Tampa Bay’s third and final rookie mini-camp practice kicked off about four hours earlier on Sunday than it had the previous two days. The Bucs hit the field bright and early Sunday, walking onto the field around 9:45 a.m. ET.
But who needs coffee when you have Monte Kiffin? Tampa Bay’s defensive coordinator did his best to fire up the troops shortly after the players began stretching on the practice field closest to the porch of One Buccaneer Place.
Kiffin walked up and down the open space in-between the players stretching, yelling words of encouragement and stressing the importance of making one final, lasting impression on the final practice of the three-day rookie mini-camp. Kiffin also had a message for the players that do wind up being invited to Orlando for training camp.
“You guys are going to have a curfew,” Kiffin yelled. “You guys have a curfew now, but I don’t. I don’t have a curfew, but I’ll still make it out on the practice field on time. The coaches and I will be cutting up film at 6:00 a.m.”
Pewter Report was pleasantly surprised when the Buccaneers public relations staff informed us that we were not going to have to leave after the first 30 minutes of practice. The Bucs’ brass had decided to go ahead and open up the entire final practice to the media at the last minute. Of course, Pewter Report was the only media members present to receive the good news and we were the only ones there to observe the entire practice. Here’s what we saw.
After the players finished stretching, the position coaches broke the players up into groups to work on individual/position drills. Bucs head coach Jon Gruden spent a significant amount of time with the wide receivers, as is customary during these mini-camps. He preached the importance of solid route running.
“Get your width, and get your depth,” Gruden shouted.
Tryout wide receiver Broderick Clark (Louisville) had a case of the drops in the early part of Sunday’s practice. The coaches didn’t need to get on him, though, because Clark was pretty hard on himself. After one particular dropped pass, Clark yelled in frustration, “Come on, B. (expletive).”
Rookie guard Davin Joseph has great hip explosion. The offensive linemen were doing drills where they were on their knees in front of the blocking sled and they had to give quick, violent forearm shivers to the pads on the sled. This drill emphasizes power and speed and really works the shoulder, hips and arms of the linemen. Joseph excelled in this drill.
Another drill that highlighted Joseph’s skills was a combo block drill where the linemen start out by hitting the blocking sled from a three-point stance, then bouncing off, wheeling around the line and hitting a padded blocking shield held by another teammate. Hitting a moving target is a difficult task for any offensive lineman, but Joseph comes at the blocking shield with good quickness and a great wide base. He always hits the target squarely because of his great technique.
For all of the positives that Bucs rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski brings to the table, he might have trouble seeing over his offensive linemen. He is, after all, 6-foot-1. However, Gradkowski excels on the move, and Gruden had him running several bootlegs on Sunday.
Gradkowski was extremely accurate in the early part of Sunday’s practice. He also showed decent arm strength on deep passes. However, Gradkowski isn’t very accurate on the deep throws, especially ones down the sideline. He’s much better in the short-to-intermediate part of the field, which is good news for Gradkowski since Jon Gruden’s offense rarely calls for deep passes. Gradkowski didn’t launch many at Toledo, either.
Gradkowski took the majority of the snaps during Sunday’s practice, and Gruden was in his ear quite often. One of the things Gruden tried to convey to his rookie quarterback is the importance of getting the play called, breaking the huddle and getting to the line of scrimmage in a timely manner.
“Get it done – 17 seconds, 17 seconds,” Gruden yelled.
Several players made some impressive catches on Sunday. Tight end T.J. Williams isn’t the most fluid runner, but he made a great one-handed catch on a pass thrown by Gradkowski during the first hour of practice.
You can tell that Williams, who must get in better shape, is a load when he has the football and is a better player with the pads on as opposed to running around in shorts. He’s a very physical tight end who gets a lot of his yardage after contact by breaking tackles.
Third-round pick, wide receiver Maurice Stovall, also stood out during Sunday’s workout. But before he made a couple of really nice catches, Stovall received some words of encouragement from his fiery head coach.
“Go get a piece of [Packers defensive back] Charles Woodson’s ass,” Gruden yelled to Stovall as the young receiver lined up. Gruden is big on visualization and tries as best he can to help his players simulate the action they may see on Sundays.
Not everything that came out of Gruden’s mouth was positive, though. Gruden grew frustrated with tryout fullback Adam Gorman, who apparently ran the wrong route on one play.
“That was Jet 3,” Gruden yelled at Gorman. “Hell, are you nervous today or what?”
One of the funniest comments Pewter Report has ever heard uttered on the practice field came out of Gruden’s mouth today. Unfortunately for Gorman, it was directed at him, as he and USF running back Andre Hall tripped over each other’s feet during a pre-snap shift.
Because of the content of what was said, we can’t really publish it, but suffice it to say that it was hysterical. Gruden’s barbs were sharp today and he was on top of his game this morning.
Although he had an impressive overall day, Stovall also caught the wrath of Gruden as well after he lined up wrong.
“[Expletive] almighty,” shouted Gruden. “Line it up again. I didn’t say Bengal, I said Vegas. Come on, Notre Dame.”
Gruden has a habit of riding his wide receivers very hard during their rookie seasons. Jerry Porter was buried under Gruden’s pressure as a rookie in Oakland, and so was Marquise Walker in Tampa Bay in Gruden’s first season with the Bucs. Michael Clayton had the mental toughness to withstand Gruden’s verbal barrage and take any criticism the right way. Stovall appears to have Clayton’s thick skin and exchanged high-fives with Gruden after running the right route and making a nice grab.
Stovall definitely rebounded from Gruden’s verbal assault and a couple of early dropped passes. Although the Bucs conducted most of their 7-on-7, 9-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills over on the far field, it wasn’t difficult to see Stovall make an incredible sliding catch in-between a few defenders on one particular play. Later on during 11-on-11 drills, Stovall came up with another great catch on a pass thrown perfectly down the left sideline by Gradkowski.
In the 11-on-11 team drills, the Bucs were running a lot to their right to showcase Joseph, the right guard, and right tackle Jeremy Trueblood, who was the team’s second-round pick. The success of that side of the line was evidenced with some huge holes for Hall and try-out running back Daccus Turman (South Carolina). Hall showed a great burst through the holes and excellent speed in the open field.
Gruden is so wise for having a rookie mini-camp after the draft. Former general manager Rich McKay and ex-head coach Tony Dungy used to have the Bucs’ mandatory mini-camp right after the draft so the rookies were mixed in with the veterans right from the start. The result was usually the veterans getting held up by all of the instruction that was given to the rookies, and the rookies making a lot of mistakes because they were in awe of the veteran players and were trying to get acclimated to their teammates and the playbook at the same time.
Gruden’s way makes so much more sense because the rookies get about five weeks before the mandatory mini-camp to digest the playbook, and their first exposure to the veterans will come gradually through the course of OTA (organized team activities) in late May and in June. This way, the veterans won’t get slowed down in the mandatory mini-camp, which will be held on June 20-22, and the rookies aren’t under as much pressure to perform right off the bat.
When the final whistle blew at today’s practice, the players quickly learned that practice wasn’t over quite yet. Gruden and the coaching staff had the players sprint from one sideline to the other several times. A few players didn’t even make it through the entire drill, including draft picks T.J. Williams, Tim Massaquoi, Charles Bennett and Julian Jenkins, along with undrafted free agent Jahmile Addae and first-year player Lynn McGruder.
Tampa Bay tight ends coach Ron Middleton noticed that Massaquoi and Williams couldn’t finish the end-of-practice gassers and had this to say about his new pupils.
“They are hard-working kids who have a long way to go,” Middleton said. “They have to come back in shape. They have to understand that they have to be in phenomenal shape. The weather has been nice the last couple of days. They’re not in very good shape right now, but I like what I saw.”
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com