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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers took the field for their first training camp practice of the year at Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex on Friday morning.
Although training camp is officially underway, the Bucs weren’t quite dressed for the occasion, or at least not yet. The team conducted the morning practice in shorts, jerseys and helmets. The pads won’t come on until Sunday or Monday morning.
Much of the talk heading into camp was about the Orlando heat and humidity. But the Bucs lucked out for Friday morning’s practice, which was held under overcast skies.
The Bucs began practice with stretching and warm-up drills. Bucs linebackers Derrick Brooks and Barrett Ruud, fullback Mike Alstott, cornerback Ronde Barber and guard Davin Joseph led the team in calisthenics.
It only took a few minutes of observing practice to notice this team means business. After posting a 4-12 record in 2006, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden has stressed to his team that they must become more physical and dominant in all three phases of the game.
Although they weren’t sporting pads on Friday morning, the two-hour practice was definitely physical.
During warm-ups, the position coaches broke off into different sections of the practice fields to work with their respective players. However, some of the position coaches coordinated drills that involved much more than their job titles suggest.
Bucs offensive line coach Bill Muir ran his players through footwork drills and sled drills. Quarterbacks coach Paul Hackett broke away from the signal callers to put the wide receivers through cone drills. Special teams coach Richard Bisaccia spent a decent amount of time putting the running backs through the strip drills. Bucs wide receivers coach Richard Mann worked with his players on running sharp and precise routes. Running backs coach Art Valero also worked with the running backs on the single blocking sled.
During a warm-up blocking drill, center/guard Enoka Lucas attempted to block guard/tackle Anthony Davis. The 6-foot-4, 322-pound Davis, who is competing for the starting left guard job after being moved over from left tackle, demonstrated the physical style of play Bucs head coach Jon Gruden wants to see from his players by extending his arms and bowled over the 299-pound Lucas, who lost his blocking pad and landed flat on his back.
Considering the fact that the Bucs haven’t practiced together in over a month, the team’s wide receivers were fairly sharp catching the football. However, a few players struggled with dropped passes.
Wide receiver Maurice Stovall dropped a pass that was thrown a little behind him during warm-ups. Running back Carnell “Cadillac” Williams also dropped a pass during the early part of practice. Bucs rookie RB Kenneth Darby and fullback Byron Storer were also guilty of dropping passes.
One player, RB Lionel Gates, was a repeat offender on Friday morning in terms of dropped passes. He dropped at least two balls during the practice.
Speaking of running backs, the “Rocket” backfield was used quite a bit during the morning workout. Gruden named this two-back set after the two players it was originally intended for – Michael Pittman and Charlie Garner.
But the formation, which features two running backs lined up in the offensive backfield at one time, wasn’t used as much as some had anticipated due to the fact that Garner suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2003.
Gruden apparently wants to revisit this formation as Pittman and Williams worked out of the Rocket backfield quite a bit on Friday morning.
Although he dropped one pass during warm-ups, Williams has really come a long way in terms of catching the football. He made a great over the shoulder grab in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown at the beginning of practice. It looks as though Williams is fresh, healthy and confident, and the Bucs offense, which ranked 29th in the running game in 2006, could certainly use his help.
Tampa Bay focused on the running game during a brief goal line drill. Gruden ran three plays from scrimmage, and all of them were running plays. Alstott, Williams and RB Earnest Graham each scored on the running plays, although one should probably take this with a grain of salt since the team wasn’t wearing pads.
Stovall, who is entering his second pro training camp, displayed soft hands throughout the offseason, and he rebounded nicely from his early drop during Friday morning’s practice.
The 6-foot-5, 220-pound Stovall doesn’t appear to be fast, but he’s a long strider, which enables him to get up field in a hurry and get separation from defenders.
Perhaps the most impressive play of the morning practice came during a 7-on-7 drill when Stovall leaped up and over Barber and cornerback Phillip Buchanon to haul in a pass near the left sideline.
Stovall is pushing fourth-year WR Michael Clayton for a starting job at the Z (flanker) spot, and Clayton seems to be taking the competition seriously.
Clayton ran sharp routes and caught passes cleanly during the morning practice. He also received a lot of reps. As of right now, it still looks like Clayton’s job to lose, and after watching him during Friday morning’s practice, it looks like Clayton isn’t going to let Stovall win his job without a good fight.
Clayton hooked up with quarterback Jeff Garcia quite a bit on slants, but they also connected on a 40-yard play down the middle of the field.
The former first-round draft pick had a scary moment during a 7-on-7 drills when he collided with Bucs second-year CB Alan Zemaitis immediately after hauling in a pass down the middle of the field. Clayton hit the ground but bounced up and returned to the huddle.
Zemaitis was chided by defensive backs coach Raheem Morris for not making enough plays on the ball in the team’s second round of receiver-defensive backs drills.
Tampa Bay WR David Boston is a tough player to evaluate right now. He has made a lot of progress since this time last year, but Boston is not the player he was in his prime. He has displayed soft hands and good route running ability, but Boston doesn’t get separation from defenders on a consistent basis. While he’s not as fast as he used to be, Boston is definitely good enough to make Tampa Bay’s 53-man roster in 2007.
The shotgun formation was implemented and used during the offseason, and it made it to training camp. Garcia and the rest of Tampa Bay’s quarterbacks took a significant amount of reps out of the shotgun on Friday morning. Garcia is clearly the undisputed starter at the quarterback position, and rightfully so.
The 37-year-old quarterback was extremely accurate in his first training camp practice as a Buccaneer. He doesn’t have the strongest arm, but Garcia can deliver the football all over the field. He’s especially effective in getting the football out to his receivers in the flats, which in turn allows those players to make plays with the ball after the catch.
Garcia has made a lot of progress in terms of developing a rapport with his receivers, particularly Joey Galloway, Clayton and Stovall.
At one point during the morning practice, Garcia caught fire and completed five straight passes during 11-on-11 sessions. He finally threw an incompletion when he was rushed out of the pocket and threw a ball just short of a diving tight end Alex Smith. Garcia’s next pass fell incomplete, but that was due to a drop.
Bruce Gradkowski appears to be the No. 2 guy right now. He was fairly accurate on his fade passes. However, Gradkowski is still struggling with the deep ball. In fact, the second-year quarterback was intercepted by free safety Will Allen when he underthrew Galloway during a 7-on-7 drill.
Bucs QB Chris Simms didn’t see a lot of action early, but he took more reps during the second half of the morning practice than he did during all three days of the team’s mandatory mini-camp back in June, or at least that’s the way it seemed.
Simms, who appears to be the third-string signal caller at this point, looks better in terms of his throwing form and mechanics, but that’s not necessarily saying much since he’s clearly got a long way to go before he returns to form.
The one area Simms really struggled to deliver the ball to today was the flat. Several of his passes came up short of his receivers in this particular area of the football field.
In Simms’ defense, he had very little time to locate receivers during 11-on-11 drills. Tampa Bay’s first-string defense generated quite a pass rush vs. Tampa Bay’s second- and third-string offenses. Simms was forced to scramble on two consecutive plays during one particular 11-on-11 drill.
In the Bucs’ second round of receiver-defensive back drills, Simms was picked off by Buchanon on an out route to David Boston. The pass was late, slow and wobbly.
Cornerback Brian Kelly was impressive in the individual drills against the receivers. He perfectly timed his break on a pass intended for Paris Warren and broke it up. “I love that, killer!” said a cheering Morris.
Cornerback Sammy Davis struggled a bit today in practice, getting beat for a long touchdown catch and run by Chas Gessner that covered over 50 yards. Gessner showed impressive speed on the play and even pulled away from Ruud and safety Sabby Piscitelli. Davis also gave up a touchdown pass to Mark Jones on a beautiful scoring strike from Garcia.
Davis’ misfortune continued when he dove to deflect a pass only to tip it up in the air and into the arms of Galloway, who got two feet in bounds to make it a legal catch.
“Stop showing off,” Bucs receiver Ike Hilliard said to Galloway. Both Galloway and Hilliard excelled at running after the catch on Friday.
Tampa Bay’s first-string offensive line looks like this: left tackle Luke Petitgout, left guard Anthony Davis, center John Wade, right guard Davin Joseph and right tackle Jeremy Trueblood.
Dan Buenning, who was limited for most of the offseason while he recovered from knee surgery, took third-string reps at center, which was a bit surprising seeing as the Bucs are hoping he can compete with Wade for a starting job.
Buenning, who was moved from guard to center during the offseason, was involved in two botched center/quarterback exchanges during Friday morning’s practice.
Tampa Bay’s offensive line did a nice job of opening up some running lanes for Williams during the morning practice. So did tight ends Alex Smith and Anthony Becht, who were stacked on the right side of the line and gave Williams a wide gap to run through on one play.
The battle for the starting fullback position might not be decided until the end of preseason. Mike Alstott and newcomer B.J. Askew shared reps with the first- and second-string units.
The Bucs got a decent amount of special teams work in during the practice.
With punter Josh Bidwell holding, kicker Matt Bryant attempted five field goals through the workout. He was 4-of-5 on those attempts. His one missed field goal went wide left.
During gunner drills, Bucs safety Jermaine Phillips demonstrated the physical style of play Gruden is looking for by blocking rookie cornerback Marcus Hamilton and putting him on his rear end.
Williams, Boston, Hilliard and Kyle Smith and running back Michael Pittman fielded kickoffs at the end of practice.
With defensive end Simeon Rice no longer a Buccaneer, Patrick Chukwurah received most of the first-team reps at right end. He didn’t disappoint, either. Chukwurah had an outstanding offseason, and he picked up where he left off by turning in a solid practice.
Chukwurah was extremely disruptive in Tampa Bay’s offensive backfield. He put a tremendous amount of pressure on the quarterbacks, particularly Simms. During an 11-on-11 drill, Chukwurah did a nice job of getting his arm up to deflect a pass thrown by Garcia.
Count your blessings, Bucs fans. Disaster came close to striking during one of the 11-on-11 drills when DE Greg Spires took out Chukwurah’s knee while both players were attempting to pressure the quarterback from opposite sides in the backfield. The collision did not look good, but Chukwurah showed that he’s pretty flexible by getting up and walking it off.
The Bucs used Jovan Haye at under tackle with the first-team defense, but they also worked some other players, including Darrell Campbell, Ellis Wyms, rookie Greg Peterson and Kevin Carter, into the rotation.
Like the shotgun, the 3-4 defense appears to be more than just a gimmick as the Bucs used it during the morning practice. Tampa Bay does a great job of disguising the 3-4 by lining up in a 4-3 and then having one of its defensive ends, usually either Chukwurah or Gaines Adams, drop back into coverage just before the ball is snapped.
With Rice gone, Adams has some big shoes to fill, but he’s off to a decent start. Adams is extremely quick and instinctive. He put those instincts on display this morning when he sniffed out a pitch from Garcia to Pittman in the backfield. Had the pads been on, Adams would have stuffed Pittman for a loss.
One of the more interesting developments during the morning practice took place when linebacker Ryan Nece lined up at middle linebacker. While Ruud is the starting Mike linebacker, Nece, who has apparently lost his starting strongside linebacker job to Cato June, took some second- and third-string reps at middle linebacker. The Bucs also gave MLB Antoine Cash some work with the first-team defense.
Rookie Quincy Black has been moved from middle linebacker to strongside linebacker where he is backing up Cato June.
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