The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ afternoon practice got off to a very hot and humid start. The sun was beating down and on-field temperatures felt close to 100 degrees.
Sitting out practice in the afternoon was right tackle Kenyatta Walker, running back Charlie Garner, offensive tackle Kevin Fischer and wide receiver Larry Brackins.
After some individual drills and stretching, the Bucs spent a good deal of time on kickoff coverage. The starting kickoff coverage team today consisted of safety Dexter Jackson, cornerback Torrie Cox, middle linebacker Barrett Ruud, strongside linebacker Marquis Cooper, defensive end Dewayne White, fullback Rick Razzano, kicker Matt Bryant, safety Will Allen, linebacker Ryan Nece, cornerback Ronyell Whitaker and wide receiver Kevin Youngblood.
The second-string kickoff team was made of wide receiver Edell Shepherd, cornerback Juran Bolden, running back Earnest Graham, linebacker Jermaine Taylor, safety Donte Nicholson, kicker Matt Bryant, defensive end Josh Savage, linebacker Matt Grootegoed, cornerback Ronyell Whitaker and wide receiver Paris Warren.
Kicker Todd France and punter Brian Simjanovski also worked on kickoffs, although Bryant’s attempts appeared to be the deepest and the best.
The Bucs’ wide receivers were practicing catching passes over their heads, which is a drill I have never seen before. The drill is to simulate running a fly pattern straight down the field and then catch a ball that is coming directly over your head, rather than from over the left shoulder or right shoulder. The players would run 10 yards and lift their head straight up, locate the ball and try to catch. It’s a difficult drill to do, and relies on a perfect throw by the quarterback, which is why only about 40 percent of the passes were caught.
After watching the individual receiver drills, I came away with the impression that the quickest receivers in terms of agility are Shepherd and DeAndrew Rubin. Shepherd and Rubin, who are also the slightest receivers on the team at 175 pounds each, display great body control and a smooth quality to their cuts.
The receivers also worked on run blocking drills in the afternoon although this drill was different from that of the morning session. Richard Mann had the targets slide to the right and left so his receivers would have to hit and block a moving target. Although it is only the first day of training camp, it is clear that everything going on in camp revolves around making last year’s 29th-ranked rushing attack better.
The Bucs’ defensive backs were on the far field working on the seven-man sled. The drill secondary coach Mike Tomlin was having them do was to practice jamming a wide receiver at the line of scrimmage and attempt to re-route the receiver. The best cornerback at jamming receivers – by far – is Brian Kelly, who is also the most physical corner on the team.
In watching the running backs catch the ball, two new players really stand out. For a blocking fullback, Razzano has remarkably good hands. He doesn’t always catch the ball cleanly, but doesn’t drop the ball either. He’s not in Mike Alstott’s class, and maybe not even with Jameel Cook in terms of receiving ability, but Razzano has some good ability to work with. There is a growing buzz from insiders that Razzano may make this team over Cook with a good preseason.
The Bucs offense practiced against “ghost” (no defense) prior to the 11-on-11 session and wide receiver Joey Galloway hauled in a few deep outs from quarterback Brian Griese. Galloway does an amazing job of making the catch a foot away from the sidelines and getting both feet in. Of course, Griese does a great job of putting the ball on the money, too.
Galloway ran a few of these patterns against Cover 2 and made some great plays. It’s safe to say that this may be his favorite route to run. One of Galloway’s best traits is finding the soft spots in zone coverage, quickly planting, turning and settling down to make himself a target for his quarterback. He may be the best receiver on the Bucs at attacking zone coverage.
Quarterback Josh McCown displayed more confidence in his arm in the afternoon and heaved a deep bomb to Adrian Madise, hitting the receiver in stride. It was probably the zippiest pass McCown has thrown at camp. McCown was better and more accurate than he was in the morning session. McCown showed his athletic ability in quickly scrambling away from pressure on bootlegs. He is a pretty fast quarterback, but also had some struggles throwing on target on the run.
Quarterback Chris Simms was streaky in the afternoon. He was hot hitting big plays down the field with passes to Clayton and running back Derek Watson, but then went cold with a couple of misfires and an interception thrown to cornerback Blue Adams, who had a real solid day in coverage.
It should be noted that cornerback Torrie Cox was also very good in coverage, hanging with Galloway stride for stride on a couple of reps in the afternoon. Cox and Adams are similarly built players with great quickness and agility to go along with slight frames.
Tampa Bay’s first-round pick Carnell “Cadillac” Williams has very good acceleration once he gets the ball in his hands. It’s easy to see he has talent, but Williams doesn’t really stand out by himself among the Bucs’ backs. However, after watching him at Auburn for several years, Williams’ special traits come out when the pads come on due to his toughness and ability to bounce and spin off would-be tacklers. The Bucs haven’t started hitting yet, so Sunday could be a big day for Williams.
Fullback Mike Alstott looks leaner and quicker this year. He doesn’t seem as bulky and stiff as in years past, and appears to be more a more fluid runner.
One of the most interesting formations of the day was Tampa Bay lining up tight ends Alex Smith and Will Heller in the backfield with a running back in an inverted wishbone. The Bucs ran this formation in the preseason last year with Ken Dilger and Rickey Dudley, which confused the defense.
Just an observation on undrafted free agent linebacker Matt Grootegoed. He is short. I expected him to be the size of Josh Buhl or Jermaine Taylor, but he is in fact shorter than those two. I think he’s closer to 5-foot-10 or even 5-foot-9 than the 5-foot-11 he is listed at.
Speaking of Buhl, he may have made the play of the day in practice by running stride for stride with running back Earnest Graham, who was running a rail route, and breaking up a pass 35 yards downfield.
Tampa Bay spent part of the second half of the afternoon practice working on punt coverage lanes. The starting punt coverage front was safety Jermaine Phillips, Allen, Nece, Ruud, snapper Dave Moore, linebacker Jeff Gooch, Razzano, Cooper and Cook. This was not a full-team drill and there was no simulated rush. The Bucs who were fielding the punts were receiver Ike Hilliard, Galloway and Williams. Brackins was watching this drill next to wide receivers coach Richard Mann, who was coaching him up mentally.
The afternoon report had to be abbreviated because Pewter Report had to step away from practice to cover Bruce Allen’s press conference, which took place near the end of the afternoon session.
NFL Europe allocated safety Claudius Osei, a native of Germany, was in attendance and standing next to assistant defensive backs coach Raheem Morris for most of the practice, getting some much-needed schooling. While Osei played collegiately at Florida State, the NFL is allocating some foreign players to every NFL team this year for their practice squads.