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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers took the field for their Monday morning training camp practice at Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex sporting full pads.
This was easily the Bucs’ hottest training camp practice to date, but conditions in sunny Lake Buena Vista this morning were still not as hot and humid as they were in previous training camps.
Although he did not practice again due to a hamstring injury, Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks joined fullback Mike Alstott, cornerback Ronde Barber, guard Davin Joseph and linebackers Ryan Nece and Barrett Ruud in leading the team in calisthenics.
Despite not being able to participate in practice, Brooks has done a great job of leading by example. He has suited up in full pads the last two mornings to show the younger players that he takes the field each day ready to play even if he can’t.
Once stretching was over, the Bucs broke off into their individual groups to work with their respective position coaches.
For the second straight morning, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden decided to watch the offensive linemen hit the five-man blocking sled instead of working with the receivers and quarterbacks.
Not only did he closely observe the offensive linemen, Gruden took an interest in watching the defense when they went onto the far field during the early part of the morning practice. Based on how much time Gruden spent with the quarterbacks and receivers in previous training camps, Gruden’s hands on interest in the offensive line and defense are noteworthy to say the least.
Bucs quarterbacks coach Paul Hackett worked with the quarterbacks and wide receivers coach Richard Mann coached up the receivers while Gruden worked with the defense.
Here is how the Buccaneers are lining up at wide receiver. The players playing the “X” position (split end) include: Joey Galloway, David Boston, Chas Gessner, Chad Owens, Mark Jones and Kyle Smith. The players playing the “Z” spot (flanker) include: Michael Clayton, Maurice Stovall, Ike Hilliard, Paris Warren, Jovon Bouknight and Chad Lucas.
During the individual wide receiver drills, Mann kept calling Lucas by the name Barlow for some reason. We don’t know the reason why this happened (on more than one occasion), but we found it comical nonetheless.
Mann broke out a new drill for his players. We’ll refer to it as a “hop drill,” which calls for the receivers to work their way 5-10 yards up the field and catch the ball on one foot while hopping over pads on the turf. This drill is used to help the receivers learn how to concentrate on catching the football off balance.
Tampa Bay running backs coach Art Valero led the tight ends, fullbacks and running backs through the “gauntlet drill” during the morning individual periods. During the “gauntlet drill,” players and coaches (Valero and special teams coach Richard Biscaccia) line up and create a tunnel for ballcarriers to run through while they wield blocking shields and blocking pads. The coaches and players try to “thump” the ballcarrier as they run through the tunnel.
The drills are designed to keep the ballcarrier’s pads low while working on the player’s balance and ball security. There were a couple of highlights during this drill, thanks to reserve running back Lionel Gates. Gates whalloped fullbacks B.J. Askew and Byron Storrer with the pads, knocking each one to the ground.
That prompted Valero to shout, “Get your pads down!” to the ballcarriers. The worst culprit of this is Askew, who is 6-foot-3, and is long-legged. He needs to work harder at maintaining proper pad level. Askew stays lower when lead blocking than he does when he has the ball in his hands.
It was disappointing to see tight end Jerramy Stevens drop a couple of passes at the start of this drill. Stevens has caught the ball well during training camp, but still has some occasional drops. His drops this morning came without any defenders present, which makes them a bit alarming.
Gruden couldn’t have been too impressed with the way Tampa Bay’s defensive backs caught the football on the far field. That’s what Bucs defensive backs coach Raheem Morris worked with them on during the first part of practice.
Morris worked with his the defensive backs on reading the quarterback’s eyes and breaking on the ball to intercept it. While the DBs demonstrated impressive closing speed, their hands were suspect.
At one point, Bucs safeties Jermaine Phillips, Will Allen and Donte Nicholson dropped consecutive interceptions.
Morris wasn’t having any of it. For each dropped interception, the guilty player was required to drop down on the field and do 10 push-ups. Some players had multiple drops, and Morris didn’t hesitate to remind them that there is a price to pay for letting turnover opportunities slip through their hands, literally.
“Do more push ups, Donte,” Morris said to Nicholson after he mishandled another interception.
One player that displayed pretty reliable hands during this drill was rookie safety Sabby Piscitelli, who is one of the most athletic players in Morris’ group.
The DBs, particularly Allen, finished this drill off strongly by making some nice grabs.
Because it seems as if rookie safety Tanard Jackson has been giving up a lot of big plays in training camp and not making enough plays on the ball, Pewter Report wanted to follow up with the coaching staff to see if Jackson is struggling as much as we think in coverage. Assistant defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake told Pewter Report that while Jackson has been burned a couple of times in practice, it hasn’t been as bad as it has looked.
After watching the practice film, when Jackson has been around a big, downfield completion, it was not always his responsibility. In other words, he was coming over to help out the other safety, that actually gave up the big play. In the case of Jackson surrendering a deep ball to Boston during a practice this past weekend, Boston actually pushed off on Jackson, causing him to lose his balance and get beat.
Lake admitted that Jackson hasn’t made a lot of plays on the ball, but his coverage hasn’t been as bad as Pewter Report reported it to be, either. Is this a coach covering up for his rookie? There is that possibility, but we really have no reason not to believe Lake, who has always been a straight shooter with Pewter Report in the past.
The one thing Gruden did like seeing from his defensive backs during the morning practice was their physical style of play.
Cornerback Carlos Hendricks laid out Bouknight, who was attempting to catch a ball across the middle before he got blown up during a 7-on-7 drill.
The best hit of practice came during an 11-on-11 session when Piscitelli drilled tight end Alex Smith, who landed flat on his back near the sideline. Piscitelli was a gentleman and offered to help Smith up, but his defensive teammates were excited by the John Lynch-like hit.
“Knock him on his ass, Sabby, “Bucs defensive lineman Kevin Carter said after the play.
Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin almost joined Brooks in the infirmary during the early part of practice when he was accidentally run over by a couple of his defensive linemen that were working on blocking and pass rush drills. Kiffin was knocked to the ground, but he showed great toughness by getting up immediately and waving his hand in the air to let the players know he was okay and that he liked their intensity.
Jovan Haye has been getting a lot of reps as a first team under tackle in training camp, but Monday morning featured Darrell Campbell as the first team under tackle during the 9-on-7 drills and Ellis Wyms in the 11-on-11 drills. Campbell turned in an impressive offseason, but he didn’t help his cause on Monday morning when he was flagged by the referees for jumping offsides during a 9-on-7 drill.
Haye continues to demonstrate the ability to get off the ball and work his way into the backfield. He did just that en route to stopping running back Cadillac Williams for a loss during the 9-on-7 session.
Tampa Bay defensive end Greg Spires continues to impress. During a red zone 11-on-11 session, Spires beat right tackle Jeremy Trueblood off the ball and worked his way into the backfield to force quarterback Jeff Garcia out of the pocket.
Garcia scrambled up field, but Wyms alertly swatted the ball out of Garcia’s hand from behind to cause a fumble. Barber recovered the loose ball and immediately pitched it to cornerback Brian Kelly, who caught it and scrambled up field for a big play.
Trueblood had a rough morning. He was flagged for a false start during the same full team red zone drill.
Tampa Bay has been getting some great run blocking play from several players, including second-year guard Davin Joseph and tight end Anthony Becht. Becht blew defensive end Gaines Adams off the ball and drove him about seven yards downfield on one play. Adams also got driven back off the ball by tight end Alex Smith and left tackle Donald Penn. It was not a good day for Adams in run defense.
Becht’s strength is run blocking, and he did his fair share of it on Monday morning. He did a damn good job, too. He’s also tough, evidenced by the fact that he continued playing this morning despite receiving a finger to the eye during a full team drill. Becht was in obvious pain, but he returned to action.
Joseph is having a phenomenal camp thus far. The Bucs have been using him as a pulling guard, and he’s opened up some big running lanes for Williams and Co.
The Bucs have been calling a significant amount of pitch plays for the running backs. This is a sign that Gruden finally has confidence in the perimeter blocking the Bucs have been receiving from their offensive tackles and tight ends, namely Trueblood, Luke Petitgout and Becht.
The Bucs actually had Stevens and Keith Heinrich taking some reps with the first team offense this morning.
Tampa Bay’s “U” personnel features two-tight end sets. On passing plays, you can bet the “U” personnel grouping will include Alex Smith and Stevens, both of whom have the best hands as far as the tight ends are concerned.
Although he did overthrow Lucas down the sideline during a 7-on-7 drill, Garcia looked sharp this morning after taking Sunday afternoon off. During a red zone 11-on-11 session, Garcia lobbed a pass over the middle of the field for wide receiver Joey Galloway, who beat rookie S Tanard Jackson on the play.
Garcia and Galloway, who also had an impressive morning, are developing a great rapport. Galloway looks fresh and fast, and even at 35 he’s still clearly Tampa Bay’s best offensive weapon.
However, Galloway did have a drop down the sideline while he was covered by Barber during a 7-on-7 drill. Barber was great in coverage today. He had a pass breakup on a pass thrown from rookie QB Bruce Gradkowski to WR Ike Hilliard near the left sideline during a 7-on-7 session.
Tampa Bay quarterback Luke McCown continues to have his workload increased. He’s improving with his increased workload, but McCown needs to take better care of the football. During a full team red zone drill, McCown was pressured in the pocket, which forced him to throw up a pass into the end zone for Smith, but linebacker Antoine Cash dove in front of it to pick it off.
Gradkowski has come a long way since last year, which was his rookie season. He still has plenty to work to on, including the deep ball, which continues to give him trouble, but Gradkowski has shown a better pocket presence and awareness at the line of scrimmage, which is encouraging.
As usual, Tampa Bay dedicated a significant portion of practice to punt return and punt coverage work. Smith, Jones, Owens and Hilliard fielded punts today. Each of these players has been doing a great job of fielding the punts cleanly.
A familiar face – Galloway — also decided to field some punts this morning, but don’t expect him to handle those duties in 2007.
Tampa Bay is clearly determined to rebound from its disappointing 4-12 season. The practices have been more eventful and physical, and the overall execution of plays has been better on both sides of the ball.
The Bucs aren’t lacking leadership, either. That was apparent after Monday morning’s practice concluded. Shortly after the practice wrapped up, Brooks, who couldn’t practice due to his hamstring injury, spent about 15 minutes catching passes.
While Brooks worked on hauling in interceptions, Stovall, who left the field a little more than halfway through practice due to dehydration, surprisingly came back onto the field after practice had ended and put in some more work on the football field.
Tampa Bay’s hope is that this type of work ethic rubs off on the rest of the team. Early indications are it is.
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