Copyright 2007

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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers held their third and final organized team activity of the week at One Buccaneer Place on Thursday. Thursday’s OTA was number 14 this offseason.

The temperatures were in the high 80s and although it was sunny, temperatures were a bit cooler than normal for this time of the year.

Bucs head coach Jon Gruden was all about testing his offensive players mentally during Thursday’s workout. That was clear from the beginning of the two-hour practice when Gruden jumped all over his receivers for not lining up properly.

“Zebra, Zebra, Zebra in the huddle please,” Gruden shouted. “We have to get lined up properly, men.”

Zebra means a three wide receiver formation with one running back and one tight end. Not only did he challenge the players’ knowledge of the playbook, Gruden has been expanding it a bit.

Pewter Report has reported in previous Pewter Insider articles that Gruden has installed several trick plays in his offense. Well, just when you think you’ve seen it all Gruden installs more of them.

Perhaps it’s not fair to deem some of today’s plays as “trickery,” but let’s just say they’re extremely creative and involve a lot of misdirection.

The Bucs have been working a lot with screen plays, which is something we haven’t seen a lot of in regular season games during Gruden’s tenure in Tampa Bay.

Gruden gave his offensive players the opportunity to prove they can run screen plays and a variety of other plays during Thursday’s OTA. He let them know that he was going to test them early.

“I’m going to stick some challenging plays in today now,” Gruden said to the offensive players during warm-ups.

It’s early, but it appears as though Gruden might actually believe he finally has the personnel to run screen and other types of plays with success, which means his playbook could be opening up a bit this season.  

The player on the receiving end of most of the screen plays was third-year running back Cadillac Williams. That’s probably good news to the fans that have been inquiring about Williams and his ability to catch the football this offseason.

Williams has displayed soft hands during OTAs. He has also received a lot more work this offseason than he did this time last year.

Several players Pewter Report has talked to expressed interest in receiving more reps during OTAs, training camp and preseason in an effort to get into a rhythm before the regular season starts. Based on the amount of work Williams received today, Gruden might just be giving his players what they want.

Williams isn’t in danger of losing his starting job. Michael Pittman is a serviceable player and still has tremendous value as a pass-catcher and blocker, but the Bucs are pretty thin after Pittman and Williams.

Not that he should be judged on this one play alone, but Earnest Graham’s fumble during the 11-on-11 period during Thursday’s workout certainly doesn’t help his cause, especially when players like Lionel Gates and rookie Kenneth Darby are pushing him for a roster spot. Gruden simply doesn’t have the time or the patience to tolerate the types of turnovers the Bucs had last season. Graham is not known as a fumbler, though.

The first, second and third-team units haven’t been established yet. However, you can still get a pretty good feel for where players are lining up and with what player personnel groupings.

Take it for what it’s worth because it’s still OTAs, not training camp practices, but the starting offensive line in Thursday’s practice appeared to be left tackle Luke Petitgout, left guard Anthony Davis, center John Wade, right guard Davin Joseph and right tackle Jeremy Trueblood.

Perhaps the most noteworthy part of that lineup was Davis, who didn’t appear to be receiving starter reps in the first OTA the media was allowed to watch. Instead, those reps went to second-round draft pick Arron Sears. Keep an eye on this particular battle. It should be a good one in training camp and preseason.

Speaking of starters, second- and third-string reps, there was a local television report a few days ago that claimed Bucs quarterback Chris Simms had tumbled down the depth chart and was now taking third-string reps during OTAs.

Pewter Report found this report curious. There’s no disputing the fact that Jeff Garcia is clearly the starting signal caller. Pewter Report has reported how he stood out in previous OTAs and how he was the most accurate quarterback on the team. However, the action we had watched in the previous two OTAs didn’t jive with the report that suggested Simms was now the third-string quarterback.

After watching Thursday’s OTA, Pewter Report can report with confidence that Simms is not the third-string quarterback.

The confusion of where Simms stands in the offensive lineup likely stems from how Gruden has been working in his plays and personnel groupings. Garcia is clearly the starter, but after that there’s basically no consistency in terms of the reps Simms, Bruce Gradkowski and Luke McCown have been receiving.

The distribution of reps changes with each OTA. In the first OTA the media was allowed to watch, which was held at Raymond James Stadium, McCown appeared to be the odd man out since he received very few reps.

But during Thursday’s OTA, McCown received a significant amount of work. In fact, he probably had the second-most amount of reps behind Garcia.

Depending on the drill, Simms sometimes was the second quarterback taking snaps behind Garcia. At other times Gradkowski and McCown were taking the snaps behind Garcia.

Garcia wasn’t solely working with the starters, either. This is typical as Gruden likes to work the quarterbacks in with different players and personnel groupings. Garcia received the majority of work during 7-on-7 drills. Simms took the No. 2 reps behind Garcia in this drill, and he didn’t get off to a good start.

Simms’ first pass during this particular 7-on-7 drill was intercepted by Bucs middle linebacker Barrett Ruud. Simms looked indecisive on this play and some others. However, Simms’ final throw of the 7-on-7 drill might have been the most impressive pass of practice. He threw a bullet down the right seam to Boston for a touchdown.

It’s way too early to determine where Simms fits into the rotation, but the guess here after watching three OTAs is Simms is still the No. 2 quarterback behind Garcia. Although Pewter Report didn’t count the reps, it is fair to say that Simms got more reps than Gradkowski did on Thursday. We’ll get a good feel for where Simms really stands on the depth chart when training camp begins in July.

McCown has good mobility and is clearly a good athlete. He had some mixed results during Thursday’s workout. During an 11-on-11 drill, McCown nearly had a poorly thrown ball intercepted by linebacker Sam Olajubutu.

The quarterbacks were pretty effective throwing the football today. Garcia was fairly accurate, and when he was off on his throws it was usually because he was throwing behind the intended receivers. Still, Garcia is a very good caretaker with the football.

Garcia’s most impressive throw of practice came during a 7-on-7 drills when he fired the ball deep down the right sideline and hit wide receiver David Boston for a touchdown.

Boston was playing in place of wide receiver Joey Galloway, who wasn’t in attendance for Thursday’s voluntary OTA. Boston made the most of Galloway’s absence by taking most of his reps at the X (split-end) position. Boston is doing a nice job of separating from receivers, and his hands have been pretty reliable.

Although he’s not as fast as he used to be, Boston, who has looked impressive, is fast enough to fill in for Galloway should the 36-year-old receiver suffer an injury that sidelines him for any length of time.

One of the more exciting plays during Thursday’s practice came during 11-on-11 drills when wide receiver Chas Gessner hauled in a quick pass on the line of scrimmage near the left sideline and put a great juke move on cornerback Sammy Davis, who wound up being left behind in Gessner’s dust.

“Go Goose, go,” Gessner’s teammates cheered as he sprinted 50 yards down the sideline to the end zone for a touchdown.

With tight ends Keith Heinrich and T.J. Williams still out with their respective injuries, newcomer Jerramy Stevens got a lot of work in today. Stevens’ 6-foot-7 frame really makes him stand out on the football field. He also moves quite well for a big guy. If he can stay out of trouble, Stevens shouldn’t have a problem making Tampa Bay’s 53-man roster.

Tampa Bay’s defense was missing a few players during Thursday’s OTA session. As expected, cornerback Brian Kelly and defensive end Simeon Rice were absent. Kelly and Rice have only participated in one, three-day set of OTAs this offseason. The other missing Buccaneer was starting strong safety Jermaine Phillips.

At the beginning of practice, Tampa Bay’s linebackers and defensive backs spent a lot of their individual period time working on intercepting passes and ball skills. Linebacker Cato June dropped effortlessly into coverage and showed great hands. June is so committed to the Buccaneers that he caught a red eye flight into Tampa on Thursday morning after being in Indianapolis last night where he accepted his Super Bowl ring.

Jamie Winborn, who replaced Derrick Brooks in the lineup (Brooks attended the workout, but didn’t participate) at weakside linebacker, made a nice, one-handed interception in the individual linebacker session.

Cornerback Alan Zemaitis showed better footwork in today’s OTA individual session than he had in the previous OTAs that were open to the media. Bucs coaches acknowledge that Zemaitis has made some strides, but he appears to still have a ways to go. Despite last year’s fourth-round draft status, Zemaitis is certainly not a lock to make this football team, especially with the way Phillip Buchanon and Davis are playing.

During the individual periods, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin spent time going to each position on defense and encouraging his players. Kiffin praised Davis, who did a great job of intercepting a pass in a DBs drill.

Defensive backs coach Raheem Morris enjoyed playing quarterback and throwing 30-yard outs to his players, who were trying to make interceptions along the sideline. Safety Donte Nicholson made a great pick just before stepping out of bounds. Nicholson has stepped up his game lately and the former fifth-round draft pick, who has already been cut by the Bucs once, may be poised to challenge for a backup safety spot. The only problem is that rookies Tanard Jackson and Sabby Piscitelli have been performing well and their progress and draft status may earn them back up spots behind Phillips and safety Will Allen.

Defensive tackle Darrell Campbell injured his calf in the last OTA session in early June and missed this week’s team work. Campbell, who has flashed well in practice, has been one of the sleepers this offseason. He worked out today with trainers and is expected to be ready to go by the start of training camp.

Tampa Bay’s defensive linemen were working on spin moves against the dummy bags today. Once again, Patrick Chukwurah stood out with his speed and agility. New defensive line coach Larry Coyer told Pewter Report that Chukwurah will strictly be a defensive end in Tampa Bay, despite playing linebacker primarily in Denver for Coyer. Coyer is also a big fan of veteran defensive end Greg Spires, who split time at left end with Kevin Carter today.

Rookie Quincy Black was taking some reps today as the second-string middle linebacker behind Barrett Ruud. Earlier in the OTA sessions, Black had been running third team behind Ruud and Antoine Cash. Black plays with a mean streak and a chip on his shoulder. He usually gives offensive players a little shove in the back after plays are over to make sure they feel his presence. Don’t be surprised if Black is the player that starts the first training camp fight this summer.

It was only one practice, but Black may be making his move up the depth chart. His third-round draft status likely guarantees him a roster spot in 2007, whereas Cash was an undrafted free agent pickup by the Bucs a couple of years ago. It didn’t help Cash’s cause that he got beat down the middle of the field by Pittman in seven-on-seven drills.

As usual, the Bucs got some special teams work in this afternoon.

Wide receivers Chad Owens, Ike Hilliard and Mark Jones, and running back Cadillac Williams spent time fielding some punts.

Instead of fielding punts, which he had done in some previous OTAs, Boston took some reps as a gunner. So did receiver Michael Clayton, who had a quiet practice at receiver.

Second-year receiver Maurice Stovall has been getting a lot of work in as a Z receiver. He has arguably been one of Tampa Bay’s most consistent receivers this offseason and is challenging Clayton for a starting job.

Clayton and Boston have been taking reps on special teams, but Stovall hasn’t been getting many there. Tampa Bay’s staring receivers don’t typically play on special teams. That’s not to say Stovall is a starter, but the fact that he’s not playing a lot of special teams and Clayton is is interesting to say the least.

Andrew Economos served as the team’s primary long snapper. He appears to be the frontrunner for that job.

Tampa Bay added depth to several positions through free agency and the draft this offseason. But despite the fact that Matt Bryant made just 17-of-22 (77.3 percent) of his field goal attempts in 2006, the Bucs opted not to look at the draft or free agency for legitimate competition for Bryant and signed undrafted free agent Garrett Rivas instead.

Of course, Bryant’s kicking percentage didn’t stand out as much since he put himself in the record books and helped the Bucs defeat the Eagles with a 62-yard field goal last season.

But during Thursday’s OTA, Bryant made just 1-of-3 field goal attempts. He made his first field goal, but missed his final two tries while his teammates simulated crowd noise and assistant to head coach Paul Kelly sounded the air horn. 

It is important to note that the field goal post Bryant was kicking on is more narrow than a normal NFL field goal post. As one team source said, "All three of Bryant's field goals would have been good on real uprights." 

The Bucs probably aren’t going to blow many teams away on the scoreboard this season. That said, they need Bryant to make at least 80 percent of his field goals in 2007.

Tampa Bay will hold its final three OTAs next Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. All three workouts are mandatory.

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