Copyright 2009

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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers held a voluntary organized team activity at One Buccaneer Place on Wednesday morning.

Unlike Tuesday’s practice, Wednesday’s two-hour workout was open to the media and featured the Bucs players in helmets, jerseys and shorts. The practice was held under sunny skies and hot and humid conditions, with the temperatures in the high 80s.

Several players were not present for the voluntary practice, including quarterback Brian Griese, punter Josh Bidwell, running back Cadillac Williams, fullback Byron Storer, guard Arron Sears, tight end Kellen Winslow, wide receiver Maurice Stovall, defensive tackle Greg Peterson and linebacker Barrett Ruud.

In addition, none of Tampa Bay’s rookies, including the team’s first-round pick, quarterback Josh Freeman, were at today’s OTA due to the fact that their respective colleges must hold graduation ceremonies before they are allowed to participate. Kansas State’s graduation in May 16, so Freeman will be in Tampa next week for another round of OTAs.

While they were at practice today, defensive end Stylez G. White and cornerback Aqib Talib did not participate for undisclosed reasons. Center Jeff Faine also left practice early for unknown reasons, although Faine has been limited with a sore back this offseason.

Tampa Bay’s defensive backs spent a significant amount of time working on intercepting passes on Wednesday morning.

Bucs defensive backs coach Joe Baker threw passes high in the air, which required the DBs to intercept the ball at the highest point possible. In some particulars parts of this portion of practice the defensive backs were required to backpedal and break on passes in an effort to pick them off.

Safety Sabby Piscitelli dropped an interception early in this drill, but he didn’t need Baker to remind him of it. Piscitelli was clearly frustrated with himself for the dropped pick.

Bucs free safety Tanard Jackson excelled in this drill in terms of backpedalling and breaking on passes. However, he dropped an interception in one of his last attempts during this drill.

In the meantime, Piscitelli recovered nicely from his early drop, even drawing praise from defensive coordinator Jim Bates, who had spent the first part of practice working with the defensive linemen on getting off the ball and pass rushing with balance, before walking over to the defensive backs drills.

“I like that,” Bates yelled to Piscitelli after one particular break on the ball and interception. “Nice and smooth.”

Once the individual units of the defense finished the first period of practice, the defense came together to allow Bates and the position coaches to install plays and coach the players up on their individual responsibilities.

“Even if you do it half-speed or walk-thru you have to keep the tempo high,” Bates said to the defensive players.

With Ruud not in attendance for today’s practice, Bucs third-year linebacker Rod Wilson played in his place. While he wasn’t initially considered the frontrunner for the backup middle linebacker job in Tampa Bay, Wilson has done some things well, evidenced by the fact that he’s still playing in front of newcomer Niko Koutovides, who was signed during the offseason.

Bucs defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson is impressing as well. With White sidelined for Wednesday’s workout, Wilkerson was running first-team left end. Sources tell Pewter Report that Wilkerson has been solid thus far. While he could earn a starting job this year, Wilkerson still is proving to be a versatile player. The Bucs were using him at left and right end on Wednesday.

During an 11-on-11 session, Wilkerson showed good instincts, timing and vertical by batting down a pass near the line of scrimmage from quarterback Luke McCown. He was playing right end on this particular play.

Ryan Sims and Chris Hovan are running first-team defensive tackle, and they were a big reason why the Bucs offense had trouble running the football during 11-on-11 sessions today.

Tampa Bay’s linebackers were also involved in the defense’s solid play versus the run. That includes Jermaine Phillips, who is running first-team outside linebacker along with Quincy Black, who has a head start on newcomer Angelo Crowell, who still is recovering from a knee injury.

The Bucs’ group of linebackers looks noticeably quicker without 11-time Pro Bowler Derrick Brooks, 35, out on the football field. That speed came in handy during some of the passing plays today.

Second-year LB Geno Hayes, who is competing with Phillips for a starting job, showed some impressive power by pancaking tackle Anthony Alabi during one particular play in a 11-on-11 drill.

Later, Hayes showed up big again, this time breaking up a pass in the flat for fullback B.J. Askew. The ball was thrown well by McCown, but Hayes did a nice job of staying with Askew and making a play on the catchable ball.

Phillips showed good instincts and was assignment sound during 11-on-11 drills when he contained McCown, who was rolling out to his right and pump faked in an attempt to scramble for yardage. Instead, McCown was stopped for no gain.

Tampa Bay’s defensive backs were impressive during parts of practice. Backup safety Donte Nicholson nearly picked off McCown towards the end of practice on a deep ball thrown towards the left sideline. Nicholson broke well on the ball and dove for it, but couldn’t hold onto it as he slid out of bounds.

Nicholson had a tough time during the final 11-on-11 session when quarterback Byron Leftwich threw to a wide open wide receiver Kelly Campbell across the middle of the field for a huge play. Nicholson was trailing in coverage as Campbell showed impressive speed moving up field with the ball.

The Bucs spent some time working on special teams during this afternoon’s workout. Clifton Smith, Kareem Huggins and Dexter Jackson fielded punts from the JUGGS machine.

Long snapper Andrew Economos looks bigger this year. It looks like he has been hitting the weight room. Several players look bigger from strength coach Kurt Shultz’s new strength program, including right tackle Jeremy Trueblood. We’ll have more on Trueblood in the next SR’s Fab 5 column.

Jeremy Zuttah and Sean Mahan give the team solid depth at the guard and center positions, but the depth at the tackle positions is still suspect. The team remains high on James Lee, who backed up Donald Penn at left tackle, but the jury is still out on Anthony Alabi, who backed up Trueblood at right tackle.

In the team sessions on Wednesday, the offensive line was getting its butt kicked in run blocking as it is still learning how to implement the zone block scheme. That did not make new offensive line coach Pete Mangurian happy and he let the line know how he felt.

“This is the (expletive) NFL,” Mangurian screamed. “This is not (expletive) college. This is not the practice squad.”

Later in practice, as the offensive line was struggling to open creases in the running game, Mangurian said, “Come on! You are standing there grabbing air while they are tackling your ass!”

While the kinks were still being worked out in the running game, the passing flourished. We’re not sure if it’s a product of Jeff Jagodzinski’s offense playing well or Jim Bates’ defense playing poorly, but there plenty of tight ends and wide receivers running wide open on Wednesday, and the quarterbacks were finding them.

Former practice squad cornerback Kyle Arrington, one of Raheem Morris’ Hofstra kids (Morris played wide receiver at Hofstra), stood out in practice on Wednesday. Arrington is currently the fourth cornerback on the depth chart, but with Talib out of practice today, Arrington was the team’s nickel corner.

On one of his plays, Arrington competed with wide receiver Michael Clayton for the ball near the sidelines on a pass from Leftwich. Arrington broke on the ball and collided with Clayton, which knocked the DB’s helmet off. While Arrington got knocked to the ground, Clayton was able to reach out and grab the ball before stepping out of bounds.

But that was the only time someone got the best of Arrington in practice. Arrington broke up a pass intended for Clayton from Leftwich that was thrown slightly behind the receiver. He also broke up a pass in underneath coverage intended for tight end Jason Pociask.

Wide receiver Dexter Jackson had trouble getting separation from defensive backs on Wednesday. On a nice deep pass from Leftwich, Jackson couldn’t out-run Elbert Mack for the ball. Later in another team session towards the end of practice, Jackson got wide-open downfield due to a blown coverage, but was quickly caught by safety Tanard Jackson before he could reach the end zone, which was quite surprising.

“4.3 speed my ass!” shouted Talib from the sidelines. “4.3 on that track, maybe … 4.3 speed my ass!”

Jackson, the receiver, was involved in a play that almost resulted in an interception when he kept going vertical as Leftwich threw late and behind him. The pass was almost picked off by Torrie Cox.

One player who looked decidedly faster than Jackson was Campbell, who was getting open all day and making big plays. Campbell may be the team’s true deep threat, as he appears to be the fastest receiver on the team. Campbell has great run-after-catch ability and took a nice slant pass in front of safety Will Allen across the field for a big gain. Towards the end of practice, Campbell got wide open down the middle of the field and caught a nice bomb from Leftwich for a touchdown.

Another receiver to keep an eye on is St. Petersburg native and Louisville product Patrick Carter. Carter is a big receiver at 6-foot-3, 215 pounds that has deceptive speed and some very good hands. The team was disappointed it had to cut Anthony Mix due to his arrest because it liked his size at 6-foot-5, 235 pounds. Carter isn’t that big, but with Maurice Stovall missing in action today and on his last leg with the team, Carter has a chance to rise up and claim a roster spot.

Brian Clark is a smart receiver who can play multiple positions as well as on special teams. But he lacks explosive speed and didn’t stand out today after the catch.

On one of the final plays before the end of practice, McCown was flushed from the pocket and scrambled up the middle of the field before cutting hard to the right and rushing for a 25-yard gain. McCown left linebacker Adam Hayward in the dust initially and ran out of bounds before being touched. McCown then playfully turned to Hayward, patted him on the helmet and proceeded to talk some smack to him.

The quarterbacks were also throwing several screen passes to running backs Derrick Ward, Earnest Graham, Smith and Huggins on Wednesday. The Bucs probably ran more screen passes in one practice today than in any practice under Jon Gruden. Unfortunately, the defense did a nice job of defending most of the screen passes and not allowing many to go for big gains.

McCown was on target all day and threw the best balls of all three quarterbacks. Leftwich looked like he has dropped quite a bit of weight and showed off his arm strength, as well as his slower, wind-up delivery.

Josh Johnson took third-team reps behind McCown and Leftwich, who split the starter’s reps in practice on Wednesday. Johnson’s delivery is noticeably faster than Leftwich’s, but he was more erratic in his throws during practice. Johnson’s shining moment came when he was flushed to the right and threw a pass to Amarri Jackson, who drifted behind safety Tanard Jackson in coverage, right before running out of bounds. Jackson had caught Morris’ wrath earlier in practice for dropping a pass, hearing “C’mon, Amarri! Catch the damn ball!” from the head coach.

The team’s best receiver is easily Antonio Bryant, who made a couple of absolutely money catches today, including a shoestring grab going full speed on a pass from McCown. Bryant was clutch for McCown and Leftwich during the entire practice.

Tight end John Gilmore also did a really nice job catching the ball, bettering the efforts of Jerramy Stevens. Gilmore was running second string due to Winslow’s absence and not only showed good hands, he had a nice burst off the line and showed he could get open, running free down the deep middle of the field on two occasions.

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