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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 morning.
The voluntary workout lasted two hours and was held under partly cloudy skies with temperatures in the high 80s to low 90s with the Florida humidity contributing to the hot conditions.
A few players were missing in action, including running back Earnest Graham, quarterback Chris Simms and wide receiver Michael Clayton.
Graham's absence is believed to be contract related. Simms has not been participating in voluntary workouts due to his belief that he does not have a future in Tampa Bay and his desire to be released or traded.
Several other players, including running back Cory Boyd, tight end Keith Heinrich, linebacker Teddy Lehman and cornerback Elbert Mack – were limited or held out of practice with their respective ailments, none of which are considered serious.
Running back Carnell "Cadillac" Williams and left tackle Luke Petitgout spent a significant amount of time with Bucs trainer Todd Toriscelli on the field closest to Raymond James Stadium. Williams and Petitgout are coming off of knee injuries they suffered during the 2007 regular season.
Williams and Petitgout were out of action, but the good news for the Bucs was linebacker Cato June (foot), guard Arron Sears (knee) and wide receiver Maurice Stovall (arm) had full participation on Thursday after being limited – or even missing practice time — earlier in the offseason.
Shortly after the Bucs took the practice field this morning they began stretching. The calisthenics were led by cornerback Ronde Barber, quarterback Jeff Garcia, guard Davin Joseph and defensive tackle Chris Hovan.
The quarterbacks and wide receivers warmed up together throwing high deep passes where receivers practiced over-the-shoulder catches. Wide receiver Joey Galloway made a beautiful one-handed grab in this session.
The offensive line and tight ends practiced together. The units were working on their footwork and hitting blocking pads held by another a player. The running backs were working on blocking as well. They were behind a fence working on hitting a blocking sled.
After warming up, the offensive players came together for group installation. The defense did the same thing. What was noteworthy about those periods was that they were shorter than the installation period in past OTAs. With only three more OTAs and a mandatory mini-camp before training camp starts, the Buccaneers may be finishing what they plan to install prior to training camp, which begins on July 25.
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden spent a significant amount of time working with the quarterbacks and wide receivers during the installation period this morning.
Gruden was extremely pleased with what he saw from this group, particularly his receivers. Play after play, Gruden applauded and told the players he liked what he was seeing.
Tampa Bay's head coach had plenty of reasons to be pleased with what he saw. Several players performed well and stood out.
Bucs rookie WR Dexter Jackson took a significant amount of reps this morning and showcased his speed. Jackson, who suffered a hamstring injury during Tampa Bay's rookie mini-camp, was extremely quick and looked much faster today than the previous times we saw him.
Jackson also did a better job of running routes and catching the ball, especially on crossing and drag routes.
Bucs WR Antonio Bryant had an impressive workout this morning. Like Jackson, Bryant looked quicker going in and out of his routes, and he did a fantastic job of separating and catching the football.
"That's it, Antonio Bryant," Gruden yelled after Bryant ran a crossing route that allowed running back Kenneth Darby to get open near the sideline.
A few plays later Bryant came through again, this time beating Barber on an out route and hauling in a pass. Barber seemed to be angry with himself after the play.
Bryant's most impressive catch came when he dove for a ball thrown by quarterback Brian Griese and hauled it in for a big gain during an 11-on-11 session.
Stovall looked like the player we saw last offseason, running solid routes and making some great catches. He is definitely one of the players to watch in training camp, and if Stovall can carry the success he had last training camp into the 2008 regular season the Bucs will be in good shape.
It would also be an amazing story as there aren't a lot of people that know the extent of the broken arm Stovall suffered in Week 16 vs. San Francisco last year.
Stovall broke the part of the arm that supports the bicep muscle in that game. Part of the bone was literally sticking out of his arm after he broke it in San Francisco. Bucs wide receivers coach Richard Mann recently told Pewter Report that he had never seen a receiver with that type of injury before and that it was gruesome in nature.
The fact that Stovall is back on the field and participating in team drills says a lot about him and the work he's put in to get healthy and ready to compete for a starting job again this year.
Stovall had a good practice, but his drop on a perfectly thrown ball from quarterback Luke McCown on the final play of offensive play installation drills was a sour note for an otherwise impressive session for the offense.
Although he's 36, Galloway isn't showing any signs of slowing down. He gained separation on a consistent basis and was a regular target for the quarterbacks during practice.
It looks as though the impressive performance WR Cortez Hankton put forth at Ray-Jay two weeks ago was no fluke. He was solid again on Thursday, making a beautiful catch in-between two defenders during an 11-on-11 session.
Tight end Jerramy Stevens has been quite popular in the media since the Bucs signed him last Friday. He was also popular on the practice field Thursday, and for good reason.
Stevens hasn't participated in all of Tampa Bay's OTAs, but you wouldn't know it by watching him. He ran crisp routes and did a nice job of catching the ball on Thursday.
During one of the 11-on-11 sessions, Stevens got himself open vs. linebacker Derrick Brooks on a crossing route and hauled in the pass and took it up the sideline for a 20-yard gain before getting accidently knocked down out of bounds by a defender.
Gruden paid close attention to Stevens and liked what he saw out on the field.
"Jerramy Stevens. Yeah," Gruden yelled after Stevens got himself wide open on a drag route and hauled in a pass near the sideline.
Tampa Bay's decision to re-sign Stevens appears to have lit a fire under the tight ends, particularly newcomers Ben Troupe and John Gilmore, who looked much better than when we had the opportunity to watch them two weeks ago.
With Graham still missing in action, the Bucs continued to give the majority of reps to running backs Warrick Dunn and Michael Bennett. Both players were featured quite a bit in the passing game, most notably on screen passes.
Bennett struggled to learn Gruden's complex playbook on the fly last season, but having a full offseason to digest the playbook seems to be helping him quite a bit. Of course, his blazing speed doesn't hurt, either. He put that on display on Thursday, too.
Although Bennett carried the ball more in practice and Dunn served as more of a pass catcher on Thursday, Gruden was impressed with both players.
"Like it, Michael Bennett," Gruden said after Bennett ran a delayed route out of the backfield on one particular passing play.
"Well done, Warrick Dunn," Gruden said after one play.
Darby also got into the action by breaking off a great run behind Donald Penn, who started at left tackle in place of Petitgout.
NFL rules prohibit the media from reporting specifics regarding plays that are executed in practice, and although we could watch today's practice the view was obstructed. However, one thing of interest that we can tell you is that B.J. Askew wasn't just used as a blocking fullback or a receiver out of the backfield on Thursday. He was also used as a ball carrier.
The reps at quarterback changed a little on Thursday. Jeff Garcia was the starter and Brian Griese took the majority of number two reps, but Luke McCown also had the opportunity to take some No. 2 reps during the workout.
Garcia wasn't as sharp as he normally is and his arm strength was suspect on several passes. He looked his best on passes thrown to the short-to-intermediate part of the field.
During an 11-on-11 session, Garcia floated a ball up in the air that probably should have been intercepted by safety Jermaine Phillips, but Gilmore hauled in the pass as it sailed over Phillips' hand for a big gain.
Troupe caught a pass from Garcia on a crossing route past linebacker Derrick Brooks. Garcia also made dump off passes to wide receiver Ike Hilliard and a scramble and pass to tight end Alex Smith.
One of Garcia's better throws in practice came in the same full team session when he threw a bomb down the sideline to WR Brian Clark, who beat cornerback Eugene Wilson for a 50-yard touchdown.
Griese tried to get on the deep ball during the final 11-on-11 session of practice. He threw a slightly underthrown bomb to WR Michael Spurlock that looked to be a completion but rookie cornerback Aqib Talib closed on the ball well and jumped up and knocked the ball away with his right arm. Talib appeared to be a little frustrated with himself for not intercepting the ball, but it was an excellent play nevertheless.
Bucs CB Phillip Buchanon also had a nice pass breakup on an attempt from Griese to Spurlock during the final 11-on-11 drill of the day.
Griese looked much more comfortable running the plays and throwing the football compared to the last time the media was able to watch practice two weeks ago.
However, McCown had the most impressive outing on Thursday. He easily has the strongest arm of all of the quarterbacks on the roster, and that arm strength helped him deliver some awesome passes throughout the workout.
On his final throw of the first 11-on-11 session, McCown threw a crisp spiral down the left sideline for Hankton, who beat two defenders and hauled in the pass for a touchdown.
During another team drill, McCown hit Dexter Jackson on a crossing route as he blazed past Wilson for a decent gain.
McCown showed the ability to squeeze the ball into tight areas during an 11-on-11 session when he hit Galloway near the sideline in-between defensive end Patrick Chukwurah and Wilson.
McCown finished the session strong, firing a deep ball down the field to Bryant, who beat safety Tanard Jackson and CB Darrell Hunter to get open, catch the ball and score the touchdown.
During the last set of 11-on-11 drills, McCown followed Garcia as the next quarterback to get reps. In the other OTA sessions the media has been allowed to watch, Griese would follow Garcia in getting reps.
In addition to putting his arm on display, McCown showed further athletic ability when he scrambled and started to run on one play. He juked Adams and then ran downfield for a decent gain.
McCown was one of the main reasons why the offense fared so well against Tampa Bay's defense on Thursday.
Bucs rookie quarterback Josh Johnson didn't take reps during the team sessions, which wasn't a surprise. He spent a significant amount of time working with quarterbacks coach Greg Olson.
Although the offense probably won today's practice sessions, a few of Tampa Bay's defensive players stood out.
After stretching, the different position groups warmed-up separately. The defensive line was practicing getting off the ball. The defensive backs and linebackers practiced their drops and their footwork. Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin worked with the linebackers for a while before joining the defensive backs.
"Nice job Willie," yelled defensive backs coach Raheem Morris to safety Will Allen when he made the proper adjustment to cover a receiver.
"Looking good, M-Ham. Good job T-Jack," shouted Morris after cornerback Marcus Hamilton and safety Tanard Jackson.
In the installation period, the defensive starters were pretty much the same as the last OTA open to the media. During the installation the Bucs were working on their over and under coverage's. On the defensive line from left to right was Kevin Carter, Jovan Haye, Chris Hovan, and Gaines Adams. The linebackers from left to right were Derrick Brooks, Barrett Ruud, and Cato June. Shadowing June was linebacker Quincy Black. At cornerback was Philip Buchanon and Ronde Barber. The safeties were Jermaine Phillips and Tanard Jackson.
The second string defensive line was composed of ends Greg White and Charles Bennett with tackles Greg Peterson and Jimmy Wilkerson. The linebackers and cornerbacks were mixing the first team and second team players behind the second team defensive line. When the Buccaneers went to a nickel setup. Wilson replaced one of the linebackers.
One of the most disappointing aspects of Thursday's practice from a defensive standpoint was the play of Wilson, who had performed well this offseason but struggled mightily on Thursday, as noted throughout this report. In the 11-on-11 sessions and 7-on-7 sessions, Wilson appeared to be getting beat for receptions repeatedly.
When the Bucs began 7-on-7 drills the defensive line worked on turning the corner by going around a cone and turning towards where the quarterback would be. The offensive line worked with the blocking sled.
By pure size, three players stood out during the special teams portion of practice — defensive lineman Peterson, Wilkerson, and Charles Bennett. Many of the skill position players were taking turns as gunners and on punt protection blocking those gunners. Running back Michael Bennett displayed his speed moves here as well. If Bennett can tackle he might turn out to be one hell of a gunner on special teams. Cornerback Torrie Cox looked good here, as well, blowing through blocker Amarri Jackson to get downfield on one particular play.
The Bucs will conduct their final three organized team activities at One Buccaneer Place next week. They are scheduled to hold their three-day mandatory mini-camp the following week.
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