The Tampa Bay Buccaneers conducted their second rookie mini-camp practice at One Buccaneer Place from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. on Saturday afternoon. The two-hour practice was once again held in hot and humid temperatures. The high today was roughly 87 degrees.
Leading the stretching period were cornerback Aqib Talib, wide receiver Dexter Jackson and offensive lineman Jeremy Zuttah, Tampa Bay’s first three picks of the 2008 NFL Draft.
All 54 of Tampa Bay’s players returned to action after their introduction to the National Football League on Friday.
However, Bucs Jackson was limited in Saturday’s practice due to an undisclosed ailment or injury. Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said Jackson would be ready to go for Tampa Bay’s next set of organized team activities later this month.
"He's not 100 percent ready," Gruden said of Jackson. "He'll be 100 percent when we return on May 16. We had a 60-play walk-thru this morning and he took the majority of those reps. He'll be fine and ready to go when we resume practice later this month.
"I don't want to talk about it. It's nothing serious. He's kind of embarrassed about it and I'm going to leave it at that."
The 2008 second-round draft pick stretched with his teammates and participated in the first drill of the practice, but took his helmet off and watched his fellow receivers run through the ensuing drills.
Jackson’s absence, of course, was not good news to the Bucs, especially considering the fact that his made his Buccaneer debut on the practice field 24 hours earlier.
However, Tampa Bay’s wide receivers had a much better outing overall, or at least in the 40 minutes of practice the media was permitted to watch on Saturday.
One receiver that might have a tough time sticking around Charles Spiller, who was signed earlier this offseason. The first-year receiver has an advantage over the tryout players and rookies like Jackson given the fact that he spent time with the Bucs on the practice squad last year.
While Bucs wide receivers coach Richard Mann has had Spiller lead the way in terms of showing the younger players how to run routes, he hasn’t displayed reliable hands, dropping several passes.
Just before individual periods began, Gruden walked up to the receivers and attempted to get them fired up and focused.
“Let’s all be excellent,” Gruden told the receivers.
Unfortunately, Spiller did not follow Gruden’s advice as he dropped the first pass thrown during this period.
To his credit, Spiller bounced back a few reps later by catching a pass thrown his way. Gruden liked what he saw on this particular play, yelling, “There you go. Attack that ball.”
The Bucs only signed five undrafted free agents after the 2008 NFL Draft concluded, one of which was tight end Tyrice Thompson. He probably wasn’t known for his hands (caught 15 passes as a senior at Arizona State), but Thompson certainly isn’t known for his ball-catching skills after the beginning of Saturday’s workout.
Thompson dropped at least three passes during the first 40 minutes of Saturday’s practice. Keep in mind that about 10 of those minutes are spent stretching. Thompson is known as a special teams demon, but he’s going to have to display better hands to even make it to training camp.
In the meantime, two tryout players – San Diego receiver Wes Doyle and South Florida wideout Amari Jackson – impressed in the early part of Saturday’s workout.
Both Doyle (6-4, 205) and Jackson (6-5, 202) have the bigger frames that head coach Jon Gruden craves in his wide receivers.
Doyle, who was quarterback Josh Johnson’s teammate at the Div. I-AA level, displayed excellent hands and route-running ability during individual drills, drawing applause and praise from Gruden on several occasions.
Doyle’s familiarity with the West Coast offense form his playing days at San Diego likely has come in handy this weekend. He isn’t that fast off the line of scrimmage, but Doyle is fairly quick and has reliable hands. He stayed after practice and caught more passes from Johnson under the watch of quarterbacks coach Greg Olsen.
Jackson, who is a long strider, did not display consistent hands at USF, but he too drew praise from Gruden by catching the passes thrown his way and running fairly good routes.
For the second straight day, Gruden was seen talking with Johnson throughout the majority of the stretching period. Johnson displayed an accurate arm on Saturday. He also was able to showcase his mobility as the Bucs had him working on play-action bootlegs and rollouts. Johnson also did a great job of pitching the ball out to the running backs on flip plays.
The majority of the early defensive drills were the same as they were during Friday’s session. Initially the defensive backs practiced backpedaling and catching the football after a quick turn around. The defensive backs as a group all looked sharper catching the ball on the second day. They also went and worked on hitting the blocking sled, disengaging from the pad, and then accelerating to the ball.
The starting four defensive backs were Talib at left corner, Marcus Hamilton at right corner, Jonathan Hefney at safety, and Auburn’s Junior Rosegreen at the other safety spot. Yesterday Florida State’s Anthony Houllis was in the starting four.
The defensive backs then worked on guarding a deep route with a deep pass coming in from 40 yards away. They were supposed to catch the ball at its highest point.
Bucs defensive backs coach Raheem Morris praised Talib for his ability to excel in this particular drill. Being taller than all the other defensive backs and having longer arms made Talib more skilled naturally at this drill.
Morris was really airing out the ball and gave Hamilton, a 2007 seventh-round pick, some of the harder passes to catch.
“Dang Coach,” yelled Hamilton as he was trying to chase down one of Morris’ passes.
Troy’s Elbert Mack looked strong in this drill. He earned the praise of Morris, “Nice job, Mack. Beautiful.”
Interestingly, defensive line coach Larry Coyer was watching the defensive backs throughout their drills. He did the same thing during the Bucs’ first round of OTAs (organized team activities) last month. Then defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin wandered over and got involved in the drills.
Morris started to teach the defensive backs how they were going to defend certain routes, like inside slants and crosses. Morris had his starting four walking through the coverage as the backups filled in as receivers. As he was instructing Morris would quiz his players, particularly Talib. The first-round pick was on point and knew the correct answers. Hefney knew some of the answers and was corrected by Morris on others.
When the installation went full speed, the players practiced the play with only the left side first. Then the next snap was only the right side. Kiffin filled in the role of a linebacker as the defensive backs worked on their zone responsibilities.
The corners were supposed to pass off their receivers running an inside slant to the safeties. The players were supposed to communicate the transition as well. Talib and Hefney stood out as a pair compared to the other defensive backs.
“What you got Talib? Go! Beautiful, Aqib,” said Morris.
Kiffin would speak something to Morris, and then Morris would shout out the directions to the rest of the defensive backs. Both coaches were stressing communication among the players in the secondary.
The starting defensive backs switched to receivers for the backups to get some reps. Talib was helping to explain the concept to cornerback Byron Garvin. A Kansas State product, Garvin had some good moments and earned the praise of Morris at points. Talib also seemed to be enjoying the practice and was laughing at some of the shouting of Coach Morris.
The cornerbacks passed the receivers off when they ran their route inside. The corners then would accelerate down the field covering any deep options the offense might have.
“You always got protection,” said Morris as the players were learning the famous Tampa Bay defense. Defensive tackle Dre` Moore, the Bucs’ fourth-round pick, is out of shape, but team officials aren’t terribly concerned. Moore is a big defensive tackle who weighs over 300 pounds and those types of players are typically the ones who need to get into better shape once they hit the NFL.
If Moore is smart, he’ll watch 320-pound Ryan Sims closely in the OTAs. Sims struggled with conditioning upon his arrival in Tampa Bay from Kansas City last offseason, but worked his way into shape in training camp and earned some real playing time over the second half of the season. Moore needs to learn the tricks of the trade from a big man like Sims if he wants to get in shape by camp.
Tryout defensive end Tommy Blake is a player the Bucs are closely keeping an eye on during the three-day rookie mini-camp. Not only are the Bucs watching to see how he’s performing physically in the drills, they are seeing how he responds to the mental challenges of three demanding practices in a row.
It has been widely reported that Blake suffered from depression and social anxiety disorder during his senior year in which he was under the microscope of NFL scouts and the agents that were circling him like vultures, hoping to land the potential first-rounder as a client. The pressure of being a high draft pick apparently triggered a bout with depression and caused him to leave TCU twice during the 2007 season before returning to finish with four sacks.
Blake’s medical condition caused him to fall from a potential top pick to the ranks of the undrafted free agents. There are some NFL players who were discovered to be serious threats to themselves and others during their careers, including former Chicago defensive end Alonzo Spellman and former Minnesota defensive end Demetrius Underwood. The last thing the Bucs want is a mentally unstable player on their roster that could possibly endanger a teammate.
Medication can help treat the symptoms of depression and the Bucs have some familiarity with it as safety John Howell went public with his bouts with mental illness in the summer of 2004. If Blake checks out mentally and physically this weekend – he had ballooned up to 280 pounds during his depression from his ideal playing weight of 255 pounds – the Bucs will consider signing him as an undrafted free agent as they could still use another pass rusher. Blake recorded 23 sacks in college, including seven each in his sophomore and junior seasons.
He has gone through the bags the first two days and needs to finish strong for the Bucs to consider signing him after the rookie mini-camp.
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