruden wasn’t pleased. After practice concluded, Gruden suggested it would take some time for his players, particularly the centers, to perfect the shotgun snap.
The offensive line had some problems in other areas as well. During the final 11-on-11 session, Gruden exploded on second-year right tackle Jeremy Trueblood due to poor execution.
“Get him out of the game,” Gruden yelled toward Trueblood. “Do something right.”
Trueblood was replaced by T Dennis Roland, but returned to the lineup several reps later.
Tampa Bay spent most of the final 30 minutes of the practice working on special teams.
The Bucs had several players, including cornerback Torrie Cox, Owens, WR Efrem Hill and WR Chad Lucas, field kickoffs.
Two of the more notable players that fielded some kickoffs during Thursday’s practice were David Boston and Cadillac Williams.
Before Thursday’s practice concluded, Gruden and special teams coach Richard Bisaccia called for kicker Matt Bryant to attempt two field goals with his teammates crowded around him.
With the players and coaches screaming and yelling, Bryant managed to drill his first field goal attempt. However, that noise caused Bryant to miss his second and final field goal attempt, which bounced off of the right upright.
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