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After a great week of breezy, moderately cool weather with cloudy skies, Friday morning’s practice was hot, humid, muggy and relatively unbearable. The Bucs, who have now endured a full week of two-a-day practices, took the field in full pads.
Offensive tackle Todd Steussie left practice early with some minor swelling and soreness in his knee. Wide receiver Charles Lee and defensive ends Reinard Wilson and Lamar King were held out of practice. Wide receiver Joey Galloway participated in the first half of practice only.
Wide receiver Danny Farmer returned to practice from a sore hamstring, which was a big step for him considering that he has not had a good week of camp.
The morning practice was sloppy and lacked rhythm, especially on offense. Aside from a Reggie White sighting (the defensive end was a guest of Jon Gruden and spoke to the team after practice), the early session was basically uneventful.
The big plays in 11-on-11 drills were turned in by the defensive line, which was minus defensive tackle Ellis Wyms, who got his left leg rolled up on in individual drills against the offensive line. Players like defensive end Dewayne White and defensive tackles Chartric Darby and Damien Gregory played exceptionally well, clogging up the middle. Gregory showed some good pass rushing moves today as well.
The backup nose tackle position behind Darby is wide open, with Gregory and DeVone Claybrooks battling hard for that position. Claybrooks with down with a back injury yesterday and Gregory is making a hard push for that position.
The Bucs wide receivers weren’t as crisp as they were yesterday, and collectively dropped several passes. Bill Schroeder may have had the best day today of the receivers. He made a big catch in the team’s two-minute drill, which was heavily practiced today.
Chris Simms led the second-string offense against the Bucs first-team defense in a hurry-up, two-minute session. The field was cleared except for 22 players and the drill was conducted in a game-like fashion with coaches and substitutes on the sidelines, a play clock, and clock stoppages due to ballcarriers running out of bounds and incomplete passes. Simms moved the ball quite well for about 50 yards, but the drive got bogged down just outside of field goal range when the defense stiffened with a few blitzes, which caused the second-string offensive line’s protection to break down. Derrick Brooks and Simeon Rice were key contributors in halting the drive.
Running back Jamel White deserves some kudos for not putting the ball on the ground lately. White, who is fighting through a shoulder injury, had some fumbling problems earlier in the week, but seems to be doing a better job with ball security.
Wide receiver Edell Shepherd got drilled by backup middle linebacker Keith Burns in 11-on-11 drills. Shepherd didn’t catch the ball cleanly and had to keep looking at the pigskin and didn’t see Burns coming. The play resulted in a big hit and a big drop.
Burns had a scary moment when he and safety Scott Frost collided in coverage while leaping to deflect a pass. Burns landed hard on his lower back, but continued to practice.
Another scary moment occurred when rookie wide receiver Michael Clayton landed awkwardly on his left shoulder while leaping for a pass. Clayton finished practice, but sat out the afternoon special teams practice and will likely miss a day or two of practice with a bruised sternum.
Fullback Mike Alstott took a couple of glancing blows during an intense interior run session and took the contact in stride. He appears to be having no ill effects from offseason neck surgery, although he has yet to take a big-time, challenging blow to the helmet in practice.
Running back Brandon Bennett had some nice runs today. He’s getting lost in the shuffle behind Charlie Garner, Michael Pittman and White, though. Bennett is a shifty runner, but seems to lack any of the real special qualities that the other running backs in camp have. Unless injuries occur or he shows up big time on special teams, his chances of making the team don’t look real strong.
Quarterbacks coach John Shoop was working with his players in an individual drills. Aside from hitting garbage cans that were approximately 20 yards away, Shoop had the passers working on pump fakes and simulating looking off safeties one way before throwing at the trash can another way.
Kicker Martin Gramatica was a perfect seven-of-seven on his mid-range field goals (between the 35 and 43 yards). His confidence appears to be buoyed by his offseason work in the strength and conditioning department, and some new blockers of the line. Gramatica has only missed a kick or two, and has only had one blocked, which was by linebacker Michael Brown off the edge yesterday.
The team worked again today on punting the ball out of their own end zone.
Cornerback Lenny Williams had a nice breakup on a pass intended for Shepherd near the end of practice.
After practice, Jon Gruden said that he was discouraged that nobody from the team’s younger group of tight ends – Will Heller, Nate Lawrie and Doug Zeigler – has stepped up yet. Gruden said that he is counting on Ken Dilger to be the team’s starter this year, and that he’ll reduce his workload in the preseason to try to keep him healthy.
One last note from the morning practice. There were a couple of the new Buccaneers Cheerleaders in attendance today, and I must admit that these ladies are some of the most beautiful girls in the world. Male fans will pleasantly surprised by the beauty of the new Tampa Bay Cheerleaders this year.
The Bucs practiced special teams for a little over an hour this afternoon under cloudy, muggy conditions. Because we are not allowed to detail strategy and formations when covering practice, this afternoon report will be brief as the team was working on kick return and punt return schemes.
The first team kickoff return unit comprised of the following players today: cornerback Corey Ivy, linebackers Ryan Nece, Jeff Gooch and Keith Burns, safety John Howell, linebacker Marquis Cooper, fullback Greg Comella, tight end Dave Moore, defensive end Corey Smith, and return men Frank Murphy and Brandon Bennett, who alternated with Torrie Cox and Mark Jones.
The second team kickoff return unit comprised the following players today: cornerback Lenny Williams, linebacker Edward Thomas, fullback Jameel Cook, linebacker Michael Brown, safety Scott Frost, running back Earnest Graham, defensive tackle Damien Gregory, tight end Will Heller, offensive lineman Sean Mahan, and return men Marcus Knight and Edell Shepherd.
The third team kickoff return unit comprised the following players today: safety Kalvin Pearson, linebacker Dustin Cohen, tight end Casey Cramer, defensive back Will Hunter, wide receiver D’Wayne Bates, fullback Deon Dyer, tight ends Nate Lawrie and Doug Zeigler, offensive lineman Austin King and return men Lynaris Elpheage and Jamel White.
The first team kickoff coverage unit comprised the following players today: cornerback Corey Ivy, safety Dwight Smith, linebacker Ryan Nece, wide receiver Frank Murphy, safety John Howell, kicker Martin Gramatica, linebacker Keith Burns, wide receiver Mark Jones and cornerback Mario Edwards.
The second team kickoff coverage unit comprised the following players: receiver D’Wayne Bates, safety Kalvin Pearson, tight end Doug Zeigler, defensive back Will Hunter, fullback Casey Cramer, kicker Martin Gramatica, defensive end Josh Savage, linebacker Dustin Cohen, tight end Nate Lawrie, running back Jamel White and cornerback Lynaris Elpheage.
Ivy and Murphy excelled as gunners on punt coverage. The two primary punt returners were Jones and Shepherd. Each returner bobbled a punt, which was discouraging because all of the drills were run at half-speed and there was no hitting or tackling allowed. Comella served as the personal protector for punter Josh Bidwell.
One light-hearted moment during the special teams practice occurred when Gregory, an upman on kickoff return, fielded a short onside kick and took two steps before his teammates implored him to take a knee and end the play. It’s not often a defensive tackle gets his hands on the ball, but Gregory fought the urge to advance the ball, and wisely kneeled down.
In addition to kickoff, kick return, punting and punt return, the Bucs worked on surprise onside kicks and taking a safety from punt formation today.
At the end of practice, defensive end Corey Smith was working on catching passes. A target for a fake punt or fake field goal, or will Smith be used on Jon Gruden’s offense? Stay tuned.
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