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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers took the field this morning with full pads on. It was the second straight morning that they sported pads. The temperature was in the high 80s and low 90s with extremely high humidity and sunny skies.
A few players were added to the injury report. In addition to wide receiver Larry Brackins and fullback Rick Razzano being sidelined with hamstring injuries, cornerback Juran Bolden limped onto the practice field with an abdominal strain. While he made it onto the field, Bolden did not practice. Left tackle Derrick Deese was sidelined for the third straight practice with a foot sprain. Center Scott Jackson suffered a fractured left hand. He’ll be out indefinitely. Bucs cornerback Brian Kelly returned to practice after missing both of Sunday’s workouts with a virus.
As planned, WR Joey Galloway was held out of the morning workout. However, he continues to participate in most of the individual receiver drills.
The good news for the Bucs is offensive lineman Kevin Fischer was activated from the physically unable to perform list. Fischer was labeled a “sleeper” by Bucs offensive line coach Bill Muir earlier in the offseason. The team likes his deep snapping ability, and that’s an area Fischer is expected to participate in sooner rather than later.
The Bucs receivers dedicated a significant amount of warm-up time to downfield blocking drills. Several players stood out in this drill, including Michael Clayton. Edell Shepherd is a willing blocker, but he’s not quite big enough to be as effective as Clayton, who is a very physical receiver.
Head coach Jon Gruden lined up the offense and tested their ability to recall different plays in a no-huddle offense-type situation. He shouted out the play to the quarterback, and from there, the QB relayed it to his players at the line of scrimmage.
With no defense on the field, Gruden would yell out the coverage to the quarterback, who would then make the appropriate audible. Gruden seemed pleased with how well his offense, particularly the quarterbacks, fared in this drill. “I love it, offense. I love it,” Gruden shouted as the drill wrapped up.
One player who seemed to struggle to recall plays on Monday morning was running back Derek Watson, who had stood out in a few camp practices leading up to Monday’s. On one play, Watson lined up in the wrong spot, which caught Gruden’s attention. “God dammit, Derek,” Gruden screamed after Watson lined up incorrectly. Watson later missed a handoff on a play. Watson has shown the ability to make plays as a running back in Gruden’s offense, but he’s got to do a better job of learning the playbook. That was clear on Monday morning.
The Bucs offense has done a nice job of securing the football in training camp, but RB Earnest Graham is having problems holding onto the football. He fumbled during Sunday morning’s workout, and on Monday morning, Graham fumbled again during 11-on-11 drills. Although the play appeared to have been botched from the start, one has to hope that Graham can do a better job of securing the football.
The kickers improved upon their 2-of-7 outing on Sunday morning, but Monday morning’s kicks weren’t much better, especially in sudden-change situations.
Matt Bryant attempted most of the field goals during the morning workout. Bryant and Todd France were 7-of-8 in the field goal period, but in the sudden-change drill, which is when Gruden calls for the team to line up and attempt a field goal with just a moment’s notice, they were just 1-of-3, and the one successful kick hit the upright before going in.
If you tally up the field goal tries from the last two morning practices, Tampa Bay’s field goal kickers have gone just 10-of-18 (55.5 percent). Don’t be surprised if the Bucs watch the waiver wires closely to see if a veteran kicker becomes available. Believe it or not, Martin Gramatica’s field-goal kicking percentage wasn’t as bad in his last two seasons in Tampa Bay as the one Bryant and France have put together over the past two morning practices.
The kickers aren’t the only problem. Jeb Terry struggled with his long snaps again on Monday morning. His first snap was high, which irked Gruden. “I need a better (expletive) snap,” Gruden yelled in frustration. Terry responded well to Gruden’s criticism, launcing a perfect snap on the very next play. But Gruden still plugged starting LS Dave Moore into the lineup. Terry is being groomed to be the team’s long snapper, but this team could be in deep trouble if Moore misses time due to an injury. He’s clearly the best deep snapper on this team.
On a positive special teams note, the competition between punters Josh Bidwell and Brian Simnjanovski doesn’t appear to be close. Bidwell showed a very strong leg during punt drills this morning. He was also able to angle the ball well and put some nice spirals on his punts. It’s clearly Bidwell’s job.
Tampa Bay practiced red zone drill shortly after its interesting field goal outing.
Anthony Davis started at left tackle for the third consecutive practice in place of Derrick Deese, who is still nursing a sprained ankle. Davis anchored the left side of Tampa Bay’s offensive line well. His 325-pound frame makes it difficult for defenders to get around.
Several of Gruden’s play-calls were play-action passes and bootlegs. Unfortunately for the Bucs offense, the defense didn’t fall for many of the fake handoffs, and quarterback Brian Griese was forced to throw one pass out of bounds on the first bootleg and run the ball out of bounds himself on the other. However, the third time proved to be the charm. During 11-on-11 drills, Griese ran a beautiful bootleg to the right side of the field and hit WR Michael Clayton in stride on a crossing route for a 20-yard gain. Griese and Michael Pittman did a nice job of selling the handoff.
Clayton and Griese have clearly emerged as leaders on the offense. After making that big play, Clayton came to the sideline and gave the rest of the offense some words of encouragement. “Way to establish that tempo, offense,” Clayton said while walking down the sideline in front of his teammates.
When Griese came to the sideline, he took a water bottle and squirted some cool water on Anthony Davis’ head as the offensive lineman watched the practice field on one knee.
There were some extremely hard hits during the morning session. Rookie safety Hamza Abdullah lit up rookie running back Carnell “Cadillac” Williams on a running play, which put the tailback on his tale, literally. Williams showed toughness, though, and immediately got on his feet and ran back to the huddle.
Williams’ most impressive play from Monday morning’s padded practice came when he threw one heck of a lead block on linebacker Jermaine Taylor for Pittman after both players had lined up in the “Rocket” backfield. He doesn’t look big, but Williams is a very physical player, and he loves contact.
It’s still early, but we’re starting to see what the Bucs liked about Williams. He’s got great patience and accelerates well through the hole. Michael Pittman might be a better receiver, but Williams is definitely the better runner of the two.
Mike Alstott’s role in Gruden’s offense is clearly fading. He doesn’t receive a lot of touches during camp practices, and when he does carry the ball, Alstott hasn’t been very effective. Although the “A-Train” has scored a couple of touchdowns in goal line drills in the first few camp practices, he was stuffed at the line of scrimmage several times on Monday morning.
Tampa Bay’s wide receivers struggled to get separation in the red zone drill, which disappointed Gruden. However, Ike Hilliard has been impressive. His footwork is impressive and consistent. You can tell that Hilliard is a polished veteran. He made a great catch on the sideline on a late pass thrown by QB Chris Simms. Not only did he make a great catch, Hilliard managed to keep both feet in bounds. He appears to be ahead of Shepherd in their battle for the number 3-receiver job.
Hilliard has also shown good awareness. During 7-on-7 drills, Hilliard did a nice job of breaking up a poorly thrown ball by Griese, who threw into double coverage. Cornerback Blue Adams was in position to pick off the pass, but Hilliard became the defensive back and broke up the pass to force an incompletion.
Shepherd has great start and stop ability, which makes him one of Tampa Bay’s most polished route runners. He used those skills on Monday morning to gain separation from several defenders and haul in a great pass thrown by QB Chris Simms over the middle of the field. After a somewhat quiet start, Shepherd is starting to make the plays that made him stand out this time last year.
Rookie TE Alex Smith still has a lot to work in run-blocking department, but he did a great job of getting off of the line of scrimmage on Monday morning. Smith is a sharp route runner, and that, along with his speed, allow him to gain some serious separation from defenders, just as he did on several occasions during the morning workout.
Simms saw a significant amount of action again. He’s still showing signs of being a streaky player. Simms has a tendency to hold onto the ball too long, which results in sacks. However, he’s got a cannon for an arm, and when he’s on, he’s on. Simms has got to find a way to be a more consistent player.
Tampa Bay’s defensive ends, particularly Greg Spires and Dewayne White, were impressive on Monday morning. It might be hard to believe, but Spires looks like he could pick up where he left off last season, where he notched a career-high eight sacks and led the defensive linemen in tackles. This is a good sign as the last few defensive linemen to re-sign with the Bucs, namely Chidi Ahanotu and Marcus Jones, didn’t live up to their deals.
White is right behind Spires in the play-making department. His conditioning is excellent, and that’s allowing him to be all over the football field. White has been extremely physical, evidenced by the scuffle he and tight end Alex Smith got in on Sunday morning, and he’s shown the ability to diagnose running plays. That could be huge for White and his effort to earn a starting job somewhere on the line. If he can show the ability to improve Tampa Bay’s 29th-ranked running game, White could get even more playing time than he received last season when he notched five sacks.
Rookie middle linebacker Barrett Ruud probably had his best practice of training camp on Monday morning. He put himself in position to make the tackle on almost every snap. He takes good angles and keeps his upper-body square, which allows him to wrap up well. Ruud had awesome hits on RB Ian Smart and TE Nate Lawrie, who got knocked off of his feet by the former Nebraska standout.
Safety Will Allen has been impressive in coverage and diagnosing plays, but he’s got to find a way to haul in interceptions when those opportunities present themselves. He dropped a sure interception thrown by QB Luke McCown during 7-on-7 drills.
Tampa Bay had an interesting ending to its morning practice. Gruden called for one last sudden change period, and France took the field to attempt the kick. France got plenty of leg into the ball, but it hit off of the left upright. Luckily for France, the ball bounced through for three points.
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