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Conditions for Tuesday morning’s Buccaneers practice at Disney World’s Wide World of Sports were sunny and hot. The Buccaneers were in shells (helmet, shoulder pads, jerseys and shorts) for the morning session.
Linebackers Barrett Ruud, Ryan Nece and Derrick Brooks joined nose tackle Chris Hovan, cornerback Ronde Barber and guard Davin Joseph as practice captains for calisthenics.
Every Buccaneer participated in Tuesday morning’s workout with the exception of wide receiver Joey Galloway, who spent the first part of practice with Jon Gruden’s kids on the sidelines playing catch. Galloway is healthy and just took the morning off for precautionary reasons and to rest.
Practice started off with some hard rock music from the band Saliva being blared over the loudspeakers during the warm-ups. The song choice was “Click, Click, Boom” for the Saliva fans out there. Up next was a Gruden favorite – AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck.”
The offensive line and tight ends worked on the seven-man blocking sled to start practice. There has been an emphasis on being physical this week with Saturday’s opponent being the rugged Jacksonville Jaguars, who feature one of the most dominating front seven in football, led by defensive tackles Marcus Stroud and John Henderson. There was some improvement in the performance of the offense on Tuesday after Monday’s disappointing showing, particularly along the offensive line in the running game.
The quarterbacks and receivers worked on routes at the start of practice. The QBs worked on the deep ball, and also tuned up their skills throwing on the run. All four quarterbacks fared well on their rollouts, even Chris Simms, who has struggled mightily this training camp with his form and accuracy.
“I’ve got to have that movement,” said Bucs wide receivers coach Richard Mann, cheering on the QBs. “I’ve got to have it.”
While Simms was noticeably sharper with his accuracy on the short comebacks, curls, outs and slants, but anything over 12-15 yards was giving him problems. Bruce Gradkowski, Luke McCown and starter Jeff Garcia performed well during the rollouts.
The offense and defense squared off in a 9-on-9 drill while the wide receivers and cornerbacks faced each other in 1-on-1 drills. The only receivers who were worked in with the 9-on-9 drills were Maurice Stovall, Mark Jones and Chad Lucas, who all practiced running reverses, often with Joseph pulling as a lead blocker.
I spoke with Gruden after practice in a one-on-one environment and he said that the Bucs will be running more reverses and using some more unconventional plays this year on offense to open it up in an effort to create more big plays.
During the offensive install period, rookie fullback Byron Storrer was seen getting chewed out by the coaches for making mistakes. New fullback Zach Tuiasasopo felt his back tighten up and was limited today. It was no surprise that Michael Pittman and B.J. Askew were taking most of the reps at fullback on Tuesday. As of right now, with Pittman, Askew and Earnest Graham all capable of playing fullback, it appears the roster and depth chart is set at the position.
The offensive and defensive lines squared off in the first half of practice with the work focusing on combo blocks. Nose tackle Ryan Sims is the biggest defensive lineman on the team, but got overpowered at the point of attack by center Nick Mihlhauser and guard Jonathan Clinkscale because he didn’t get his hands up fast enough and didn’t have a good, initial punch.
The best trench battle all camp has been between Joseph and under tackle Jovan Haye as they are both improving rapidly. Joseph typically gets the edge because he is the best and most consistent offensive lineman, but Haye is getting better with each practice and is hoping to build on an impressive preseason opener in which he led all Buccaneers with four tackles.
Rookie under tackle Greg Peterson is an explosive player who has come a long way, but has a long way to go still. Peterson has a quick first step and an explosive first move, but needs to learn how to counter moves by offensive linemen with other moves. Right now, he’s a one-trick pony in the sense that if his first move doesn’t work, he gets neutralized.
In the 9-on-7 drills, Kevin Carter got the start at left defensive end over Greg Spires (although Spires got the start in 11-on-11 drills). The rookie tandem of Sabby Piscitelli and Tanard Jackson started in place of Jermaine Phillips and Will Allen, who were honing their coverage skills with the cornerbacks. As Pewter Report has pointed out before, Allen is a much better man coverage defender than Phillips is and that was the case again today.
In the 9-on-7 drill, strongside linebacker Cato June used his speed to dash to the perimeter and blow up a running play in the backfield. Backup weakside linebacker Jamie Winborn made a similar play, shooting into the Bucs’ backfield to stop halfback Cadillac Williams for a loss and to punch the ball loose. Williams recovered the fumble, however.
“Concentrate now!” Gruden screamed to his offensive linemen. “I don’t want anybody screwing me!”
Defensive end Patrick Chukwurah did a great job of sniffing out a flip pitch to backup running back Lionel Gates. Chukwurah showed good discipline, stayed home and prevented Gates from getting outside.
Nece and Ruud also had some nice pops taking on fullbacks and guards while stuffing the run this morning, drawing praise from linebackers coach Gus Bradley. Nece was seen at the end of practice working on his knees in front of a blocking sled, practicing shedding blocks. He has the mental part of playing middle linebacker down. Now he just needs to get used to taking on fullbacks and interior linemen instead of taking on tight ends like he did at strongside linebacker.
Askew got a few carries in practice today. Gruden told me after practice that he wants his fullback to be able to carry the ball so if the halfback is flanked out as a receiver there is still the threat of a running play.
The notable element during the 1-on-1 session between receivers and cornerbacks was how second-year cornerback Alan Zemaitis was getting burned. David Boston blew by Zemaitis on a stop-and-go route, only to have Garcia overthrow him. Garcia and McCown struggled hitting the receivers downfield and were guilty of overthrowing them during the 1-on-1 period.
Zemaitis, who was also beaten badly by Michael Clayton and Chas Gessner, may actually benefit the most from Torrie Cox’s four-game suspension at the start of the season. Cox won’t count against the Bucs’ 53-man roster while he serves his suspension – provided he makes the team (but Pewter Report believes he will) – and the Bucs will need to keep a fourth cornerback behind Barber, Brian Kelly and Phillip Buchanon. Zemaitis may be that guy by default, especially because the Bucs have a fourth-round draft pick invested in him. Cornerback Sammy Davis, a former first-round pick, hasn’t made many plays and has been a disappointment, often times looking no better than Carlos Hendricks.
Speaking of Hendricks, the route of the day came against him when Lucas started outside before zig-zagging inside and then back outside and down the sidelines. Hendricks was fooled several times on the route.
The special teams portion of practice featured special teams coach Richard Bisaccia practicing an emergency punt situation with the starting defense. It’s rare, but on occasion, offenses will sneak the punter on to the field and catch the defense on the field without any time to hurry the punt rush team on the field. More common is the occasion when the quarterback will pooch punt the ball against the starting defense.
Carter stood out by rushing the punter and came close blocking one, which drew the praise of Bisaccia.
“Way to go, Kevin!” Bisaccia said. “That’s the way you do it. Way to go!”
The Bucs starting defense fared well with Jones running out as a punt returner, replacing a defensive back on the field. It’s a lot easier to run one player out on the field during a surprise punt situation rather than 11. Jones is the ideal candidate for this situation because he split time as a receiver and a safety in college and can also play defense in a pinch.
Rookie Kenneth Darby has looked great as a running back in training camp and against New England in last Friday’s preseason opener in which he rushed for 84 yards and a healthy 5.6 average. But in order for him to make the team, he must be able to contribute on special teams. Darby really struggled in punt protection on Tuesday morning and got a royal butt-chewing from both Gruden and Bisaccia.
“You’ve got to be able to do this, Darby,” yelled Gruden. “You have got to be able to do this – do you got me? Get him going, B.J. Help him out.”
“You can’t be one-dimensional!” Bisaccia said to Darby.
During the cool down period, Darby stayed out on the field to work one-on-one with Bisaccia in his punt protection skills.
The Bucs wide receivers dropped several passes during the individual drills and 7-on-7 and 9-on-7 periods. Lucas beat Buchanon down the left sideline but dropped a deep pass from Garcia, which drew the ire of Mann.
The usually sure-handed Stovall also dropped a Garcia pass, which prompted the typically reserved second-year receiver to drop the F-bomb.
Garcia didn’t get any help from Jones, who joined the chorus of receivers who couldn’t hang on to any deep balls on Tuesday morning.
“Come on wideouts!” Gruden and Mann screamed together at the receivers.
The miscues between quarterbacks and pass-catchers continued when McCown took over the reins of the offense. McCown overthrew Boston, but had Williams drop a perfectly thrown ball in the flat.
Tight end Alex Smith didn’t get the chance to drop the football as Ruud flashed in front of him to break up the pass. A few plays later, Ruud would intercept McCown by jumping an underneath route. Gessner, who was the intended receiver, did manage to force a fumble by punching the ball out of Ruud’s hands in 7-on-7 action. Tampa Bay’s defense managed to recover the loose ball, however.
Phillips had a nice pass breakup against tight end Jerramy Stevens across the middle of the field in 7-on-7 drills.
Simms threw an awful pass during the 7-on-7 period, but it was actually a completion. Simms’ duck was so wobbly and slow – like a pitcher’s change-up – that it fooled Barber and allowed Boston to make the catch. Simms performed better this morning than he had in some time, but he’s still clearly the fourth-best quarterback on the team right now.
The highlight of practice was when the entire team gathered in the end zone closest to the fans and the offense battled the defense in a series of 1-on-1 pass rush-pass protection battles to determine which unit would get an extra hour of curfew on Tuesday night. Gruden called for Hovan and center Matt Lehr to square off in the first match and although it looked like Lehr won, Hovan complained about something and apparently that round didn’t count.
With the players rooting for each other, Gruden said, “Get your damn intensity up! Get me Davin Joseph!”
Unfortunately for Gruden and the offense, Joseph squared off against Carter, who showed how veterans get the job done. Carter used a series of moves to get past Joseph and touch the QB bag for a sack. That got the defense fired up and players were jumping up and down with excitement.
Defensive end Greg White squared off against right tackle Jeremy Trueblood next and won, giving the defense a 2-0 lead.
However, the offense would battle back with two straight wins. Rookie left guard Arron Sears neutralized Haye and got a roar of approval from the offensive players, while Lehr prevented under tackle Ellis Wyms from getting a sack.
The offense took a 3-2 lead when offensive tackle Donald Penn squared off against defensive end Gaines Adams, who was Tampa Bay’s first-round draft pick in 2007. Not only did Penn beat Adams, he rode him around the QB bag and drove him into the ground for a pancake block. The offensive players swarmed Penn, who flat out dominated Adams on the play.
The match was tied once again when Chukwurah used his speed to wheel around offensive tackle Anthony Davis for a sack.
Gruden called for rookie linebacker Quincy Black to square off against tight end Alex Smith on the final series.
“Winner takes all,” Gruden said, before watching Black use a double move to beat Smith and give the defense a 4-3 victory over the offense.
In the final 11-on-11 period, the first-team defense went against the second-team offense, which consisted of an offensive line that featured Penn at left tackle, Dan Buenning at left guard, Lehr at center, Jeb Terry at right tackle and Dennis Roland at right tackle. Later in the 11-on-11 session, Penn and Roland would flip sides, but when Penn was playing right tackle he had a false start, which ticked off the coaches.
“You’re killing us!” offensive line coach Bill Muir yelled.
“Get him out of there – get me Trueblood!” shouted Gruden as a disgusted Penn went to the sidelines.
Left tackle Luke Petitgout got the reps with the starters and fared pretty well. Petitgout is being eased back into action after missing the first half of camp with a sore back. He did do team contact drills on Tuesday morning and was seen working with senior offensive line assistant Aaron Kromer on his pass sets.
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Scott Reynolds is in his 23rd 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 enjoys 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]
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