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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers took the field Sunday morning under cloudy skies and hot and muggy conditions. There were a laundry list of players who were held out of practice altogether and players who were limited in practice. That complete list can be found in Sunday’s Bucs Training Camp Notebook on PewterReport.com.
Sunday morning’s practice was a full-padded practice. The offensive tackles, including Kerry Jenkins, who saw time at right tackle in place of the injured Todd Steussie (knee) and Kenyatta Walker (knee), and the tight ends were working on the two-man blocking sled. The guards and centers were working on firing out of the blocking chutes.
Jon Gruden’s brother, Jay, who is an offensive assistant and former Arena Football League quarterback, was throwing passes to the wide receivers today in warm-ups. Rookie wide receiver Michael Clayton, who was held out of contact drills due to a bruised sternum, made a nice one-handed catch away from his body in warm-ups.
Looking at WR D’Wayne Bates, who was signed as a replacement for the injured Justin Skaggs, there’s not a whole lot to get excited about. Without the benefit of learning the Bucs offense in the offseason, Bates must really have some standout games in the preseason. He made a nice sideline catch in front of cornerback Brian Kelly today and got both feet in bounds before falling out of bounds, but there are just not enough big plays being made from Bates in practice.
With Joey Galloway and Clayton being locks to make the roster, players like Edell Shepherd, Bill Schroeder and Frank Murphy appear to be gaining some momentum and perhaps some separation from the other receivers with their practice performances. The receivers are displaying some consistency at training camp while players like Mark Jones, Marcus Knight, Bates and others are fading a bit. The team still likes Jones a lot as a return man, but he’ll need to rebound this week after hitting a wall last week.
“I think so,” Jon Gruden said when asked if his players benefited from having Saturday afternoon off. “There were some guys who had good practices and there are some guys who are fighting through it. I think anytime you get to the ninth or 10th day of training camp it becomes not only a mental grind, it becomes very much a physical grind. This is what we’re looking for — guys who can step up and sustain and have a really good, solid training camp. That’s what’s going to get you a job here on this football team.”
When you watch Clayton get in and out of his cuts, he does a good job on selling routes with his body movement. He’ll sell the drag route before breaking it off into a smash route, which is where a receiver starts to run a drag pattern across the field before breaking it off to the outside.
Gruden was working with the receivers on a couple of Hail Mary plays today in individual unit drills. Gruden stressed that his receivers needed to be physical on the last play of the half or of the game.
“I’ve never seen them call offensive pass interference on the last play of the game!” Gruden shouted. “I’ve never seen it!”
On a couple of reps, the receivers in the front of the end zone would actually try to jump up and tip the ball backwards to another receiver who was about five yards behind them.
The quarterbacks spent a lot of time working on looking off safeties to the left and to the right and throwing passes to receivers running skinny posts down the middle of the field.
Tampa Bay’s running backs spent their individual sessions working with the linebackers on blitz pick-up in pass protection and running one-on-one routes against the linebackers out of the backfield. Fullback Mike Alstott is very good in pass protection, as is 5-foot-10, 190-pound halfback Charlie Garner.
The running backs really had their way with the linebackers in one-on-one receiving drills. Jamel White really smoked strongside linebacker Ryan Nece, cutting outside before sliding back inside. Nece was turned around on the play. Garner also made some very nice jukes on a couple of different linebackers.
During the individual drills between the offensive linemen and the defensive linemen, defensive end Simeon Rice and tight end Nate Lawrie got into another heated scuffle today. Yesterday, Lawrie and Rice went toe-to-toe, pushing and shoving after Lawrie went low on Rice.
Well, the saga continued today with Lawrie really firing out and being overly aggressive towards Rice. Rice shoved Lawrie to the ground, which prompted Lawrie to grab Rice’s legs and tackle him. Rice quickly gained an advantage wrestling with Lawrie and the two were pushing and shoving each other. The intensity was ratcheted up from the previous day and Rice and Lawrie were trash talking after being separated by teammates.
After practice, Rice commented on his on-going skirmish with Lawrie.
“I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do,” Rice told Pewter Report. “Out here he’s trying to get his bearings, but it’s a little extra. There’s too much extracurricular. I can’t have him going home saying Simeon is a bitch. Do you know what I mean? I can do whatever I want to Simeon. I have to give him a first-rate understanding of what it’s like. There was a lot of tackling yesterday, so I had to put my foot down.”
In 11-on-11 drills, the Bucs were practicing short-yardage situations such as third-and-1 and third-and-5. Tampa Bay was running a lot of leads, dives, play-action passes and play-action bootlegs during this session. On the first play in the short yardage drill, nose tackle Chartric Darby knifed in-between left guard Cosey Coleman and center John Wade to thump fullback Mike Alstott.
Tampa Bay’s offensive line, which was without starters Steussie and guard Matt Stinchcomb, had a very good day opening up holes for the running game. The line was aggressive and physical today and got the best of the defensive line on most downs.
Several defensive backs made some nice pass breakups today, including safety John Howell, who stepped in front of Lawrie to swat a pass down, and corner Mario Edwards, who knocked down a pass intended for Marcus Knight. However, cornerback Corey Ivy was flagged for pass interference on a pass intended for Clayton, on one of the few reps he took in contact drills.
Linebacker Keith Burns continues to make plays on defense. He is very active with his hands and forced and recovered a fumble when Bates was careless with the ball after a catch across the middle. Burns started at middle linebacker as Shelton Quarles was held out of contact drills and Jeff Gooch did not dress for practice. Burns overran some running plays, creating a hole in his gap, but it seems like he excels in coverage and playing away from the line of scrimmage.
While Brad Johnson took part in more passing today than he did on Saturday and made some impressive decisions and throws, Simms and Brian Griese still had a lot of reps under center, which was guard Sean Mahan in 7-on-7 drills. While Simms has remained somewhat consistent and even exceptional in some practices, Griese has not really elevated his game to match Simms’ level. After a week in training camp, there is evidence that suggests that Simms may be pulling away from Griese and gaining some separation from him for the No. 2 job.
Anthony Davis continues to get a lot of playing time, even with Derrick Deese’s return to practice. Davis has been platooning with Jenkins at right tackle and getting a ton of reps. Our Pewter Insider subscribers who read the feature article Pewter Report wrote on Davis just prior to camp, knew that he was a camp “sleeper.” So far, Davis has lived up to that billing and has had a great camp.
Jason Whittle lined up as the team’s starting right guard today while Jenkins was the starting right tackle. The left starting guard was Cosey Coleman. The fact that the Bucs are auditioning Jenkins at right tackle and Austin King is receiving very few reps at center suggests both players could be hard pressed to earn 53-man roster spots, especially King, who lacks versatility and playing experience.
One player who desperately needed to come up with some big plays is fullback Casey Cramer. The former Dartmouth tight end has had a nondescript training camp so far, but really rose to the occasion today. With Greg Comella impressing at times as a run blocker and as a pass catcher, especially today with several nice grabs, the pressure was on Cramer to start proving his worth.
Cramer had several nice, aggressive blocks this morning, first on linebacker Edward Thomas, then on linebacker Michael Brown. Cramer showed more tenacity and power today than he has at any other day. The rookie needs every day to be like today from this moment going forward in order to make the team.
Defensive tackle Anthony McFarland showed no ill effects from an ankle injury he suffered earlier in the week, knifing through the line to take out a running play. He drilled fullback Greg Comella before he could get to the outside and the whole play was blown up.
One of the most impressive players thus far has been safety Jermaine Phillips, who has a nose for the football and seems to always be in position to make plays against the run and pass. He might not be able to make people forget about John Lynch, but Phillips seems poised to make a name for himself in Tampa Bay this season.
The Bucs worked on fake field goals this morning with holder Josh Bidwell throwing the ball and kicker Martin Gramatica executing some pooch punts. This may be the biggest time when Tampa Bay misses Tom Tupa, who was a former college quarterback. Bidwell’s throwing skills aren’t nearly as good as Tupa’s.
The morning practice ended with a couple of interesting plays involving Shepherd and safety Scott Frost. First, Shepherd outraced Frost on a deep post pattern and caught a beautifully thrown ball by Griese. A couple of plays later, Shepherd made another nice catch going over the middle before having the ball knocked out of his hands by Frost. Edwards was there for the fumble recovery.
Edwards also made another great play as practice drew to a close. The lanky cornerback hit Shepherd as soon as he caught another pass from Griese, which sent the ball flying up into the air before landing into the waiting arms of Brown, who returned the pick for a touchdown.
Tampa Bay’s defense has been creating a lot of turnovers in camp. Coach Gruden challenged the defense to create more turnovers this season just as he did in 2002 when the defense scored a whopping nine touchdowns en route to winning Super Bowl XXXVII. They may not score that many touchdowns this season as that was quite a rare feat, but don’t be surprised if the Bucs defense returns to its old ways by forcing more turnovers this season than it did in 2003.
The Bucs afternoon practiced was cancelled due to lightning and thunderstorms.
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