The weather was sunny and hot as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took the field on Saturday morning. There was a nice, cool breeze that kept the morning session rather pleasant. The Bucs changed up their look on Saturday. For the first time in my 10 years of covering the team, the defense wore white and the offense wore red practice jerseys. Apparently, the defense wasn’t too high on the change.
The running backs were working on ball security early in practice by running the gauntlet drill. Several of the other running backs form a tunnel to run through and hold blocking pads and whack the ballcarrier in the arms as he runs through. Michael Pittman ran through the drill without incident.
The tight ends worked on running deep routes and catching the ball. All five of the tight ends on the roster showed they have good hands during the drill. Rookie Alex Smith showed his ability to get downfield quickly, while Will Heller looked a step faster (and bigger) than last year.
I walked over to the far field to watch the defensive backs for an extended individual practice session period. Defensive backs coach Mike Tomlin was working with the cornerbacks while assistant defensive backs coach Raheem Morris and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin schooled the safeties. Both groups were working on reading keys and getting to certain landmarks on the field depending on the defense that was called.
The cornerbacks were working on some Cover 2 techniques such as squatting to and buzzing in the flat and taking away slants. Ronde Barber was Tomlin’s guinea pig for the demonstration that involved a lot of coaching and not much action. Tomlin was telling and showing the corners how to work with the outside linebackers and the middle linebackers in conjunction in underneath zone coverage.
After the individual session, the safeties departed the far field and the receivers came over to mix it up with the corners in 1-on-1 drills. Receiver DeAndrew Rubin beat Torrie Cox inside on a slant pass to start off the drills.
Cornerback Juran Bolden had some difficulties in coverage, getting beaten deep by rookie J.R. Russell and by running back Michael Pittman outside, but did a nice job of jamming Rubin at the line of scrimmage and then breaking up a pass intended for him that was thrown late.
Bolden is a much better player underneath due to his long arms and physical nature near the line of scrimmage. The farther Bolden gets away from the line of scrimmage the more vulnerable he becomes. At 6-foot-3, he doesn’t have the hips to turn and run with receivers downfield like other smaller cornerbacks do.
Bolden put himself in position to defend a few passes on Saturday, but he dropped two balls that should’ve been interceptions.
On the other field, the receivers worked out some kinks during warm-ups. Severl players, including Michael Clayton, Chris Davis and Paris Warren, dropped passes. Clayton actually had a rough start to the morning, dropping several passes. He even went as far as making himself re-run a route after dropping a pass in warm-ups.
It was interesting to see Pittman among the group of wide receivers, but the plan is to rotate the halfbacks into the 1-on-1’s with the cornerbacks because they will be split out wide so frequently in Jon Gruden’s offense.
Barber had an outstanding 1-on-1 session today and it’s easy to see why he’s the Bucs’ best cover corner. He studies the receivers, reads his keys and uses great technique. Barber jumped Russell’s route outside almost came up with a diving interception.
An interesting sight to see was one of the refs that the Bucs hire to officiate practice was actually coaching cornerback Torrie Cox, who had trouble locating the ball while covering Derrick Lewis. The ref told Cox to make sure he got his head turned because refs look to make sure a DB has his head turned towards the ball. Cox complained that he didn’t touch the receiver, but the ref indicated that he didn’t throw the flag and said that the first thing the ref looks for is if the DB has his head turned around, then they look for contact when calling pass interference. Cox then waved at the ref and appreciated the advice.
Wide receiver Adrian Madise beat cornerback Ronyell Whitaker by being extremely physical at the line of scrimmage. And actually pushing the corner aside within the five yards allowed for contact.
Rookie cornerback Kevin Arbet came up with the group’s only interception on the day, blanketing receiver Chris Davis and stepping in front of him. Arbet also had a nice jam on Terrance Metcalf and wound up having a very solid day in coverage.
In the Buccaneers’ goal line period, the offense won two out of three opportunities against the defense. On the first play, Mike Alstott scored behind pulling guard Jeb Terry. On the second play, defensive end Simeon Rice would have had a sack and a forced fumble on Brian Griese when the offense tried to go with a play-action pass. On the third play, Alstott blasted off left tackle for a score. Through two practices, the offense leads 5-1 against the defense in goal line drills. The score could change when the pads come on tomorrow.
Tampa Bay dedicated a significant amount of the morning practice to running drills. This should help benefit both the Bucs’ running game and the defense’s ability to stop it. Both units have room for improvement in the running game. Ian Smart and Derek Watson each found success running on the perimeter, while middle linebacker Shelton Quarles and strongside linebacker Jeff Gooch did a nice job of clogging the middle.
The Bucs continued to excel in field goal kicking with both Matt Bryant and Todd France connecting on all four of their respective attempts. Bryant is perfect through two days with France missing just once.
Second-year guard Jeb Terry did the long-snapping in this drill, and a couple of his snaps were off the mark, but to the kickers’ credit, they still made the field goals. Punter Josh Bidwell did an outstanding job of holding on the bad snaps.
Tampa Bay worked on its kick return and kick coverage units briefly. Edell Shepherd was among several players who fielded kicks, but bobbled one. Shepherd was one of the camp darlings last year and was really separating himself before he broke his foot in the preseason opener last year. However, he has gotten off to a slow start and appears to be just one of several young, promising players.
The offensive and defensive linemen had a series of 1-on-1 drills that featured some good battles. Rice and left tackle Derrick Deese split their series. Rookie nose tackle Anthony Bryant had some great inside rushes against center John Wade that demonstrated his power.
Rookie Chris Colmer, who has been playing almost exclusively at right tackle, got schooled by left defensive end Dewayne White. White, who is playing end as well as nose tackle and under tackle in nickel rush situations, is having a great start to camp.
Nose tackle Damien Gregory is making a push for playing time and demonstrated a powerful rip against rookie right guard Jonathan Clinkscale and center Scott Jackson.
Left tackle Anthony Davis had a great series against promising young right end Bryant McNeal.
The best matchup of the day was right tackle Kenyatta Walker versus Josh Savage. Savage is a very aggressive, physical player who gave Walker fits, but in the end, Walker got the better of him in the series. Walker elevated his game in this practice and could have a special year. Funny how it is in a contract year.
The tight ends were also included in the blocking drills and Anthony Becht and Nate Lawrie showed well. Rookie tight end Alex Smith needs to get nastier and more physical in the run-blocking part of his game. He also needs to add some strength.
In other news along the offensive line, center Scott Jackson got some work at right tackle and Sean Mahan got the start at left guard today in place of Jeb Terry in individual drills and in 11-on-11.
One of the highlights in 11-on-11 was when Spires pancaked Walker. Another was watching defensive line coach Rod Marinelli go nuts on McNeal when he ruined a good pass rush opportunity by overrunning the quarterback and creating a scrambling lane. McNeal wound up being blocked out of the play by halfback Ian Smart, allowing Chris Simms to scramble off right tackle for a big gain. Marinelli screamed, “Get level with the quarterback! Stay level!”
Simms got a lot of time with the number ones today and faced a period of heavy blitzing by the defense. Generally speaking, Simms performed well, despite an interception by Kalvin Pearson that was caused when cornerback Brian Kelly smacked Michael Clayton, who was running a crossing route, in the middle of the field which sent the ball flying up in the air. Simms was also interceped by LB Bam Hardman during 7-on-7 drills.
One very interesting exchange occurred in 1-on-1 drills between Clayton and Arbet. You could see Clayton salivating to draw Arbet in 1-on-1 coverage. Clayton had an early jump on the rookie corner, but Arbet made a late recovery and broke up the pass as both players were jumping for the ball. When Clayton got up and was walking back to the huddle, he was proclaiming, “I’ll take that all day long!”
That prompted several of the defensive backs to begin catcalling the receiver, including Ronyell Whitaker who said, Before you take that all day, you’ve got to finish that!” Whitaker was pointing to the ball lining on the ground that went uncaught. Even Tomlin got into the trash talk, chastising Clayton for not making the catch.
Arbet also had another pass breakup later in 11-on-11, capping off a great morning session.