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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had their second day of practice in this weekend's rookie mini-camp. The practice at One Buc Place was under sunny skies with temperatures in the mid-80s.
During warm-ups head coach Raheem Morris jumped in with the quarterbacks throwing passes to wide outs and running backs. Morris, coaches, and players laughed, as his first pass was a horrible overthrow that was 10 yards over the head of his receiver. His next pass was a well-thrown rope out to a receiver. That had the verbose coach gloating about his pass.
First-round pick Josh Freeman got a lot of work under center for the majority of the first hour of practice. Even though he was working a lot on footwork and handing the ball off to running backs, Freeman practiced a hard count that could be heard across the practice fields.
Freeman and tryout quarterback Rodney Landers had some struggles with accuracy, but it was not all the quarterback's fault. Both players seemed to be struggling to develop timing with the receivers. The quarterbacks varied in expecting receivers to get to a spot faster than they did, or not quick enough with passes coming behind them or too early.
Center Rob Bruggeman looked strong in drive blocking, and getting upfield quickly. During the offensive install period, he was the first center working with Freeman.
The wide receivers got a lot of work on the fundamentals of route running. Wide receivers coach Richard Mann and assistant Tim Berbenich had the receivers practicing line releases and footwork with breaking down their routes to stop at a certain spot on the field. The routes the receivers focused on were slants and square-ins.
Seventh-round pick Sammie Stroughter is clearly the best and most polished receiver in camp. He is faster than the other receivers and has the best hands. The other five receivers repeatedly let the ball hit the ground, and at times did not run routes correctly causing Mann to make them do the rep over. Stroughter made some good catches on passes thrown behind him, and made a great one-handed catch. During the portion of practice that the media was allowed to watch Stroughter did not have any drops.
Stroughter was catching a lot of passes from Landers. Yesterday he was matched up a lot with Freeman. The pair did hook up on a few passes during the offensive play install section of practice. Freeman was taking the first reps with Stroughter and him connecting being a focus of the offense.
A year ago the Bucs brought in South Florida product Amarri Jackson during the offseason, and cut him before training camp. Jackson was a favorite of Mark Dominik, and was brought back for a weekend tryout. On his first day of practice yesterday, Jackson did not display any improvement in avoiding dropping passes and Saturday's practice was no better as he dropped a few.
The Bucs quarterbacks and receivers did do a drill that was staple under former head coach Jon Gruden. This time quarterbacks coach Greg Olson took the responsibility of yelling out "man" or "zone." When Olson yelled zone the receivers would stop running their route and turn to present a target for the quarterbacks. If Olson yelled man the receivers kept running their routes and the passers delivered the ball.
In the second set of reps in this drill, Olson started edge rushing the quarterbacks to make them step up in the pocket and throw passes. Olson would yell the coverage call as he was getting within reach of the quarterback.
After practice Olson and offensive line coach Pete Mangurian stayed for some extra work with the quarterbacks and centers. They practiced taking snaps from under center and from shotgun. The players that were taking part were Freeman, Landers, Bruggeman, and South Florida offensive lineman Marc Dile.
Tryout fullback Conredge Collins from Pittsburgh left practice early with what looked like a pulled leg muscle.
In an interesting historical footnote, one of this year's try-out players is Rice defensive back Gary Anderson, Jr. If that name sounds familiar, his father, Gary Anderson, Sr., spent three and a half seasons with the Buccaneers from 1990-93, rushing for 1,159 yards and five touchdowns on 321 carries (3.6 avg.). He was also an accomplished receiver, catching 108 passes for 1,021 yards and three touchdowns in Tampa Bay, and a return man, logging 81 kick returns for 1,511 yards (18.7 avg.).
Anderson isn't embarrassing himself out there like Jackson is, but he isn't the top-notch athlete and football player that his father was. There are other defensive backs in the rookie mini-camp that appear to have a better skill set.
For the second straight day, the best defensive back on the field was seventh-round pick, cornerback E.J. Biggers. Biggers displayed quick feet in the mirroring drills during the individual period. Under new defensive coordinator Jim Bates, who brings press-man coverage to Tampa Bay this year, the Bucs spend more time doing drills in which the corners are at the line of scrimmage working on hand placement and technique, along with the cornerback's initial steps and footwork.
Morris came over and worked with Biggers in a one-on-one setting in Saturday's practice, going over the young cornerback's footwork. After practice, Morris was asked to access how much progress Biggers has made from the first practice to the second.
"He didn't show much. He hasn't touched many balls," said Morris. "What you did see is elite movement, you've seen the 4.34 [speed] every once in a while when he flashes. You'd like to see him show up and make plays. I think all that stuff comes in time once he starts to get comfortable and learn the system. You do see some of it, though, which is exciting."
After working on interception drills and coverage drills at the line of scrimmage, the defensive backs worked on taking the proper angle to the ballcarrier, closing on him and using proper technique to wrap him up.
The Bucs want bigger, longer cornerbacks for this scheme in the vein of starter Aqib Talib, who is 6-foot-1, 206 pounds. Biggers is a ripped just under 6-foot, 180 pounds. Marshall McDuffie, an undrafted free agent who is a converted safety, is 6-foot-2, 207 pounds, and showed some promise in his second day of competition. The Bucs are also giving a look at former Tennessee cornerback DeAngelo Willingham at both corner and safety. He also possesses good size at 6-foot, 200 pounds.
For the second straight day, the Bucs were not able to get much of a look at fifth-round draft pick Xavier Fulton. The left tackle from Illinois is still heading back inside with strength coach Kurt Shultz after warm-ups while the offensive linemen begin individual drills. Fulton is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, but is expected to be ready by OTAs later this month or the mandatory mini-camp in June at the latest.
The defensive line continues to work out towards the end of the field, making it virtually impossible to get a read on how draft picks defensive tackle Roy Miller and defensive end Kyle Moore fared in practice.