Copyright 2007

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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers held the first OTA practice that was open to the media at the new One Buccaneer Place on Thursday. Unlike the open practices that used to be held at the old, run down One Buc Place, the media’s view of the workout was a bit obscure. The reason is that the media’s view of the practice fields is from the end zone. At the old facility, the media’s view was that from the 50-yard line, which was better. With a lot of Thursday’s activities taking place at the far end zone of the practice fields, it was difficult to see all of the action – even with binoculars.

The temperatures were in the low 90s and it was hot and sunny. During the individual drills, the wide receivers were working on making adjustments to passes that were thrown behind them. All of the receivers did a very good job of catching the ball during the individual period. The one noteworthy item is the fact that 5-foot-7 wide receiver Chad Owens is at a severe disadvantage compared to wide receivers who are around 6-foot-4, like Maurice Stovall and Michael Clayton, because Owens has short arms. The bigger wide receivers have the long limbs necessary to reach out and haul in errant passes. Owens’ passes have to be on the money or he isn’t catching the ball.

All four quarterbacks – Jeff Garcia, Chris Simms, Bruce Gradkowski and Luke McCown – looked good, throwing on-target, crisp passes to the receivers. The unofficial depth chart sets up like that, by the way. Based on the info we’ve gathered and the practices we’ve watched, Garcia is the clear starter at this point in time. Simms is the clear backup and Gradkowski is the clear number three QB. If McCown received any reps during the 11-on-11 sessions, they were few and far between and weren’t noticed by Pewter Report today. Rookie quarterback Zac Taylor was limited to just individual drills.

On one throw, Simms took too long in his delivery and threw a quick slant too low to Clayton. Simms said, “My bad, Mike.”

After that apology, quarterbacks coach Paul Hackett got on Simms, saying, “They’re coming fast, Chris.”

What Hackett was saying was that the defense was coming fast and that he had to get the ball out of his hand much quicker on three-step drops. On the next pass, Simms’ delivery was noticeably shorter and more compact. The pass, which almost resembled a fast shot put, came out quickly and was on the money.

Dan Buenning did not take part in offensive line drills as he is still recovering from his ACL injury. However, Buenning was with the quarterbacks snapping all day long in the individual sessions and the 7-on-7 drills. Buenning must have snapped the ball dozens of times today – more than any other center – and he has been engaging in this practice for weeks now. The thousands of snaps he’s been getting in during the OTAs should greatly benefit him when training camp comes and he competes for the starting center spot with John Wade, Matt Lehr, Nick Mihlhauser, Jonathan Clinkscale and Jeb Terry.

During the individual period, the wide receivers were working on pick plays. Two receivers would line up on one side and work together to free each other up. Remember the offensive pass interference play on Joey Galloway that negated a huge, first down catch by Ike Hilliard at New Orleans last year that could have iced Tampa Bay’s victory? Well, Hilliard and Galloway were working on those routes again, hoping to perfect them so Galloway won’t be called for a penalty this time around.

Galloway has been pacing himself during the OTAs, so he doesn’t get as much work in as some of the other receivers do. However, he made a real nice, one-handed catch down the sidelines during the individual period. That helped make up for dropping an easy catch of a Garcia pass after easily beating cornerback Alan Zemaitis and getting wide open.

Clayton had a good day on Thursday, and didn’t drop any passes from what Pewter Report could tell. He looks to be in great shape and appears to have all of his quickness back. He was cutting at full speed, so there shouldn’t be any ill effects from last season’s knee injury.

Looking at Tampa Bay’s wide receiving corps, the one player who stood out in a negative way was Paris Warren. The third-year pro isn’t big and doesn’t have the speed that other receivers possess. With David Boston appearing to be closer to form and standing a good chance of making the team this year, Warren appears to be the odd man out.

In 7-on-7 drills, both Chas Gessner and Chad Lucas made great catches. Gessner climbed the ladder and made a leaping catch over Phillip Buchanon. Lucas made a diving catch in traffic. The problem is that Tampa Bay’s wide receiving corps is pretty talented and competitive right now and neither player has much of a chance on making the team.

Garcia has a great sense of timing and is clearly the most accurate quarterback the Bucs have on their roster. He was taking the majority of reps on Thursday, just as he was two weeks ago at the OTA at Raymond James Stadium.

Gradkowski demonstrated a better touch on his deep passes today, hitting Clayton deep for a touchdown bomb. However, his timing was off a bit on a slant to Clayton, who was coming across the middle on a crossing pattern. The ball bounced off Clayton’s hands, but he managed to hang on to it and made a juggling catch.

The Buccaneers were concentrating on third down plays today, working everything from third-and-2 to third-and-7. Tampa Bay’s offense was also running a lot of misdirection plays and attacking the perimeter of the defense with the quarterback on traditional rollouts and rollouts off of play action.

There were a couple of trick plays in practice today that were the same ones used at Raymond James Stadium two weeks ago. That tells Pewter Report that these plays are ones that aren’t put in to keep practice light and fun. Rather, they are plays that could be used against Seattle on opening day.

The shotgun was used at times on Thursday with Lehr making a quick snap to Gradkowski. Lehr is a shorter, squattier player than Wade is, but he sets into his stance quickly after the snap and gets his hands on his opponent instantly. Lehr is a technician in the Jeff Christy mold, only a bit bigger in terms of size.

It is very difficult to fully evaluate offensive linemen at OTAs, as they are non-contact and the linemen aren’t in pads. However, rookie guard Arron Sears does pack quite a punch and jolted defensive tackle Ellis Wyms backwards.

New fullback B.J. Askew showed surprising speed and quickness in getting to the edge on perimeter runs. Askew displayed good blocking technique, although he must do a better job of keeping his pad level lower. At 6-foot-4, 235 pounds, Askew may be the league’s tallest fullback. Askew also has good hands and didn’t drop a pass in practice that Pewter Report saw.

Like the offense, Tampa Bay’s defense, particularly the defensive line, was at times difficult to evaluate due to an obstructed view at One Buc Place.

Bucs defensive backs coach Raheem Morris spent a significant amount of time working with the defensive backs on breaking on the ball and defending fade passes. He was fairly pleased with how the players performed during individual drills.

“Good job,” said Morris. “But let’s put it on tape in practice today.”

Although the Bucs invested a second-round draft pick in Sabby Piscitelli in April, the strong safety position still appears to be Jermaine Phillips’ to lose. Phillips got a lot of work in today and had mixed results.

Whether Phillips of Piscitelli starts at strong safety remains to be seen. However, one thing is for sure – it is clear that Morris commands the respect and attention of his players, including veterans like Phillips and cornerback Ronde Barber.

Morris spent a lot of time working with second-year CB Alan Zemaitis during the individual period. Zemaitis’ play recognition skills and footwork need work, but Morris seems to have taken on the former fourth-round pick as a project.

After spending time running his players through dummy drills, Bucs defensive line coach/assistant coach Larry Coyer joined defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and the defensive linemen and linebackers to work on installing defensive alignments and shifts.

Bucs 10-time Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Brooks did not practice Thursday. But he was in attendance. Brooks’ role on the practice field was similar to the one Galloway takes on in training camp in practices he does not suit up for.

During 7-on-7 drills, Brooks was seen taking a knee before each snap and giving coaching and feedback to the defensive players.

With Brooks out, Jamie Winborn received extensive work and was extremely active during Thursday’s OTA. However, Tampa Bay’s starting strongside linebacker, Cato June, was the linebacker that stood out the most during the practice.

June is a bit undersized, but he’s extremely quick, especially in pass coverage. If he can hold up against the run, which remains to be seen, June should prove to be a significant upgrade over last year’s starting Sam linebacker, Ryan Nece.

The Bucs entered the offseason determined to get bigger and faster on defense, and they accomplished that feat. The message is pretty clear to Nece, who has been spending at least 30 minutes after each practice jogging around the football fields and working out.

The 6-foot-3, 224-pound Nece appears to be heavier than the weight he’s listed at, and he’s clearly attempting to shed some pounds. Despite the fact that it was 90-plus degrees at today’s practice, Nece sported a long sleeve shirt, a t-shirt and his jersey during the workout.

It’s not that Nece needs to lose weight because he’s overweight. Nece, who struggled in pass coverage due to a lack of speed last season, is attempting to get faster. He’ll need to do that if he hopes to beat out June for the starting job this season.

After allowing Gessner to haul in a pass earlier in practice, Buchanon made some impressive plays on Thursday. During a 7-on-7 drill, he showed good speed and awareness while breaking up a deep pass thrown down the right sideline to Boston, who couldn’t haul in the pass thanks to Buchanon’s pass breakup.

Before Thursday’s practice concluded, Buchanon broke up not one, but two more passes.

But not all was perfect in terms of the cornerback play. At one point during an 11-on-11 session, Morris grew frustrated with his cornerbacks’ play against Tampa Bay’s wide receivers.

“What are we doing? Come on. Cornerbacks cover [expletive] wide receivers,” yelled Morris.

Zemaitis was inconsistent during 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills. He did a nice job of picking up WR Mark Jones on a crossing route in zone coverage. During one particular 7-on-7 drill play, Galloway beat Zemaitis, who appears to lack ideal speed, down the left sideline, but Gradkowski’s deep pass was underthrown and fell incomplete. That was fortunate for Zemaitis, who failed to turn around and look for the ball since he was attempting to gain ground on Galloway.

It will be interesting to see how Zemaitis fares on special teams in training camp and preseason. He likely will have to make a significant impact there to make Tampa Bay’s 53-man roster this season.

Piscitelli might be pushing Phillips for the starting strong safety job, but starting free safety, Will Allen, doesn’t appear to be in any real danger of losing his job to rookie Tanard Jackson, who is making the transition from cornerback to safety.

Despite playing quite poorly in 2006, Allen doesn’t seem to be lacking confidence on the practice field. In fact, Allen is playing with some serious swagger. He was quite vocal during Thursday’s practice, encouraging his defensive teammates and talking some trash after breaking up a pass during 7-on-7 drills and playing the run and pass well during an 11-on-11 session.

Tampa Bay’s defense had some challenges with the offense’s misdirection plays today, which might be more of a credit to the offense than it is a knock on the defense.

But the Bucs defense did have some sloppy moments during the workout. On one play during an 11-on-11 drill, Bucs running back Michael Pittman found himself completely uncovered after he was motioned out as a wide receiver. Although this could haven been a disaster for the defense, Piscitelli was alerted to the fact that Pittman was uncovered and sprinted over to the left side of the field to cover him before Garcia could get the snap off.

One of the most impressive players on the defensive side of the ball was defensive end Patrick Chukwurah. Tampa Bay’s defensive line was tough to evaluate Thursday due to the obstructed view, but Chukwurah still managed to stand out. He notched a sack and an interception during the OTA practice. His interception came during the 11-on-11 goal line drill when Chukwurah picked off a pass intended for TE Anthony Becht.

The Bucs must figure out how to get Chukwurah on the field during games. His pass-rushing skills are apparent, but with Greg Spires and Simeon Rice, who was absent on Thursday, starting at left and right end, respectively, Chukwurah might be hard pressed to receive a lot of reps during the regular season. On the other hand, it will be tough for the Bucs to keep Chukwurah, who has been getting a lot of work in with Rice rehabbing his shoulder, on the sideline if he continues to make the kind of plays he made on Thursday.

Tampa Bay’s punt drills had a unique twist with both Boston and Clayton serving as gunners. There is a chance that neither receiver will be a starter in 2007, and the Bucs expect backup receivers to play a role on special teams. Both Clayton and Boston looked good running down covering punts and were really into it.

The punt returners for the day were Hilliard, Galloway and running back Carnell Williams.

A lot of the 11-on-11 team drills took place at the far end of the field. With players standing in the way between the media and the starters on the field, the view was quite obstructed. Once again, Garcia took the starter’s reps, followed by Simms and Gradkowski, who appeared to take the same amount of reps.

Tight end Jerramy Stevens looked good catching the ball. He presented himself well as a big target, caught the ball cleanly and showed a good burst of speed after the catch. Stevens ran mostly underneath routes and intermediate routes and was able to gain some separation from defenders.

Starting tight end Alex Smith, who also had a good practice and caught the final pass of the practice, which was a touchdown against Zemaitis. Smith emphatically spiked the ball to celebrate.

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