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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers took the practice field for their morning training camp practice at Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex on Sunday morning.
The players were sporting full pads instead of just shorts, jerseys and helmets. The Buccaneers also had referees on hand for the first time in training camp.
The players looked fresh after having Saturday afternoon’s practice moved to the Omni Hotel and turned into a walk-thru due to inclement conditions.
Sunday morning’s workout was held under sunny skies and hot and humid temperatures.
Bucs weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks, who missed Saturday morning’s workout due to a “tweaked” hamstring injury, suited up for Sunday morning’s practice, but he did not participate.
However, Brooks did join fullback Mike Alstott, cornerback Ronde Barber, guard Davin Joseph and linebackers Barrett Ruud and Ryan Nece in leading the team in calisthenics.
Once the stretching period was over, the players and coaches broke off into different parts of the field to do individual work.
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden almost always spends the individual periods working with the quarterbacks and/or wide receivers. However, Sunday morning was different.
Gruden has stressed the importance of his team being more physical in 2007, and he emphasized that point in the early part of practice by walking over to the offensive linemen and watching them hit the five-man blocking sled instead of watching the quarterbacks and receivers work.
“Come off the ball, men,” Gruden yelled. “Break the huddle and come off the ball.”
The defensive backs worked on form tackling in the individual practice periods. Defensive backs coach Raheem Morris and assistant defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake worked with the safeties and cornerbacks, telling them to keep their elbows tight.
“Keep your head in front, shoulders in front and wrap your arms around,” Morris said.
When rookie Sabby Piscitelli, who stands 6-foot-4, came up for his turn he came in a little too high for Morris’ liking.
“You’re a big boy Sabby, get your pads down,” Morris said prior to making him take a turn again.
Morris spends a lot of time with Piscitelli, as he does with Alan Zemaitis. But unlike Zemaitis, who hasn’t been faring well, Piscitelli has played well. It’s almost as if Morris is doing everything he can to keep Zemaitis on the team and is doing everything he can to get Piscitelli into the starting lineup, so there’s a big difference.
Although he isn’t a starter, safety Kalvin Pearson may be the best form tackler and might have the most pop when he hits. The 5-foot-10 safety might have an advantage though as he has a naturally lower center of gravity. That allows Pearson to always play at pad level.
While most of the Buccaneers call cornerback Brian Kelly by his B.K. initials, Morris prefers to call Kelly “Killer.”
Special teams coach Richard Bisaccia worked with long snapper Andrew Economos on transitioning from the snap into protection and keeping a wide base and good pad level. Economos was then worked out on transitioning from protection to running downfield and pursuing the punt returner.
The Bucs ran an intense blitz period at the beginning of practice. Rookie linebacker Quincy Black looks extremely comfortable in these types of situations. On one play he raced into the line and easily shed offensive lineman Jabari Levey en route to getting to the quarterback.
Tampa Bay had a few breakdowns along the offensive line during this drill. At one point, Piscitelli blitzed on the right side and managed to get to quarterback Chris Simms untouched.
Defensive end Greg Spires was a beast today in pads. Spires has had a great three days in camp this year, and that continued during the 9-7 drills on Sunday morning. He blew up tight end Alex Smith in team drills and was virtually unblockable all day long.
Another player that comes alive when the pads come on is defensive tackle Chris Hovan, who set the tone of practice early by busting into the offensive backfield and stuffing running back Cadillac Williams for a loss during a 9-on-7 drill.
The tight ends had a rough day blocking Tampa Bay’s defensive ends today in pass protection. Rookie Matt Herian got a good block on rookie defensive end Gaines Adams today, but that might have been his only shining moment as he was manhandled during the one-on-ones with the Bucs defensive linemen.
Adams shows great lateral quickness in containing the run game, but overran one play and allowed Cadillac Williams to juke back inside for a big gain. Adams really got exposed on the play, prompting some “oohs and aahs” from the crowd and one fan in the stands to scream, “Hey Gaines, where’s your jock?”
Fellow rookie defensive lineman Greg Peterson has taken some reps inside this training camp, but has spent the majority of time at left defensive end and has struggled a bit. The biggest problem Peterson might have at this juncture is not keeping his feet moving once he gets stalemated. His rawness, coming from a small school like North Carolina Central, has been on display during training camp.
Right defensive end Patrick Chukwurah held up well in the running game with pads on. That was one of the biggest questions Pewter Report wanted answers to. How well would the 6-foot-1, 250-pound Chukwurah fare when teams ran right at him? The keys to Chukwurah holding up against the run start with him beating the left tackle off the ball and then getting his hands on the tackles shoulder pads. Chukwurah may have the quickest hands among all of the defensive linemen. Chukwurah’s hands are also surprisingly strong and probably rival those of Spires and defensive end Kevin Carter.
Carter showed his veteran savvy and football IQ by not rushing upfield after the quarterback on a draw play and quickly diagnosing the run. It’s the mental side of football that has kept Carter in the NFL for 13 years.
But even Carter is not perfect. The Buccaneers have been running their share of reverses in training camp this year. Today it was a reverse to Michael Clayton, who then threw the ball downfield to receiver Ike Hilliard in an 11-on-11 period. Carter got sucked upfield on the misdirection and allowed Clayton to break containment and have an open passing lane. The pass was thrown pretty well and was on target, but Hilliard bobbled it and dropped it while being covered by Zemaitis.
Hilliard didn’t have the only glaring drop of the day. Running back Michael Pittman dropped a perfectly thrown pass from quarterback Jeff Garcia downfield. Pittman was running down the left sidelines on a rail route and couldn’t haul in the football. He was covered tightly by safety Donte Nicholson, who has been having his best camp as a pro.
Gruden began to lose his patience after Pittman’s dropped pass.
“We have to make some damn plays, men,” Gruden yelled as his players returned to the huddle.
Garcia did have a nice deep ball turn into a touchdown when he connected with wide receiver David Boston over the outstretched arms of rookie safety Tanard Jackson. Adding insult to injury, Jackson was also guilty of pass interference on the 50-yard pass play.
Although he was the most impressive quarterback again in the morning practice, Garcia seemed to be throwing behind his receivers a bit. He also overthrew Stovall on a fade pass on the last play of an 11-on-11 goal line session. Garcia also had a pass intended for Pittman in the end zone broken up by linebacker Jamie Winborn.
Bucs QB Chris Simms continues to be inconsistent. During a 7-on-7 red zone drill, Simms overthrew fullback Mike Alstott and had his pass nearly intercepted by cornerback Carlos Hendricks. His next throw into the end zone was too high for tight end Alex Smith, which resulted an incompletion.
To his credit, Simms finished the 7-on-7 session strong by hitting Gates in stride across the middle of the field on one play. He also threw a touchdown pass during this session. Still, Simms has a long way to go if he’s going to make the 53-man roster this season.
Second-year QB Bruce Gradkowski did not receive a lot of work this morning. He also managed to draw the ire of Gruden during one of the 11-on-11 sessions when he appeared to mistakingly audible to a running play.
“Play the game like a [expletive] second-year guy, dammit,” Gruden yelled as he made Gradkowski and the offense huddle up again.
Boston was extremely impressive this morning. He’s not afraid to go over the middle and he looks like he’s back from the two knee injuries he sustained in 2004 and ’05. During a red zone drill, Boston beat safety Jermaine Phillips into the end zone and hauled in a pass from Garcia for a touchdown.
Running back Lionel Gates has been a surprise player at training camp. Acquitted of all of his domestic assault charges, Gates has a bounce in his step and is pushing Earnest Graham and rookie Kenneth Darby in camp. Gates has great speed and nice hands. He’ll have to win a roster spot based on his special teams production, but on the few snaps he has received in camp on offense, Gates has ripped off some big runs.
Alstott, 33, showed a little bit of burst during a red zone drill when he took a handoff from the quarterback and bounced it off the left side and raced down the sideline en route to diving into the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown run.
Cadillac Williams continues to show great burst as a runner and improvement as a receiver. However, Williams dropped a perfect pass near the sideline with linebacker Cato June covering him during a 7-on-7 drill. Williams was livid with himself after dropping the pass, which was refreshing to see. It’s obvious that this guy has worked an awful lot on becoming a more complete back in 2007.
The Bucs are limiting Pittman to one practice per day to help keep him fresh and healthy, but don’t think for second that the team isn’t attempting to get Williams, Darby and Gates some extra work during training camp.
Tampa Bay worked on running a play on offense and then running the field goal unit on to try a last second kick without a timeout. Gruden was yelling at his players, “Hustle on, hustle off – hustle period,” as Matt Bryant drilled a 47-yard field goal.
Bryant wasn’t his accurate self on Sunday morning. Pewter Report didn’t have the best view on his field goal attempts, but it looked like he went 3-of-5 on his attempts this morning.
Gruden did more yelling on Sunday morning than he had through the first two days of training camp. The head coach and offensive playcaller doesn’t have patience for mental errors, especially after the team held nearly 20 organized team activities during the offseason.
Gates drew the wrath of Gruden first after he apparently didn’t run a route properly.
“You’ve got to pick it up in the passing game, Lionel,” Gruden said.
Shortly after yelling at Gates, Gruden stressed to Darby that he needed to get in and out of his routes much faster.
Six-foot-8 right tackle Jeremy Trueblood has worked a lot on staying low and maintaining good pad level in his second year. By being so tall, Trueblood is not a natural knee bender and had trouble setting too high in his pass sets last year and letting defenders get into his body.
Speaking of being tall, right tackle Dennis Roland (6-9, 325) and fullback Mike Alstott did a nice job of isolating Black and opening a huge hole for Williams during a 9-on-7 session.
Rookie guard Arron Sears was born to be a run blocker. His 6-foot-3, 319-pound frame and physical style of play should help improve Tampa Bay’s ground attack, which ranked 28th overall in 2006. Sears was able to open some holes in the running game on Sunday morning. On one particular play during a 9-on-7 session, Sears pulled to his right and opened a nice hole for Williams.
Receiver Maurice Stovall dropped a pass from Garcia that hit him right in the hands and between the numbers in warm-ups, but he has been making some serious gains this year. Stovall is comfortable in this offense and has positioned himself nicely to possibly start opposite Joey Galloway. One of the reasons is the fact that Stovall is always the last Buccaneer off the field after each practice. The 6-foot-5 receiver typically stays behind an extra 15-20 minutes and works on running routes and catching passes.
Sometimes Stovall will have a teammate stay behind to throw him the ball. Sometimes it will be a coach or even a ball boy. But the extra work Stovall is putting in has been paying benefits on the field. The coaches are taking notice.
Tampa Bay worked some special teams into the morning practice.
Hilliard and wide receivers Mark Jones, Chad Owens, Kyle Smith and Cadillac Williams fielded punts.
The Bucs spent the last 10 minutes of practice fielding more punts and working on punt protection and coverage. Peterson caught the eye of Bucs special teams coach Richard Bisaccia, but for the wrong reason.
“Hey Greg, are you tired?” Bisaccia asked Peterson. “Are you tired? Well, you’re [expletive] playing like it."
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