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The Buccaneers hit the field for a practice without pads this morning. After having the afternoon off yesterday, the team seemed to be a bit jetlagged. Conditions once again were stifling, with ample sunshine, too few clouds, and very hot and humid conditions.
Pewter Report has spent a lot of time watching the offensive line, defensive tackles and the wide receivers because those are areas of concern for the team. The receivers once again lead off our report. During the individual session, the receivers worked on catching the ball above their heads, such as would happen if a quarterback threw a pass too high on a curl or comeback route. The receivers also worked on agility and footwork.
The amazing thing about watching a week’s worth of practice is that there hasn’t been much separation at the receiver position yet. Michael Clayton, Joey Galloway and Ike Hilliard are in a class by themselves with Edell Shepherd starting to knock on the door, but he hasn’t turned the knob yet. All of the other receivers have their good days with great catches and crisp routes, and their bad days with drops and sloppy route-running.
There is still time for a young player such as DeAndrew Rubin, who may be poised to make a run, to put some heat on Shepherd and make this football team. Paris Warren may be the most consistent player out of the young receivers, but he hasn’t made too many splash plays.
J.R. Russell had a really good morning practice, but must maintain a high level of concentration on a consistent basis. With more practices like the one he had this morning, he could make the team because the competition is so wide open. Russell made some really nice catches on Thursday.
Tampa Bay is really blessed to have Jay Gruden, Jon’s brother, on the coaching staff as an offensive assistant. Gruden, who was a legendary quarterback at Louisville and in the Arena Football League for Tampa Bay and Orlando, usually does a lot of the passing with the wide receivers in the individual period. Having a good quarterback like Gruden allows the receivers to get better passes thrown their way and fewer drops or misfired balls, which allows the practice time to be more productive. No offense to receivers coach Richard Mann, but he doesn’t have the arm or the accuracy Gruden does.
The offensive line spent their individual period pulling. Based on the first week of practice, the Bucs offense is going to be more diverse this year because of more athletic linemen and more weapons at the skill positions. Look for Tampa Bay’s offense to become very active this year on the perimeter with a lot of toss sweeps, off-tackle runs, and screens in the flat.
Left tackle Derrick Deese returned from his foot strain and took a lot of reps in practice today, including all reps with the starters.
Running back Carnell Williams had two noticeable drops today, with one occurring in the individual running back session. For the most part, Williams has been a reliable pass-catcher, and when asked if those rare drops bothered Gruden after practice, he said, “No.”
The Bucs lined up with their two-halfback “Rocket” personnel grouping today with Ian Smart lining up at fullback along with Williams. Williams was also frequently split out wide as a receiver today.
Tampa Bay spent most of the practice working on the two-minute “hurry up” offense, and defending it. Rookie wide receiver Larry Brackins saw the most action today that he has received so far during training camp. Brackins was limited to individual work yesterday after overcoming a hamstring injury that kept him out of practice for most of the first week of camp.
Brackins had a couple of drops today in team sessions, but it was not finishing a route that really got Gruden steaming mad. “Don’t you quit!” Gruden said. “Don’t you ever quit on your route! Compete! You’ve got to compete!”
Brackins needs to show a lot of improvement and consistency in a hurry if he has plans on making this football team. The fact that he had an extended amount of reps today will only help him. He is a big target across the middle and did make a nice catch against Ronyell Whitaker.
The Bucs used a lot of two-tight end sets today, as they have all throughout camp, and it is becoming hard to tell which backup player is better – Will Heller or Nate Lawrie. Heller likes has an edge due to his playing experience, but Lawrie has made some impressive strides in the offseason and that continued during the first week of camp.
One of the better coverage linebackers that I’ve noticed is “Bam” Hardmon. Hardmon is a pretty intelligent and instinctive linebacker who uses good technique when covering his assignment, whether it is a tight end or a running back. Hardmon did a good job blanketing tight end Anthony Becht this morning.
Running backs Derek Watson and Earnest Graham had some nice runs in the team sessions. Watson had a nice jaunt up the middle for a big play, while Graham found some surprising speed to turn the corner off left tackle and outrace several defenders for a long gain. Watson also made a nice catch down the right sideline, but did have a couple of drops, as well.
Free safety Dexter Jackson almost picked off a Chris Simms in the first 11-on-11 session. Jackson was taking a lot of reps at free safety today while Will Allen started at strong safety in place of Jermaine Phillips, who was excused from practice due to personal reasons. NFL Europe player Claudius Osei also received extended action in the secondary today.
Hilliard did a great job of beating Allen and cornerback Brian Kelly in Cover 2 down the right sideline for a touchdown on a long pass thrown by Brian Griese in 11-on-11.
Simms had a good showing this morning, making several accurate throws under pressure. His only fault could be that there was another center-quarterback exchange fumble with Sean Mahan.
The Bucs were pleased with their field goal kicking today. Matt Bryant and Todd France split the kicking duties and were perfect on all of their tries, including several from beyond 40 yards. One of the more impressive feats of the day was Tampa Bay connecting on long field goals in a two-minute “hurry up” setting.
The Buccaneers worked on kick return this morning with Russell, Williams, Watson, Rubin, Derek Lewis, Terrence Metcalf, Chris Davis, Ian Smart and Torrie Cox lined up to return kicks. Cox, Watson, Smart and Rubin looked the best on returns. All showed good explosion, shiftiness and some nice juke moves.
Rookie tight end Alex Smith is making strides as a receiver and a blocker on offense, but he still has a ways to go on special teams. Smith needs to show more tenacity while blocking in the kick return phase of “we-offense.” Special teams coach Rich Bisaccia was getting on Smith for not being forceful enough securing and holding his blocks. “Strain!” said Bisaccia, who was demonstrating proper technique by locking out his arms with knees bent and a proper base. “Strain if he’s pushing you back, Alex.”
Unfortunately, Smith, who is an upback on the second level during kick returns, was lit up by cornerback Blue Adams, who blew past the third-round pick from Stanford to make the stop on the return.
In 7-on-7 drills, Griese was throwing some real darts today. He was very accurate with this passes and smart in his decision-making process.
Tight ends coach Ron Middleton got on Heller for taking his time turning upfield with the ball after securing the catch. “Get North, Will! Get North!” Middleton said.
Tight end Anthony Becht did a good job of beating rookie middle linebacker Barrett Ruud downfield. Ruud hesitated in coverage and Becht created some separation and hauled in a great pass from Simms. Ruud did get some payback on the tight end corps as he knocked down Smith on a shallow crossing pattern.
Gruden was ripping into wide receiver Adrian Madise for running the wrong route. “Don’t we know this stuff yet?” Gruden barked. “Run the right routes!”
Rookie safety Donte Nicholson loves to hit people. Even in practices without shoulder pads, Nicholson usually sends people flying to the ground. Today, it was a case of friendly fire as Nicholson accidentally collided with Cox and knocked him silly. The woozy Cox had to be helped to the sidelines.
Safety Kalvin Pearson is just as physical and sent an unidentified receiver sprawling to the ground today, too.
Cornerback Kevin Arbet continues to fly under the radar by performing well. He got a great, physical jam on Brackins at the line of scrimmage, which caught the receiver off guard and knocked him off his route.
Defensive end Simeon Rice was rushing from the left end spot today against Simms, who is a left-handed QB, in 11-on-11 drills. Rice usually pass rushes from the right defensive end spot, but wanted to attack Simms’ blind side, so he moved over to the left side for a couple of series.
Gruden was simulating game conditions today by using the walkie talkie to communicate the play calls to the quarterbacks via the speaker in the quarterback’s helmet.
Smart and Williams dropped easy, catchable checkdown passes in 11-on-11 drills this morning.
Defensive tackle Jon Bradley finished practice strong with a couple of good penetrating plays in the backfield.
Due to an assignment schedule conflict, Pewter Report was unable to cover this afternoon’s one-hour special teams practice. But both practices will be covered tomorrow by Pewter Report.
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Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]