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Conditions for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Saturday morning practice at Disney’s Wide World of Sports were quite mild for a second straight day. Gone was the cloud cover that inhabited Friday’s morning practice, but despite the sun being out, it wasn’t humid and there was actually an unusual breeze in Orlando.
Linebacker Derrick Brooks missed practice with a slight hamstring strain. Running back Michael Pittman and defensive end Greg Spires had the practice off to rest. Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden will be resting different veteran players every day and giving them time off during camp to prevent injuries and keep them fresh.
During the individual period today, defensive backs coach Raheem Morris worked with the cornerbacks while his assistant, Jimmy Lake, worked with the safeties. Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin also spent a significant part of Saturday morning working with the safeties, who were working on taking the proper angles and getting to their landmarks on the field in zone coverage.
Jermaine Phillips and Will Allen remain the starters, but rookie reserves Sabby Piscitelli and Tanard Jackson have made a good impression. Fellow reserves Kalvin Pearson and Donte Nicholson have had some good practices thus far, but because both players have been with Tampa Bay for several years, it seems as if the Bucs want to give the rookies the first and best chance for advancement. The scouts and coaches have already seen what Pearson and Nicholson can do, and at this juncture, neither player is starting caliber.
Morris was working with the corners on their backpedaling ability and how they transition from the backpedal to breaking on the ball. Starters Brian Kelly and Ronde Barber are so smooth doing these drills. They are the textbook example for cornerbacks in the Tampa 2 defense.
Kelly, in particular, has been downright dominant in the first two days of practice. He looks very fresh and shows no ill effects from his toe surgery last year. Pewter Report has suggested this offseason that Phillip Buchanon may press Kelly for his starting role, but it will take Kelly coming back down to Earth and Buchanon playing at an extremely high level for that to happen. That’s how well Kelly has been playing in practice as he has provided blanket coverage and been swatting away balls left and right.
Rookie cornerback Marcus Hamilton has really come a long way. His footwork is becoming smoother with each practice and he is really developing some short area quickness. Hamilton has the look of a Tampa 2 cornerback and hasn’t made many mistakes in coverage. He must be thrown in the legitimate mix for the dime job along with Torrie Cox, Sammy Davis and Alan Zemaitis.
Zemaitis always gets exposed in the individual drills because he just doesn’t have the quickness that the other corners do. It is now apparent as to why he was a fourth-round draft pick. When the pads come on Sunday morning, Zemaitis needs to be physical, hit and shine. He also needs to show more ball skills or he is in danger of losing his roster spot.
During the team’s one-on-one drills between cornerbacks and receivers, second-year receiver Maurice Stovall once again stood out. He made a great sideline catch against Buchanon and dragged both toes inside the boundary lines. During a 7-on-7 drills, Stovall did a great job of adjusting his body to catch a pass that was thrown behind him while he slid to the turf.
In the one-on-ones, Davis had a nice pass breakup on a ball intended for receiver Chas Gessner, followed by another breakup on a pass intended for Stovall. That drew the praise of Morris, who said, “At least you played the damn ball! I love that, Sammy!”
Despite not having pads on, Hamilton lit into Mark Jones and broke up a pass on a crossing route. That also drew applause from Morris.
The most interesting aspect of this period was the fact that both starting safeties, Phillips and Allen, got some work against receivers in man coverage. Allen, who has played cornerback at Ohio State before, fared much better than Phillips, who got toasted twice while looking stiff in coverage. Phillips does not have the fluid movement to play man coverage effectively, especially near the line of scrimmage.
Tampa Bay’s linebackers didn’t miss a beat despite not having Brooks on the field. The one thing that is apparent in training camp so far is Tampa Bay’s linebackers are extremely quick. The Bucs linebackers, namely Cato June, Quincy Black and Adam Hayward, have been especially impressive in pass coverage, where even the likes of wide receiver Joey Galloway have had some trouble separating on passing plays.
The only lowlight of the competitive one-on-ones was receiver Michael Clayton dropping a pass from Chris Simms that hit him in the hands between the numbers. Clayton did catch a touchdown pass from Simms against Allen later in the session. Clayton used a series of moves, including a head fake, and a stop-and-go technique to gain separation from Allen, who was frustrated that he fell for the moves.
While the one-on-ones were taking place, kicker Matt Bryant was working with holder Josh Bidwell and long snapper Andrew Economos on field goals. One of Bryant’s kicks sailed into the stands at Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex and actually nailed a little kid in the head. Bryant, Bidwell and Economos along with some Bucs equipment staffers went into the stands to check on the youth, who was a bit shaken but fine otherwise. General manager Bruce Allen came over and met with the boy and his father and autographed the football along with Bryant, Bidwell and Economos. Talk about earning a souvenir the hard way!
During Tampa Bay’s special teams session, Bryant was 6-of-6 on his field goal attempts.
The Bucs had Mark Jones, Earnest Graham and Chad Owens fielding punts and Jones and Buchanon taking some reps as kickoff returners.
If Owens is going to have a shot at making the team this year, he’s going to have to solidify the punt and kickoff return jobs or show the ability to make plays as a wide receiver. Although Owens is only 5-feet-7, he made a few splash plays in the deep part of the field during Saturday morning’s practice. One of Owens’ main competitors is Jones, who has not made a significant impact as a receiver in Tampa Bay. If Owens can continue to make plays in the passing game he might just sneak his way onto the active roster.
In 11-on-11 drills, the Buccaneers practiced running plays out of the end zone on offense and defending offenses that are backed up against their goal line. The starting offensive line for the team drills featured Luke Petitgout at left tackle, Aaron Sears at left guard, Matt Lehr at center, Davin Joseph at right guard and Jeremy Trueblood at right tackle. The starting defensive line consisted of Patrick Chukwurah at right defensive end, Chris Hovan at nose tackle, Jovan Haye at under tackle and Kevin Carter at left defensive end.
The Buccaneers were able to power the ball out from the 5-yard line on a couple of runs, which pleased Gruden. During the first 7-on-7 drill, Joseph, Trueblood and tight end Jerramy Stevens opened up a huge hole for Cadillac Williams on the right side of the line of scrimmage
Tampa Bay’s offensive line has made strides in becoming more physical this camp through three practices, which is necessary for the running game to come alive. Of course, the real test comes on Sunday when the pads come on.
During another phase of the 11-on-11 drills, quarterback Luke McCown connected downfield with receiver David Boston on a 50-yard touchdown pass. Boston turned on the jets and split defensive backs Tanard Jackson and Carlos Hendricks for the scoring play, which occurred downfield.
McCown took a lot of the reps in the 11-on-11 periods, along with starter Jeff Garcia, and looked sharp. McCown’s only misfortune came when Pearson jumped Kenneth Darby’s underneath route and broke up the pass. Middle linebacker Barrett Ruud showed fine instincts by flying to the ball and intercepting the pass.
Tight end Keith Heinrich made a great catch over Piscitelli, the Bucs’ 6-foot-4 rookie safety. McCown threw the ball up high, and Heinrich, who is 6-foot-4 himself went up and got it. Piscitelli also drew a pass interference call when he collided with Chad Lucas in the end zone.
In the team drills, the Buccaneers were running a lot of zone blitzes. Once again, Chukwurah showed his athleticism and speed by being able to drop into coverage and cover the flat. Chukwurah’s background is at the linebacker position and he showed the skills necessary to cover tight ends and backs in the flat or underneath in coverage.
Although first-round pick Gaines Adams is only a rookie, the Bucs defensive end shows some veteran savvy. Whenever Adams has had his pass rush stymied by Petitgout or Donald Penn at left tackle, he reads the quarterback’s eyes and gets his long arms up. It’s those kind of instincts that allowed him to record 21 pass breakups at Clemson. Expect the 6-foot-5 Adams to record a handful of rejections this year in Tampa Bay.
That’s one of the reasons why the Bucs do not have the PVC pipe blocking dummy on the practice field at Disney this year. The blocking dummy, which usually had an opposing team’s defensive lineman jersey on it, was often times used in the team’s two previous training camps in an effort to help the quarterbacks, particularly Chris Simms, learn to avoid having passes batted down at the line of scrimmage.
Despite constructing the PVC Pipe blocking dummy, Simms still struggled with blocked passes, and Gruden has apparently traded the blocking dummy in for the real thing in defensive linemen like Adams, Carter and Chukwurah.
“Tipped passes have been a problem for us offensively,” Gruden said when asked about the absence of the PVP pipe dummy. “Chris has had his fair share of his problems with it. So we had those guys try to emulate congestion where you have to alter your throwing lanes and what not. I’m ready to move on from that and try something else. I think Kevin Carter will bat some balls, and Gaines Adams will get his hands on one or two.”
Adams had a good morning pressuring the quarterback, as did Haye at under tackle. Adams’ only fault was the fact that he jumped offsides. However, Adams didn’t just give up on the play. He quickly jumped back behind the line of scrimmage before the snap and went full throttle once the ball was hiked.
Speaking of the defensive line, Tampa Bay second-year defensive lineman Julian Jenkins has come a long way since his rookie year. He looks like he’s put on size, and his awareness, versatility and playmaking ability have increased tremendously. Jenkins has made a habit of working his way into the offensive backfield quite a bit on running and passing plays. While he probably made the 53-man roster as a rookie due to the fact that the Bucs had a fifth-round draft pick invested in him, Jenkins looks like he might actually earn a roster spot and may be even playing time in 2007.
It’s too early to say whether Tampa Bay’s fifth-round pick from 2007, defensive tackle Greg Peterson, will make the 53-man roster, but the Bucs are certainly giving him a chance to justify making the active roster. The Bucs had Peterson, who ideally plays at under tackle, lining up and taking reps at left defensive end on Saturday morning. The more versatile he is the more valuable he becomes.
Tampa Bay’s offense featured a double reverse run by Clayton yesterday. Today, it was just a single reverse with Jones doing the honors.
Tampa Bay moved its afternoon practice to the Omni Hotel due to inclimate conditions on Saturday afternoon. Only the first 10 minutes were open to the media. Sources told Pewter Report that the practice was more or less a walk-thru. PewterReport.com will not be filing a Pewter Insider report for the afternoon practice.
The Bucs will sport pads for the first time in training camp on Sunday morning.
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