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The Buccaneers took the field for a two-hour practice on Friday morning at Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
The Bucs sported shells (shorts, helmets, jerseys and shoulder pads) for the second consecutive morning practice instead of the full pads they had been wearing for the first several mornings of camp.
Weather conditions were hot and humid and with fairly clear skies and temperatures a bit cooler than Thursday morning and in the high 80s to low 90s.
Several players were held out of Friday morning’s workout. Bucs rookie defensive end Charles Bennett still is sidelined with a hamstring injury, and it doesn’t sound like he’ll be returning anytime soon. Tackle Torrin Tucker, who has a foot/ankle injury, rode the bike for the second straight practice. Running back Derek Watson, who sustained a neck injury during Thursday morning’s practice, was held out of Friday morning’s workout.
Several others, including defensive Dewayne White, defensive tackle Anthony McFarland, tackle Kenyatta Walker and tight end Alex Smith, were given the morning session off in the team’s effort to keep the players fresh and healthy.
Bucs wide receivers Joey Galloway and David Boston both participated on Friday morning.
The morning practice started off quite sloppy for Tampa Bay’s receivers. Bucs receivers coach Richard Mann spent a few minutes throwing passes over the receivers’ shoulders. Granted, these passes aren’t the easiest ones to catch, but the Bucs had three straight drops during this drill, with Galloway, Michael Clayton and Chas Gessner each letting the ball fall off their hands and onto the field. Bucs receiver Paris Warren also dropped a pass during warm-ups, and Edell Shepherd dropped a pass during an 11-on-11 session.
But the receivers managed to get the drops out of their system early. Galloway received cheers from the crowd by making a great one-handed grab on a ball that was thrown behind him by quarterback Chris Simms.
Bucs running back Carnell “Cadillac” Williams fared much better in the pass-catching department on Friday morning. He caught every pass thrown his way from Pewter Report’s perspective.
Friday morning’s practice featured some new drills. The Bucs spent a significant amount of time running hook and ladder plays in warm-ups, and those types of plays were featured again later in 11-on-11 drills.
It also featured more two-minute drill work. In fact, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden abruptly ended the offense’s two-minute drill after a unidentified player started arguing with another player, which caused precious seconds to run off the clock.
Gruden was furious and punished the offense by moving them back well out of field goal range.
“I am trying to make a point,” Gruden said. “We were in the two minute drill and we had a good drive going. You can’t be arguing with an opposing player when the clock is running out. The clock is our enemy. We have 52 seconds left to score a point and if you are going to have a verbal argument and waste five seconds then you are going to lose us the game. We tried to make a point by calling a penalty on that player and then I had a double infraction because I got upset, so we had a 30-yard penalty and we had to try our Hail Mary play.”
Guard Toniu Fonoti struggled in pass protection in the beginning of practice. He was beaten badly by defensive tackle Chris Hovan.
Jeb Terry has been taking a lot of reps at right guard, and Sean Mahan seems to be getting very few turns at the right guard spot, which is where he started all 17 games last season. Although rookie Davin Joseph is getting better with every practice, Terry appears to be poised to win the starting job, and he showed he’s capable of upgrading that particular position during Friday morning’s workout by doing a good job in the run blocking department. In fact, during an 11-on-11 drill, Terry pulled to his left and opened up a massive hold for Bucs running back Michael Pittman, who continues to have a fantastic camp both as a runner and receiver.
The Bucs had a near-catastrophic incident occur during 11-on-11 drills Friday morning when Terry got pushed back and to the ground by defensive tackle Ellis Wyms on a passing play. When Terry fell backward and started to roll on the ground, he came within inches of falling onto Simms’ planted leg. Had the 300-pound Terry fallen on Simms’ defenseless leg, Tampa Bay’s offense might have been looking at losing him for the season just as Cincinnati lost quarterback Carson Palmer in its playoff game vs. Pittsburgh when a similar incident occurred.
During a 7-on-7 drill, Simms got off a great pass down the left sideline to Boston, who appeared to push off on cornerback Torrie Cox to make the catch in the end zone for the touchdown.
With Walker held out of the morning practice, rookie Jeremy Trueblood saw plenty of reps at the right tackle spot with the starters. He fared well at times, but struggled during an 11-on-11 period when he went up against Bucs defensive end Greg Spires, who dominated him on consecutive passing plays. During an 11-on-11 session, Spires got by Trueblood to sack quarterback Tim Rattay. Rattay also got sacked by defensive Simeon Rice and Hovan during the same 11-on-11 drill.
Bucs rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski seems to be having some trouble with the center/quarterback exchange. There have been a few fumbles throughout camp where Gradkowski was the signal caller, and Gradkowski lost the football that was snapped by Sean Mahan during an 11-on-11 session when he was running with the second-team offense. But Gradkowski rebounded from that mishap by launching a perfectly thrown pass from his own end zone down the left sideline to wide receiver Mark Jones, who made a great catch and kept his feet in bounds for a big gain.
Gradkowski has made some strides on improving his deep passes. He’s known as more of short and intermediate range thrower because of what he did in college, and the fact that during the mini-camp and in some training camp practices, Gradkowski’s deep balls have wobbled a bit. He also needs to work on timing those throws as some passes have been too long or have been underthrown.
Gradkowski is getting more reps with the starters than Tim Rattay is, and more reps in general for two reasons. First, he’s earned it. Gradkowski is picking up the offense and executing the plays well for a rookie. He just needs to eliminate the fumbled center-quarterback exchanges. Secondly, Gradkowski has a future with the Bucs organization where Rattay really doesn’t. Tampa Bay would rather invest in the future, which is the rookie.
Hovan was quite fiery during Friday morning’s practice. In addition to beating Fonoti earlier in practice, Hovan was great in pursuit en route to chasing down fullback Mike Alstott near the line of scrimmage on a running play to the sideline. Fonoti also got beat by rookie defensive tackle Julian Jenkins on a spin move.
But, things got scary for Tampa Bay’s defense when Hovan went down injured in an 11-on-11 drill. Hovan was slow getting up and walked over to the sideline just to fall to the ground in pain. But after a few seconds of holding his thigh in discomfort, Hovan got up off the field and limped back into action for the next play.
Hovan continued to play hurt, and that led to him becoming frustrated at times, especially in some of the individual drills. In one-on-one drills, Hovan got slammed to the ground by center John Wade and appeared to be in pain or injured again.
Then Hovan’s frustration boiled over when Bucs head coach Jon Gruden rounded up the team and had them create a circle around the offensive and defensive linemen that were participating in the one-on-one (pin) drills. With the players cheering each other and the crowd getting into it as well, Hovan found himself going up against Joseph. To his credit, Joseph held off Hovan, who then proceeded to throw his helmet down to the ground and go back after Joseph before their teammates intervened.
With the exception of a few plays, Tampa Bay’s offensive linemen actually fared quite well in the pit drill, but Wyms might have had the most impressive outing when he completely blew by guard Dan Buenning. Bucs left tackle Anthony Davis and defensive end Simeon Rice squared off, and Rice used his speed to jet by Davis, who also was called for holding in the one-on-one session.
In a previous pass rush-pass protection session prior to Gruden gathering the team around to watch, the Bucs were working on combination blocks and defensive linemen twists. Terry got some reps in at right tackle and played next to Joseph, who was playing right guard.
Nose tackle Anthony Bryant had a good session and is showing more stamina and consistency. He shoved Jeremy Trueblood aside on a tackle-end twist and worked his way inside to the quarterback. Center John Wade threw Hovan to the ground when the two squared off, which only made Hovan even hotter under the collar.
The Bucs defense had more attitude from cornerback Juran Bolden, who enjoys trash talking to his teammates during practice. During a 7-on-7 drills, Galloway and Bolden got into a playful pushing match after the receiver caught the ball near the sideline.
The Bucs dedicated some time to special teams work on Friday morning. Tampa Bay went through a complete, live kickoff coverage/return drill with Michael Pittman doing the return honors. Bucs kicker Matt Bryant made his first two field goal attempts before missing the third try wide right.
Bryant also got off one heck of a pooch kick out a field goal formation – he pinned the ball out of bounds on the 3-yard line.
Tampa Bay held a walk-through on Friday afternoon, and it was cut short by about 30 minutes due to inclimate weather.
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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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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