Conditions were sunny, hot and muggy at Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex as the Buccaneers begin training camp Friday morning before half-empty stands, which was the smallest opening day crowd in years to watch the team.
The only three players who did not participate in the first morning practice were running back Charlie Garner, rookie offensive lineman Kevin Fisher and rookie wide receiver Larry Brackins. All three players are on the active PUP list. Garner could be ready to go any day, while Brackins may miss the first week of practice.
Center John Wade was wearing a bulky knee brace on his left knee, but it was good to see him on there on the practice field during warm-ups.
The four team captains leading calisthenics were linebacker Derrick Brooks, cornerback Ronde Barber, fullback Mike Alstott and wide receiver Michael Clayton.
Defensive end Dewayne White looks like he’s in outstanding shape, but defensive tackle Anthony Bryant looks a little heavy and sluggish.
The offensive line began working on the seven-man sled. The starting O-line on Friday morning was Derrick Deese at left tackle, Matt Stinchcomb at left guard, John Wade at center, Jeb Terry at right guard, Kenyatta Walker at right tackle. The second-string offensive line was Anthony Davis at left tackle, Dan Buenning at left guard, Sean Mahan at center, Jonathan Clinkscale at right guard and Chris Colmer at right tackle. The third-string O-line was Lance Nimmo at left tackle, Doug Buckles at left guard, Scott Jackson at center and Chris Watton at right guard.
Buenning has a massive lower body and some impressive calves. His forte was run blocking in college and the way he hit the sled today proved that. Nimmo, a former fourth-round draft pick, needs to work on his footwork.
Colmer spent a good amount of time playing on the right side, which is interesting seeing as he spent most of his collegiate career at left tackle.
Bucs offensive line coach Bill Muir and senior assistant Aaron Kromer worked with the offensive linemen on getting the right knee bend, keeping elbows in tight and moving on flat feet through drills. Both players seemed pleased with their ability to do this.
Wide receiver Adrian Madise stands out because he has a running back frame. He has a big, broad, muscular build, which is different from the rest of the receiving corps, but he won’t make the team because of his body. He’ll need to prove that he can catch the ball consistently and make plays after the catch. Madise didn’t run great routes, though, and wide receivers coach Richard Mann took notice.
“You’re like a spastic out there, Madise.” Mann said. “Good feet, you’ve got to have good feet.”
After missing most of the offseason workouts while recovering from knee surgery, Clayton displayed great hands and was the sharpest route-runner on the field on Monday morning.
Clayton looks quick and is showing no ill effects from his offseason knee surgery, which limited his participation during the OTAs and the mini-camp.
Wide receiver Joey Galloway looks limber and participated fully in the individual receiver drills, but was held out of team drills. Galloway will be participating mostly in afternoon workouts due to his age and the fact that he tore his groin last August. Galloway, fellow receiver Kevin Youngblood and rookie under tackle Lynn McGruder all wore black sweatpants this morning, which seems crazy given the heat and the sun.
Rookie wide receiver J.R. Russell had a drop in individual drills and loafed a bit to pick up the ball. Russell is a talented guy, but gives off some weird body language. He looks like he’s not going to hustle as much as the coaches want.
The Bucs split their receivers into X’s (split ends) and Z’s (flankers). Here’s the receivers that are lining up at X: Joey Galloway, Ike Hilliard, Derek Lewis, J.R. Russell, Derrick McCoy and Kevin Youngblood. The receivers lining up at Z are: Michael Clayton, Edell Shepherd, DeAndrew Rubin, Adrian Madise Paris Warren and Chris Davis.
The wide receivers were working on their run blocking skills, as the emphasis this training camp will be on improving the running game. The skinny Shepherd did not have much pop in his reps. Madise showed his strength, but he won’t make the team with his run-blocking prowess. Rubin was a very willing blocker and was effective hitting the pads. Warren was very aggressive and showed strong blocking skills.
Perhaps the most surprising showing came from Rubin, who displayed soft hands and fairly sharp route-running ability on Monday morning. Rubin is extremely quick in and out of his cuts, and he beat several defenders on Monday, including cornerback Ronyell Whitaker, who couldn’t keep up with Rubin on a slant pattern.
“Nice job, Rub,” Hackett yelled.
The Bucs running backs worked on perimeter runs. Second-year running back Ian Smart is very sudden, quick and shifty.
In skeleton drills that featured running backs and tight ends against safeties and linebackers, the second-string linebacking corps was confirmed – Maurice Cooper at Sam (strongside linebacker), Barrett Ruud at Mike (middle linebacker) and Ryan Nece at Will (weakside linebacker).
Rookie fullback Rick Razzano showed impressive hands while making a tough catch above his head on a pass thrown by Luke McCown.
Tight end Will Heller made a great catch over the middle and showed improved speed and athleticism from a year ago.
Middle linebacker Jermaine Taylor is very quick (and very small at 5-foot-11, 215 pounds) and has great lateral movement in coverage, but dropped too deep down the middle two in Cover 2 coverage.
While not a blazer, tight end Anthony Becht made a real nice overhead grab and saw a ton of passes thrown his way throughout the morning practice and I didn’t see him drop a pass. In team-oriented drills, Becht may have caught more passes than any other receiver or tight end this morning. It’s safe to say that the tight end will be a featured position in Jon Gruden’s offense this year. Last year was the year of the tight end in the NFL. This year it will be the year of the tight end in Tampa Bay.
Just by the way he runs his routes and catches the ball, you can tell rookie tight end Alex Smith is assignment sound and well-schooled in the passing game. However, Nate Lawrie had a bad drop, and didn’t have a great morning overall.
Wide receiver Derrick Lewis was running with the second team today along with Hilliard, but didn’t look too impressive.
Quarterback Brian Griese looked sharp in the morning practice. Griese’s throws hit receivers in the numbers, and that’s what separates him from Chris Simms. Simms starts off practices throwing a little high, about head level. But as practice continues, the ball drifts downward to the players’ numbers. Griese is consistent, and that’s what the coaching staff loves about him.
McCown is accurate with underneath throws, but needs work on his deep passes. He doesn’t have tremendous arm strength, and unless Simms tanks it in August, it’s doubtful if McCown can win the backup quarterback job this year. A couple of misfires prompted Gruden to scream, “I want to complete every pass this year each week.”
Since it was the first time I could watch McCown since his arrival in Tampa Bay, I spent a great deal of time eyeing the new quarterback. He doesn’t have a whole lot of zip on the ball downfield or on the deep outs. McCown reminds me of a skinnier, more mobile Brad Johnson. That’s my first impression, which is subject to change. After practice, McCown was sought out by Gruden, who spent about five minutes with him just talking.
Hilliard looks solid, but not spectacular. However, the Bucs could have used some more solid play at wide receiver last year. Hillard will be a reliable number three receiver for this offense.
In 9-on-9 drills, the Bucs worked on their running game. Alstott had a big run behind Dan Buenning, and Smart had a nice run behind a great block by Razzano. While he has demonstrated that he can be a good receiver, it is obvious that Smith needs work as a blocker.
He also needs to get tougher. With second-year safety Will Allen covering him very physically near the line of scrimmage, Smith made a catch, then got rocked by fellow rookie safety Donte Nicholson and knocked to the ground. Surprisingly, Smith said nothing, did nothing and got up and ran back to the huddle. Expect more defensive players to challenge Smith and try to push him around as camp continues.
Becht, on the other hand, is a very strong blocker. Becht engaged left defensive end Greg Spires on a run play and blew him off the ball. Becht may be the most powerful blocking tight end the team has had in recent memory. His presence alone will have a positive impact on Tampa Bay’s running game.
New nose tackle Chris Hovan was taking all of the snaps with the starting defense and looked good pursuing the run laterally. He also made several plays by penetrating the backfield, but did give ground in the running game on other plays when he was double-teamed.
The Bucs starting defensive line consisted of Spires at left end, under tackle Anthony McFarland, Hovan at nose tackle, and Simeon Rice at right end. The second-string defensive line featured Dewayne White at left end, Ellis Wyms at under tackle, Damien Gregory at nose tackle and Bryant McNeal at right end. Josh Savage (left end), Lynn McGruder (under tackle), Jon Bradley (nose tackle) and McNeal (right end) made up the third-string.
Rookie nose tackle Anthony Bryant did not participate much due to cramping. He appears to be overweight and out of shape, which has to be upsetting to the Bucs.
One disturbing note from the morning practice was a fumbled quarterback-center exchange between Simms and Mahan. Simms had spent a lot of time in the offseason working on taking the snap, and it was disappointing to see this problem rear its ugly head at the Bucs’ initial practice.
Several Bucs linebackers made great plays in coverage. Jeff Gooch was solid in covering Williams, Becht and Lawrie – denying all three players the chance to catch a pass. Bam Hardmon also made a great play, knocking the ball away from an intended receiver. Gooch also looked good on the first play of 11-on-11 drills when he blitzed from the strongside and sacked Griese.
The Bucs ran three plays in goal line situations, and the offense won all three downs with rushing touchdowns up the middle.
Tampa Bay’s special teams got off to a good start with Matt Bryant connecting on 4-of-4 field goals and Todd France hitting 3-of-4 field goals. Bryant’s kicking motion is short and compact and he gets good elevation on his kicks. France’s stroke is more elongated, like he is pushing the ball.
McFarland received some applause from some fans in attendance, and some catcalls from others, who screamed, “Hey Booger, are you gonna play this year?”
Davis, whose 329-pound frame makes it tough for defenders to get around, had a good showing and even pancaked Spires on one occasion. However, Davis got put on the ground a few reps later by McFarland. Davis played at both right and left tackle on Monday morning.
Bucs defensive backs coach Mike Tomlin worked with the cornerbacks and stressed technique on “crossovers,” which calls for the corners to release from the receiver in Cover 2 in order to cover the underneath part of the field. Tomlin appeared to be pleased with how his players executed this drill. Torrie Cox was extremely quick during these drills and was even playing nickel ahead of Juran Bolden during 11-on-11 drills.
Bolden has pleased the coaches with his desire to play special teams. In addition to working on punt coverage, Bolden also worked on field goal defense. Mario Edwards, last year’s free agent nickel back, did not play on special teams, which didn’t endear him to the coaches.
One of the great matchups of the 11-on-11 morning session was the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Clayton, who was lined up in the slot, versus the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Bolden. The first five yards were physical, but Clayton broke free with a veteran swim move.
The defensive backs had a good morning overall with cornerback Blue Adams standing out with solid coverage and a pass breakup. Ronde Barber almost had an interception near the sidelines, but the official ruled that Barber did not get both feet in bounds, which drew the ire of Tomlin and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, who came racing across the field and screamed “That’s a horse(expletive) call!”
Some other notable items: Michael Pittman is the starting halfback and Dexter Jackson is the starting free safety – for now.