The Tampa Bay Buccaneers held a two-hour organized team activity at One Buccaneer Place on Thursday morning. Unlike the first two OTAs held this week, Thursday’s voluntary practice was open to the media. It featured players in helmets, jerseys and shorts.
The two-hour practice was conducted in its entirety, but interrupted by a storm that rolled through the Bay Area. The rain delay lasted approximately 20 minutes.
Several players were not on the field for the voluntary practice, including quarterback Brian Griese, kicker Matt Bryant, punter Josh Bidwell, tackle Donald Penn, defensive end Stylez G. White, linebackers Barrett Ruud and Angelo Crowell, running backs Derrick Ward and Cadillac Williams, wide receiver Maurice Stovall, guard Arron Sears, cornerback Torrie Cox and guard Julius Wilson.
Rookie offensive lineman Xavier Fulton and veteran DE Jimmy Wilkerson left the field after the stretching period to receive treatment for their respective ailments. Some of the other missing players, including White, Williams, Stovall and Sears, were also believed to be receiving treatment inside One Buc Place during the practice.
The absences of Ruud and Penn are believed to be contract-related, with Ruud entering the final year of his contract and Penn having recently inked his one-year tender as a restricted free agent. Both are seeking long-term deals from the Bucs.
One thing that is apparent in new head coach Raheem Morris’ OTAs is that the coaches and coordinators dedicate a significant amount of time to practicing and preaching fundamentals and technique, as opposed to play install, which is what consumed most of the practice time under the guidance of former Bucs head coach Jon Gruden.
And you know that the Gruden era is gone and the Morris generation is in full effect when the players warm up to the song, “Birthday Sex” by Jeremiah. Some of the R&B stuff and hip-hop that is played during warm-ups is quite good, but Pewter Report longs for the days of some Grudenesque “Back In Black” from AC/DC. “Birthday Sex” just didn’t do it.
Once the stretching period concluded the offensive and defensive units broke off into different parts of the practice fields to work on fundamentals and technique.
Bucs defensive line coaches Robert Nunn and Todd Wash had their players run through dummy bag drills.
Linebackers coach Joe Barry had his players work on recovering fumbles, throwing the ball to the ground and requiring his players to charge the football and make a clean recovery of the spinning ball.
Defensive backs coach Joe Baker dedicated the first several minutes of practice to having the defensive backs time passes in the air and intercept them at their highest point.
Several players stood out in this drill, including second-year cornerback Elbert Mack, who appears to be the frontrunner at nickel cornerback in new defensive coordinator Jim Bates’ system.
During interception drills, Mack displayed an impressive vertical and managed to haul in a one-handed interception on a ball that appeared to be sailing well over his head.
Another second-year cornerback, 2008 first-round pick Aqib Talib, stood out in this drill. He showcased his impressive athleticism and ballhawking skills. Talib makes defending the football and picking off passes look so easy more often than not.
After warm-ups concluded, Morris had the offense and defense practice a two-minute red zone drill, but the first part of this session was spent on making player substitutions on offense and defense, with those respective units lining up on opposite sidelines.
Bucs quarterback Byron Leftwich took the first-team reps to start this red zone drill, and didn’t get off to a good start. His first pass attempt to the left side of the field was batted down at the line of scrimmage by defensive end Gaines Adams, who forced the incompletion.
Adams wasn’t the only defender to get his hands near the quarterback today. Rookie defensive Kyle Moore, who saw significant action in place of Wilkerson and White, did a great job of reading a designed rollout by quarterback Luke McCown and forcing the signal caller to throw the ball away in an effort to avoid a sack.
Leftwich rebounded from his batted ball a few plays later when he launched a pass down the left sideline and into the corner of the end zone, where wide receiver Kelly Campbell caught the ball sliding out of the end zone for the touchdown, which drew tremendous praise and cheers from the offensive coaches and personnel.
That touchdown strike came just minutes before the practice was delayed due to the rain. The players retreated to the locker room, where they took shelter for 20 minutes before the team resumed practice.
Once the workout resumed, the players stretched again briefly and then lined up for an 11-on-11 team session near midfield. This drill didn’t start particularly well for the offense. Running back Earnest Graham, who received a lot of work today due to Ward’s absence, fumbled a handoff from McCown early in this drill.
But Graham rebounded later with a great run up the middle behind an offensive line that was without two starters – Penn and Sears, who were replaced by James Lee and Jeremy Zuttah, respectively.
During a 7-on-7 drill, McCown had his own mishap, throwing an interception to Talib, who made a great read and jump on the ball in zone coverage to come up with the pick. With the Bucs defense playing so much man coverage in the new defensive scheme, the change-up to zone flummoxed McCown on that play on a pass intended for Bryant in the back of the end zone.
But like Graham, McCown rebounded in red zone drills, firing a perfect strike across the middle of the field and into the back of the end zone for tight end Jerramy Stevens for a touchdown out of a formation that featured double tight ends with Stevens and John Gilmore lining up next to each other.
Stevens wasn’t the only tight end that reached the end zone in red zone drills. Leftwich hit Kellen Winslow, who was covered tight, for a score. But the touchdown likely wouldn’t have happened in a game as Leftwich, who literally waited 5-7 seconds for someone to get open, would have been sacked.
For the most part, Tampa Bay’s pass coverage during the red zone drills was quite good today. The defensive players did a good job of keeping plays in front of them and closing quickly on dump offs.
“Don’t try that 2-yard [expletive] out here,” Bucs second-year linebacker Adam Hayward said after stopping second-year RB Clifton Smith on a 2-yard dump off from Leftwich. Hayward and Winslow were also doing some serious trash talking to each other after Winslow darted in front of the linebacker to make a catch on a quick slant, which annoyed Hayward.
The offense got their licks in during the red zone, too. McCown quickly went through his reads and found no open receivers after three seconds and immediately left the pocket and rolled to the right during 7-on-7 drills. Wide receiver Brian Clark saw McCown rolling to the left and cut off his route to head back to the quarterback to help out. Clark’s sudden cut created separation from safety Donte Nicholson and he was able to haul in a touchdown pass in the left corner of the end zone on a perfectly thrown ball by McCown.
But for all the pub that Clark has been getting lately, he made a glaring mental error and it cost the offense a touchdown later during the 7-on-7 drills. Clark was working out of the slot and had a step on his defender but saw McCown look in a different direction and slowed his route. But McCown came back with his progressions and saw Clark open at the last minute across the middle and fired a pass into the end zone at the same time Clark began to slow down. By the time Clark recognized that McCown was coming to him, he was a step too late for the pass as the ball sailed over his head and out of the end zone. Had he continued to run his quick slant at full speed, Clark would have had an easy score. After the play, Clark made eye contact with McCown and pointed at himself indicating that he screwed up.
The Buccaneers defense was toying with some different personnel packages Thursday. Some were by design, but others were due to the absences of players, including Ruud, who was replaced at middle linebacker by third-year player Rod Wilson, who continues to impress while holding off Niko Koutouvides for the backup job behind Ruud. Wilson appears to be reaping the benefits of Ruud’s practice reps and has definitely caught the eye of the coaching staff.
It was also interesting to note that with Crowell out of Thursday’s practice, Quincy Black wasn’t the only one running first-team strongside linebacker. Hayward received a significant amount of reps there alongside Wilson and Jermaine Phillips.
One of the most interesting aspects of practice came during goal line drills, Bates introduced the “Jumbo” package, which called for five defensive linemen to defend beyond the 1-yard line, which is where the offense started the drive. This package featured rookie defensive tackle Roy Miller lining up over center, flanked by veterans Ryan Sims at left tackle and Chris Hovan at right tackle. Chris Bradwell lined up at left defensive end and Gaines Adams was at right end.
Not only will the Buccaneers use this formation when the defense is backed up on its own goal line, but the team will also bring out that five-man defensive line when its opponent is backed up on their goal, which is what the situation was today in practice. On the first play with the offense operating at its own 1-yard line, Adams had a mental breakdown by lining up offsides. That drew a penalty flag from the on-looking official, who even tried to alert Adams to the infraction before the ball was snapped, but to no avail.
The Bucs offense had some difficulty running the football while backed up on its own 1-yard line, but the five-man front in the “Jumbo” package wasn’t the only reason for those woes. Bucs backup safety Will Allen really stood out during this drill, shedding a block and stuffing Graham for a safety on one particular play. A few reps later with the ball out from the goal line, Allen flashed again, this time blitzing into the offensive backfield and chasing down Leftwich, who was attempting to roll out to his right, for the sack.
But Tampa Bay’s passing game flourished when operating from its own end zone. Dexter Jackson made a nice, leaping catch, going up and getting a deeply thrown ball between cornerback Kyle Arrington and safety Donte Nicholson. After practice, Bucs wide receivers coach Richard Mann told Pewter Report that this play was one that Jackson wasn’t willing to make a year ago. However, Jackson still has a lot of work to do before making the 53-man roster, especially with the presence of Kelly Campbell in the WR corps.
Perhaps the play of the day came when Winslow was flanked out wide right as a receiver, isolated on third-year safety Sabby Piscitelli at the offense’s own 1-yard line. Winslow ran a go route with Piscitelli blanketing him all the way as McCown threw a perfect fade route. Winslow and Piscitelli both went up for the pass, but the tight end’s strong hands were able to pull down the reception for a 30-yard gain. Piscitelli’s man coverage couldn’t have been any better, but Winslow was able to leap just a little bit higher to come down with the ball as both players fell to the ground.
After the play, Piscitelli was visibly upset with himself over not making the play and ignored Winslow’s trash talk. Piscitelli began swearing just about every word in the book and then went over and grabbed some water and threw the bottle down. He is obviously a very competitive player and has a true passion for the game. Even though his coverage was skin tight, he didn’t make the play and that wasn’t good enough for him. John Lynch used to act in a similar fashion during practice, so maybe the Piscitelli-Lynch comparisons are not that far off.
Earlier in practice, Piscitelli batted away a pass intended for Winslow in the back of the end zone on a similar play in which the tight end was split out wide, isolated on a safety. Winslow was used that way at the University of Miami and in Cleveland, and it looks like Jagodzinski plans on continuing that trend in Tampa Bay based upon how frequently he was used as a wide receiver today in practice.
McCown and Leftwich took virtually all of the reps during the team drills today during the quick change of possession period, the four-minute offense period and the goal line periods. Backups Josh Johnson and Josh Freeman were relegated to bystander status except for the end of practice when most of the team’s veterans were excused to go weight lift.
Tampa Bay’s coaching staff dedicated the final two drills of practice to working with the rookies and some of the other inexperienced players with the veterans gone. These periods resembled the rookie mini-camp in some ways and lacked the polish that was evident when the veterans were participating.
The Bucs will hold their next set of OTAs next week.