The Tampa Bay Buccaneers took the field for their Friday afternoon training camp practice at Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex in helmets, jerseys and shorts.
This afternoon’s practice was easily the hottest and most humid of training camp. Temperatures were close to 100 degrees in the Orlando area.
Several Buccaneers had the afternoon off, including fullback Mike Alstott, cornerbacks Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly, John Wade and Arron Sears, tight end Jerramy Stevens, wide receiver Joey Galloway and defensive ends Greg Spires and Kevin Carter.
The Buccaneers spent the first 15 minutes of the afternoon practice doing individual special teams drills, emphasizing punts, rather than individual offensive and defensive drills. Special teams coach Richard Bisaccia was working with linebackers, safeties, cornerbacks, running backs and other select players on punt blocking techniques. He was stressing taking the proper angle and getting a clean block while avoiding running into the punter.
Special teams assistant coach Dwayne Stukes was working primarily with the defensive linemen, linebackers, fullbacks and tight ends in one-on-one punt coverage and punt techniques. He was emphasizing hand positioning, angles and timing when having the players transition from punt protection to punt coverage.
The players who stood out during the special teams portion of practice were fullback B.J. Askew, defensive end Patrick Chukwurah and running back Earnest Graham. All three are noted special teams aces.
The defensive backs and wide receivers were working on punt gunning and vice techniques.
During the offensive install period, quarterback Jeff Garcia took all of the reps with the first team offense. The Buccaneers had loud speakers there blaring crowd noise from the sidelines. The drill was designed to work on the communication in the huddle, at the line of scrimmage and during audibles.
Despite the emphasis, tight end Anthony Becht was whistled for a false start on the very first play.
Head coach Jon Gruden was imploring his players to get in and out of the huddle faster.
“Hurry up, men!” shouted Gruden. “You’ve got 30 seconds to run a play. We’ve got to be quicker to the line.”
Offensive tackle Luke Petitgout, who has missed several practices due to a back strain, participated in a limited fashion during the offensive install drill. He’s expected to participate in Tampa Bay’s Saturday morning practice, which will be in pads.
During the offensive install period, Garcia alternated between taking plays under center and in the shotgun formation.
After the install period, quarterbacks Luke McCown and Bruce Gradkowski took all of the reps, with McCown getting a bit more than Gradkowski. Chris Simms was relegated to fourth-string status and did not throw a pass during any of the 9-on-7 or 11-on-11 drills, despite the fact that Gruden indicated that Simms would play a larger role in the afternoon sessions.
While Garcia was with the first-team offense in the offensive install period, McCown and Gradkowski were throwing to receivers. McCown may have the best arm in training camp this year, especially with Simms struggling to find his form. McCown likes to push the ball downfield and was hitting his receivers in stride.
The 6-foot-3, 212-pounder looked smooth in rollouts and hit a big play over the top to wide receiver Michael Clayton after receiving a flea flicker from Earnest Graham.
During a 7-on-7 session, McCown threw a perfect spiral to wide receiver Mark Jones near the left corner of the end zone for a touchdown. Jones beat rookie safety Tanard Jackson on the play.
McCown continued to hit his intended targets, throwing a nice pass over the middle to WR Maurice Stovall, who turned a solid workout on Friday afternoon.
However, McCown cooled off toward the end of the 7-on-7 drill. He attempted to force a throw to tight end Alex Smith across the middle of the field, but it came up short and landed in the hands of second-year CB Alan Zemaitis for the interception.
During an 11-on-11 session, McCown struggled to even get the ball off because pass protection was an issue.
On one play, Bucs linebacker Cato June and under tackle Jovan Haye broke into the backfield and sacked McCown. On the next play, defensive linemen Patrick Chukwurah and Julian Jenkins blew past left tackle Donald Penn and right tackle Jeremy Trueblood, respectively, to sack McCown again.
Penn, who was filling in for Petitgout, really struggled to hold off Chukwurah in passing situations on Friday afternoon.
Gradkowski had trouble locating open receivers. During an 11-on-11 session, he handed the ball off to Michael Pittman, who pitched the ball back to Gradkowski, but the second-year signal caller couldn’t fine a receiver and decided to scramble instead. Pittman would later drop a pass across the middle of the field during an 11-on-11 drill.
During a 7-on-7 session, Gradkowski had two straight passes defended by safety Will Allen and cornerback Phillip Buchanon, respectively. His third throw, which was intended for WR David Boston in the end zone, could have easily been picked off after Gradkowski threw into triple coverage.
Gradkowski received some help from WR Chas Gessner during the 7-on-7 drill when he threw a pass into the left corner of the end zone to Gessner, who tipped the ball up, had his left arm tied up by cornerback Sammy Davis and still managed to haul in the pass with his right hand for a touchdown while getting slammed to the ground. Gessner’s catch was one of the most impressive plays of training camp thus far.
Gradkowski finished the practice strong when he completed a screen pass to Cadillac Williams and then threw a great pass down the middle of the field to tight end Keith Heinrich, who made a great adjustment on the ball to haul it in over Chukwurah.
Just as he did during the morning session, Bucs cornerback Phillip Buchanon saw action on offense. During an 11-on-11 session, Buchanon lined up at receiver and ran a hitch route. He hauled in the pass and raced up field for a big gain. It was the same play Buchanon was involved in during the morning session.
Center Matt Lehr appears to be making a run for the starting center job. He took reps with the first-team offense in both the morning and afternoon sessions on Friday.
Tampa Bay cornerback Carlos Hendricks forced two fumbles this afternoon. His last one came during an 11-on-11 session when he forced Gessner to fumble, which allowed DT Tim Jones to recover the ball.
During the kick return drills, receivers Mark Jones and Chad Owens got the bulk of the work as the Bucs’ return men. Cornerbacks Phillip Buchanon, Carlos Hendricks and wide receiver David Boston also got in a rep at the kick return position. Serving as lead blockers on kick returns were running backs Lionel Gates and Kenneth Darby.
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