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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers conducted their second of three rookie mini-camp practices on Saturday under sunny and hot and humid conditions that featured an occasional cloud cover. Temperatures were in the high 80s.
Tampa Bay’s rookie mini-camp roster, which on Friday was made up of 12 draft picks, nine undrafted free agents, nine first-year players and 20 players signed to tryout contracts, remained the same on Saturday.
The players were noticeably and understandably sore when warm-ups began at 2:00 p.m. but most of them seemed to loosen up after they moved around a bit.
I made a point to watch Tampa Bay’s wide receivers since they had mixed results during Friday’s workout. As it turns out, I wasn’t the only one whose interest was piqued by the players at this particular position.
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden spent a significant amount of time working with the receivers during the first 30-45 minutes of practice, and boy did it make a difference in their play.
With Gruden watching closely, all seven receivers improved upon their performance from the previous day. It all started in warm-ups, where each of the receivers did a much better job of catching the ball cleanly.
From there, Bucs wide receivers coach Richard Mann led the receivers through cone drills, and there were definitely a few pleasant surprises, including fifth-round draft pick Larry Brackins, who you could tell hadn’t been coached much at the JUCO level during Friday’s practice but actually ran through the cone drills quite smoothly. Seventh-round pick J.R. Russell was a big sloppy in these drills at the beginning, but he quickly cleaned up his act by following Mann’s instructions.
Of course, the best was yet to come. Once Mann finished running the receivers through cone drills, Gruden grabbed a blocking pad and met them over on the other end of the field, where they were instructed to run a route, catch the ball and absorb Gruden’s strike with the pad without fumbling the ball.
“Catch the ball and clutch it,” Gruden yelled to the receivers.
After watching the receivers run some decent routes to start the drill, Gruden charged Bucs offensive quality control coach Kyle Shanahan with pressing the receivers as they left the line of scrimmage.
“Get your hands on him, Kyle, and club his (butt),” Gruden yelled.
Shanahan’s bump-and-run coverage caused for some sloppy route running, which caught Gruden’s ire.
“Listen up,” said Gruden. “We’re going to Minnesota. (Antonie) Winfield and (Fred) Smoot are $20 million worth of cornerbacks.
“I don’t need a rookie slant now. Have a plan. Have a master plan.”
Tampa Bay’s only first-year receivers, DeAndrew Rubin and Kevin Youngblood, both of whom spent time on the Bucs practice squad last season, set a good example for the rookie receivers during drills as they led them off each time.
“I love it, DeAndrew, I love it,” Gruden said after Rubin perfected a slant route and hauled in the pass.
Rubin and Youngblood really stood out and took their games to another level on Saturday. Youngblood made a spectacular one-handed grab while Rubin showed some good route-running ability and suddenness.
Russell and Brackins also had much better performances on Saturday, although Brackins needs to break the habit of leaping for passes thrown at his chest. Gruden worked with Brackins on a few occasions and seems to really be taking at easy on him compared to how he treated former Bucs receiver Marquise Walker, who frustrated the hell out of Gruden because of his laziness and inability to learn Gruden’s playbook. Brackins definitely isn’t lazy, he just needs some coaching, which Gruden and Mann delivered a heavy dose of on Saturday.
“We’re just trying to get some of the basic patterns down,” said Gruden after practice. “They’re seeing some different coverages and rotations, so we’re really trying to familiarize them with the dimensions of the field and some of the adjustments that routes call for.”
The two things Gruden stressed most while working with the receivers was gaining separation and finding spots in zone coverage.
Tampa Bay’s receivers are tall and physical, evidenced by the fact that they only have two wideouts – Joey Galloway and Adrian Madise – who are shorter than 6 foot. However, most of the team’s receivers lack great speed. That said, they need to run sharp routes in order to get open.
Gruden really stressed the importance of selling slants and executing post routes.
“I want you to exaggerate,” said Gruden. “Do you know what exaggerate means? Then exaggerate.”
While players like Brackins, Rubin, Russell and Youngblood performed much better on Saturday, Gruden had to remind Chris Davis, who has displayed clutch hands but needs to run better routes, to play with a sense of urgency.
“Come on, Chris,” Gruden said. “Have a little life in you.”
Davis’ need to improve his route running was made apparent when Bucs tight ends/assistant special teams coach Ron Middleton, who probably weighs upwards of 280 pounds, jumped Davis’ route and picked off a poorly thrown pass by quarterback Jared Allen. The Bucs coaching staff errupted in applause over Middleton’s nifty interception.
“I still have it, baby,” Middleton, a former NFL tight end, told Pewter Report when asked about his nice grab after practice.
The wide receivers really got to show off their hands during Saturday’s practice because of some errant passes thrown by Allen and quarterback Fabian Walker. In fact, the quarterback play has been lackluster at best. On one play, Washington dropped back to throw and had the ball completely slip out of his hands and fall about one yard in front of him, and that was during a drill that featured no pass rushers.
One thing that stood out to me about Brackins is his struggle to get off the line of scrimmage quickly. He’ll definitely have to use his 6-foot-4 frame to get off the line in a timely manner in the pros. However, once he gets going, Brackins actually has some decent speed for a big receiver. He got to show that off after running a great crossing route during 7-on-7 drills.
Another receiver Gruden worked closely with at times on Saturday was tight end Rod Flowers, who is the former Tennessee State basketball player who was signed to a try-out contract this weekend. One can see why this guy was appealing to the Bucs – he’s got a 6-foot-9, 240-pound frame and he’s pretty athletic. However, he’s extremely raw and will not be the next Tony Gonzalez or Antonio Gates.
After one play, Gruden actually grabbed Flowers by the jersey and walked him through a specific route that Flowers hadn’t run properly.
“You see, you’re driving up the lane and now I want you to go in there and dunk it,” said Gruden, who is notorious for using analogies with his players.
Don’t look for the Bucs to offer Flowers a contract, despite what Pewter Report may have suggested in yesterday’s Insider report.
It’s still extremely early and the pads aren’t on yet, which makes it tough to evaluate mini-camp practices, but Bucs running back Carnell “Cadillac” Williams looks as good as advertised. I don’t want to talk him up too much, but put it this way – this guy has caught every ball thrown his way and is probably the most balanced and shifty runner I’ve ever seen in a Bucs uniform.
Williams has also had some nice holes to run through, especially on Saturday, when left tackle Chris Colmer and guards Dan Buenning and Jonathan Clinkscale performed well. The Bucs were running quite a few toss sweeps with Cadillac, which isn’t something Gruden has been able to call a lot during his tenure in Tampa Bay because he simply didn’t trust his personnel to execute those types of plays.
You can tell that Gruden really likes the additions of Colmer, Buenning and even some of the undrafted offensive linemen like Clinkscale and Doug Buckles. Colmer has a real nastiness to him, and Buenning simply pushes guys around and works his way upfield with relative ease.
Bucs offensive line coach Bill Muir and senior assistant Aaron Kromer switched some guys up on Saturday, playing Clinkscale, who played guard at Wisconsin, at center, and center Scott Jackson at right tackle on occasion.
The offensive and defensive linemen got to square off today in one-on-one drills, and a couple of players really stood out.
Clinkscale notched a pancake while Buckles handled impressive defensive tackle Lynn McGruder several times. Jackson really excelled during these drills and showed some versatility by holding off pass rushers from both the center and the right tackle position.
Although McGruder struggled a bit against Buckles and needs to get his behind lower at the line of scrimmage, he put together his second consecutive solid practice. He played primarily at under tackle, where I wouldn’t be surprised to see him secure a roster spot this season. McGruder’s got good quickness and an effective spin move, but perhaps the most impressive part of his game is his consistency. Keep an on eye on McGruder, who went undrafted and could be a steal for the Bucs.
Another defensive lineman that played well on Saturday was sixth-round draft pick Anthony Bryant. Bryant’s 6-foot-3, 338-pound frame is what stood out most during Friday’s practice, but his play, which included some impressive speed and one heck of a swim move in one-on-one drills, caught the eye of Pewter Report on Saturday. He seems to be a natural nose tackle, but Bryant even spent time at the three technique during Saturday’s workout. You can tell that defensive line coach Rod Marinelli’s coaching is already rubbing off on Bryant.
The Bucs briefly practiced some special teams drills today. Special teams coach Rich Bisaccia pulled out the tennis ball and ran some players through the infamous tennis ball drill, which calls for Bisaccia to toss a tennis ball about 35 yards downfield to a punt returner while two gunners chase the ball and close in on the returner.
With the rookie mini-camp being what it is, the players that are participating this weekend must show the ability to be productive on special teams in order to earn roster spots with the Bucs.
The Bucs finished Saturday’s practice with a spirited 11-on-11 drill, but unfortunately, that session took place over on the far field at One Buccaneer Place, where the media isn’t permitted to go.
However, a couple of things stood out from 11-on-11s from what I could see, including safety Harmza Abdullah’s interception on a duck thrown by one of the quarterbacks, and receiver Paris Warren’s catch and fumble, which turned out to be the final play of Saturday’s two-hour practice.
The Bucs will hold their third and final rookie mini-camp practice on Sunday morning from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. ET.
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