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Several veteran players got Sunday afternoon off after this morning's practice in full pads. Centers John Wade and Dan Buenning, quarterback Jeff Garcia, left tackle Luke Petitgout, defensive ends Greg Spires and Kevin Carter, cornerbacks Brian Kelly and Ronde Barber, tight end Jerramy Stevens, guard Arron Sears and linebacker Derrick Brooks did not practice in the afternoon session and stayed inside the team's headquarters.
Some players, such as Sears and Buenning are coming off knee injuries had the afternoon off to ensure that they stay fresh. Matt Lehr received a lot of reps at center this afternoon.
During the offensive install period, 11 of Tampa Bay’s quality control coaches, assistants, strength coaches, practice managers and ball boys donned some black, numbered practice vests and gave the offense some basic defensive looks.
During the individual period where the quarterbacks and wide receivers were playing catch, wide receiver Maurice Stovall actually dropped a pass. The reason why this is noteworthy is that Stovall has displayed exceptional hands during the 2007 training camp, and today’s drop was a rare one.
The Bucs could have used instant replay during a 7-on-7 drill when Bucs quarterback Bruce Gradkowksi threw a low but catchable ball in the end zone for Stovall, who ran a slant pattern and appeared to catch the ball while sliding to the ground but lost it after he rolled over. Safety Will Allen was in on coverage.
One score that wasn’t in question was Stovall’s 50-yard TD reception from quarterbabck Luke McCown, who threw a great pass over safety Kalvin Pearson for the score during a 7-on-7 drill.
In the few times Stovall has dropped the ball, he has punished himself by dropping to the ground and doing 10 pushups.
A couple of other players were guilty of dropping passes during the afternoon practice. Tight end Alex Smith dropped a perfectly thrown ball from McCown. However, Smith helped to make up for that drop during a 7-on-7 drill when he hauled in a pass across the middle and gave Allen a mean stiff arm to earn extra yardage near the sideline on the play. The play was impressive, even to defensive backs coach Raheem Morris.
“Nice stiff arm, Alex,” Morris said. “My men need that.”
Tampa Bay’s quarterbacks have been using the pump fake more than usual, and it’s working. Gradkowski used the pump fake to help get WR Paris Warren open in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown during a 7-on-7 drill.
Running back Earnest Graham, who had a rough practice, dropped a swing pass from Gradkowski during a 7-on-7 drill. During an 11-on-11 session, Graham fumbled the ball near the left sideline as he slipped to the ground. However, Graham managed to recover the loose ball before linebacker Cato June could scoop it up.
McCown has shown significant improvement since the organized team activities. With QB Chris Simms struggling so much, don’t be surprised if McCown starts to receive even more reps in training camp.
Everyone knows he’s athletic, but McCown has also displayed a fairly accurate arm and ability to throw a tight spiral. During a 7-on-7 drill, McCown did a nice job of squeezing a pass in-between two defenders in the end zone, which allowed fullback B.J. Askew to haul it in for a touchdown.
The Bucs practiced running a lot of screens today with an assortment of quarterbacks and running backs taking turns getting reps. With Cadillac Williams really working on his pass-catching ability this offseason, there is not a bad receiver among the group of running backs. Rookie Kenneth Darby, Graham and Lionel Gates each possess a great set of hands, and Michael Pittman, may have the best hands of them all.
Tampa Bay also used quite a bit of the shotgun formation this afternoon, and also featured the Rocket backfield of Cadillac Williams and Graham, who lined up flanking McCown on either side.
Simms received a significant amount of reps on Sunday afternoon, but he continued to struggle. During a 7-on-7 session, Simms’ pass to the right sideline sailed over tight end Anthony Becht’s head. Several sessions later, Simms threw a pass over WR Kyle Smith’s head near the back of the end zone. One play later Simms completely missed Alex Smith in the flat on a rollout.
The most disturbing part about Simms’ erratic and inaccurate passes is the fact that so many of them are coming in individual, 7-nn-7 and 9-on-7 drills, not full team (11-on-11) sessions, meaning there are often time when Simms isn’t even facing a pass rush in some instances.
The Bucs continue to experiment with some trick plays in practice. This afternoon’s practice featured Cadillac Williams taking a direct snap, running right and throwing back to Gradkowski, who threw downfield to wide receiver Ike Hilliard. The play not only worked in the offensive install period, but more importantly, it worked during the team 11-on-11 period, too.
Williams and wide receivers Michael Clayton and Chas Gessner each displayed solid hands and playmaking ability this afternoon. Gessner might have had his best practice of camp.
One player that caught the wrath of head coach Jon Gruden this afternoon was fullback Byron Storer, who didn’t execute a play properly during a 7-on-7 drill.
“Hey, Storer,” Gruden yelled. “Get your [expletive] ass set. Set means set.”
In what is becoming a recurring theme during training camp, free safety Tanard Jackson got burned deep for a touchdown. Earlier on Sunday, McCown and David Boston hooked up for a long scoring strike over the rookie safety. During the afternoon period, Gradkowski found the 6-foot-4 Gessner in the back of the end zone for a touchdown.
The pass was a bit late and underthrown, but only Gessner properly adjusted to the ball and he caught the pass in between Jackson and safety Donte Nicholson. Despite being a three-year starter at cornerback at Syracuse, Jackson only produced five interceptions and defended 14 passes in college. Although this is only the third day of practice, Jackson needs to do a much better job of making plays on the ball and not getting burned deep.
Tampa Bay’s defensive line managed to generate a good pass rush this afternoon. Defensive tackle Jovan Haye and defensive end Gaines Adams stood out.
Bucs linebacker Cato June continues to impress in place of injured LB Derrick Brooks. Although Brooks is a 10-time Pro Bowler and June likely will win the starting strongside linebacker job, Tampa Bay might be hard pressed to keep June off the field in nickel situations. June simply flies all over the football field and is at his best against the pass.
If Brooks, 34, shows signs of slowing down this season will the Bucs actually consider moving June into his place on the weak side? After a 4-12 season and watching June through the first three days of practice, no one should rule it out.
Tampa Bay dedicated a decent amount of practice time to special teams this afternoon. Wide receivers Chad Owens, Mark Jones, Kyle Smith, Ike Hilliard and running back Cadillac Williams each took turns fielding punts. Punter Josh Bidwell displayed a strong leg. He also did a good job of directional punting.
Gruden was not particularly pleased with the tempo of the special teams portion of the afternoon workout, which was held midway through the practice and just a few hours after the team’s first practice in pads.
“Play with some juice now,” Gruden yelled. “Be ready to be a Sunday player.”
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