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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers conducted their third and final rookie mini-camp practice on Sunday morning under heavy cloud cover and much cooler conditions, with temperatures floating around 75 degrees during the two-hour workout.
Tampa Bay’s rookie mini-camp roster, which on Friday and Saturday 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 Sunday.
Although the third and final mini-camp workout was a spirited one, there weren’t too many players that stood out. However, there were a few.
Bucs rookie tight end Alex Smith might have had the best camp of any player on the field this weekend, and he capped off the mini-camp with a great performance on Sunday.
Smith certainly doesn’t look like a rookie out on the practice field. In fact, he looks like he’s played in the West Coast offense before, but that’s probably because he has at Stanford.
Smith displayed a knack for finding the soft spots in zone coverage and proved to be very quick and effective on passes thrown to him in the flat. The days of 3-yard catches and tackles in the flat by Tampa Bay’s tight ends could be over as long as Smith stays healthy. He hauled in several passes for big plays on Sunday.
I asked Bucs running backs coach Art Valero, who coached the tight ends during his first season in Tampa Bay, about Smith’s ability to find soft spots in zone coverage, and he told me that head coach Jon Gruden purposely implemented some plays into Sunday’s practice that put Smith in a position to make some big plays if he executed them properly. As it turns out, Smith might have even exceeded Gruden’s expectations.
“Well, who wouldn’t be excited?,” Gruden asked when asked about Smith. “No disrespect to the tight ends who have played here in the last 10 or 15 years, but Alex Smith is what you’re looking for as far as a tight end as a vertical threat. He can get down the field in a hurry and he’s a quick study. We put a lot of stuff in, now. We put a lot of plays and shifts and looks in this camp to stimulate him and get his attention, and he responded quite well.”
One last thing on Smith — he’s got one one helluva stiff arm and put it on display a number of times during Sunday’s practice. Keep an eye out for that when you get to watch him in person. Then again, you probably won’t help but notice it. It’s pretty impressive.
Gruden spent a significant amount of time working with the tight ends during the first 30 minutes of Sunday’s practice. Just as he did with the receivers on Saturday, Gruden worked with the TEs on polishing up their routes and movements.
“Tight ends, I want you to move quickly,” Gruden screamed in an effort to get the tight ends to motion a bit faster. “Be light on your feet, and don’t look like you’re running with glass in your shoes.”
One player who looked like he was a bit lost during Sunday’s practice was TE Rod Flowers, who hasn’t played football since middle school. While it’s an interesting story, that little tidbit doesn’t come as a surprise anymore — Flowers is about as raw as sushi, and that’s putting it mildly.
“Would you get your (butt) back here,” Gruden yelled at Flowers as the tryout player slowly worked his way back to the huddle. “Come on, move it.”
Gruden also spent some more time working with the wide receivers on some new routes. Several players, including J.R. Russell and Paris Warren, who quietly had an impressive mini-camp by running sharp routes and catching passes cleanly, stood out in this drill.
First-year WR Kevin Youngblood is very inconsistent, but boy can he make some wicked catches on balls that are poorly thrown. If Youngblood can find a way to play consistently, he could really challenge for a roster spot in camp.
Several of the receivers struggled to run routes properly on Sunday, evidenced by Gruden’s growing frustration.
“Get your (expletive) (butts) right,” Gruden yelled at the receivers. “You only have 20 minutes to get this right.”
As it turns out, the receivers finished the route-running drills strong, which drew a clap from Gruden.
Speaking of impressive players, running back Carnell “Cadillac” Williams isn’t the flashiest player, but he gets the job done. That’s the best way I can describe him. I want to temper my enthusiasm since I was probably a little too high on Michael Pittman after watching his first mini-camp as a Buc, but Cadillac makes plays.
Williams exploded through a few holes while showing nice balance and vision on Sunday, but his most impressive attribute has been his hands. In fact, Williams might have had one of the best plays of Sunday’s practice when he ran a beautiful wheel route down the left sideline and got wide open to haul in the pass for a score. Pewter Report didn’t witness Cadillac drop a single pass during the three-day mini-camp, and Valero confirmed that notion.
“There ain’t any holes in this kid,” Valero said after practice.
During 11-on-11 drills, one could sense Gruden’s frustration from years of dealing with a non-existent ground attack.
“Come on, every good (expletive) running team runs this play,” Gruden said before the ball was snapped on one play.
One player who definitely improved as the mini-camp went one was fullback Rick Razzano, who first caught our attention with his impressive physique but stood out on Sunday by displaying soft hands and some run-after-the-catch ability. Razzano wasn’t known as a pass-catcher at Ole Miss, but he has definitely shown that ability in Tampa Bay.
Although the pads aren’t on yet, Razzano made a nice chip block on a deep pass thrown downfield to Smith. I know it’s early, but all signs suggest Razzano will seriously challenge Jameel Cook for a roster spot this summer, especially since he looks like a very willing and able participant on special teams.
Speaking of special teams, Coach Bisaccia held the tennis ball drill for the second straight day. Just to recap, the tennis ball drill is when the Bucs put a punt returner out on the field and have two players serve as defenders while Bisaccia tosses the ball about 35 yards downfield to the return man.
Serving as punt returners during this drill were WR Curtis Fagan, cornerbacks Kevin Arbet and Ukee Dozier and Youngblood.
One player that impressed during this particular drill was CB Dominique Morris, who drew a tremendous amount of praise from Bisaccia and Co. after taking several good angles in what would have led to open-field tackles on the punt returners.
During 11-on-11 drills, Tampa Bay’s defense had some players step up and make some plays.
Bucs linebacker Byron Hardmon, who recently signed as an undrafted free agent out of Florida, did a nice job of shedding blockers from the Mike linebacker spot. By doing so, he put himself in position to make a few plays on Sunday.
After watching him for three days, defensive tackle Lynn McGruder has earned the “sleeper” label from Pewter Report. This guy just makes plays with his speed and athleticism. During 11-on-11s, McGruder busted through guard Jonathan Clinkscale to record a quarterback pressure. The most impressive part about this particular play was that Clinkscale is no chump. In fact, he might have had as good of a mini-camp as McGruder.
Sixth-round pick Anthony Bryant needs to be more consistent. Of course, I’m not telling you anything new — that was the knock on him coming out of Alabama. Bryant can be so impressive with speed and swim moves on one play, and lackluster on the next. Bucs defensive line coach Rod Marinelli is really trying hard to work on his mechanics. Marinelli has been telling Bryant to keep his butt down at the line of scrimmage, and he had to remind him of that at least three different times during Sunday’s practice.
“Anthony, (expletive), keep your (butt) down,” Marinelli screamed before the ball was snapped on one play.”
Bucs MLB Barrett Ruud reminded me a lot of Smith on Sunday. He’s a quick learner and seems to feel comfortable already, although we all know Ruud’s got plenty left to learn. He’s extremely quick to diagnose the play and act on it. Although he weighs 240 pounds, Ruud has some impressive speed for his size, and that would be a welcome combination at the Mike spot.
Bucs LB Matt Grootegoed did some nice things to stand out during Saturday’s practice, but he didn’t follow that up on Sunday. There’s a lot to like about Grootegoed, but he bites on play-action passes way too hard and often. That was made apparent on Sunday when Grootegoed bit on play-action extremely hard (credit quarterback Jared Allen for a good fake), which resulted in some seriously blown coverage downfield on a deep ball completed to WR DeAndrew Rubin.
One thing defensive backs coach Mike Tomlin and assistant defensive backs coach Raheem Morris stressed during 11-on-11 drills on Sunday was communication.
“Talk to your buddies,” Morris shouted to rookie safety Donte Nicholson. “Share the knowledge.”
Tomlin and Morris praised Nicholson on more than one occasion for executing defensive plays properly.
One player who finished the camp strong was CB Sam Rodgers, who was on a tryout contract with the Bucs. He broke up a couple of passes on Sunday, including one intended for Youngblood.
Tampa Bay will hold a mandatory team mini-camp during the third week of June, and PewterReport.com will be there to cover it.
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