One of the many issues that plagued the Buccaneers last year during their struggles on defense was playing without shutdown cornerback Brian Kelly. Kelly played in just two games during the 2006 season before being placed on injured reserve with a turf toe injury, which required season ending surgery.
Kelly went through the surgery and rehab in an effort to be ready for the 2007 season and return to the form that made him one of the top cover cornerbacks in the NFL. Kelly has recorded 20 interceptions during his 10-year career with the Bucs and has been a mainstay in a defense that has ranked in the top 10 in nine of the past 10 seasons.
“I’m glad to get the surgery,” Kelly said. “It was important for me to get the surgery. I don’t think it was an issue of toughness or fighting through, it was just I couldn’t be functional and play the way I wanted to play. I had to get the surgery to get it right and now that we have gotten the surgery everything is good.”
Kelly has showed no effects of any lingering issues in the toe or the foot after the surgery and seems to have regained his ball-hawking ability. Despite never being named to the Pro Bowl, Kelly demands the respect of opposing wide receivers with his physical play at cornerback.
Head coach Jon Gruden is happy to have Kelly back on the field healthy and is excited to see the duo of Kelly and Buchanon on the field at the same time.
“He’s going to make a difference for us because when you look at Barber and [Phillip] Buchanon and Kelly, those are three good corners,” Gruden said. “We didn’t have Buchanon until late last year and we didn’t have Kelly basically all last seasons. So two of our three corners are back and healthy and playing good football. That allows you to do some things defensively and we are encouraged to have B.K. back with us.”
Kelly along with Derrick Brooks and Ronde Barber are players that have been on top-ranked defensive teams before and are definitely not pleased with the 17th overall ranking the Bucs had after last season.
Despite not having Shelton Quarles and Simeon Rice, both of whom were released, Kelly believes that this year’s defense will rebound and return to the form that Bucs fans have been used to seeing.
“It’s a lot like two years ago when we didn’t play the way we wanted to play and we cam back and were the number one defense,” Kelly said. “We know what we have to do. We have enough veterans around here that know what it takes to get back to the level of defense that we are used to playing. Now it is just to demonstrate that to the young guys, because we have more young guys now, to let them know what it is going to take to get back to the level we need to be at. We are not happy with 17, we are not happy with 10, we like to be in the top five every year and that is the standard here. We just have to get ready to get back to that.”
One of the offseason moves that will surely help the Bucs secondary is the hiring of defensive backs coach Raheem Morris. Morris, who was with the Bucs from 2002-05, was brought back and has given the defensive backs a shot of energy and enthusiasm that was lacking last season.
“Not to take a shot at the guy [Greg Burns] last year, but we are used to Raheem [Morris],” Kelly said. “We know his terminology and he knows us. It is just one of those situations where you gel well with the coach and the coach gels well with the players. He really helps us out and it going to help us with our growth because he is a teacher. A lot like Mike Tomlin, he is able to take you in the classroom, tell you what to do, go out on the field and help you with what you need to do and that is going to help us a lot probably more than anything on the defensive side of the ball. To have Raheem [Morris] back is going to be big plus for us.”
INJURY UPDATE Left tackle Luke Petitgout and rookie defensive end Gaines Adams were two of many players that were held out of Wednesday morning’s practice. Adams was held out because of a triceps strain and Petitgout was given the morning off to rest what Gruden termed “a sore body”.
“[Gaines Adams] is day-to-day,” Gruden said. “We have a lot of guys with bumps and bruises, but he’s day-to-day, nothing significant. He should be back in a day or so. [Petitgout] will be back in a day or so as well.”
Petitgout missed the final seven games for the New York Giants last season after being placed on injured reserve with a fractured fibula. He was also sidelined with a back injury in 2003. Gruden, however, made it a point to assure that Petitgout is healthy and the fact that the Bucs are giving him an occasional day of is not that unusual.
“He’s played a long time and training camp’s a long time, especially for some guys who have been on a specific program for the last three or four or five years,” Gruden said. “But we’re not concerned at all. We feel good about Petitgout, and in the time being it’s a great time opportunity for us to look at Donald Penn, who’s doing some good things, and certainly Anthony Davis.”
Defensive tackles Ellis Wyms and Ryan Sims were held out of practice and cornerback Philip Buchanon was rewarded with the morning off after he was impressive in Tuesday morning’s practice.
“We rested Philip today — he’s really had a good camp and tomorrow will be Philip Buchanon Day out here at camp,” Gruden said. “We gave him the morning off because we wanted him to get well. He’s an extremely fast football player and we gave him a lot of running yesterday and he took advantage of his turns and he was rewarded with a morning off.”
BUCS GET AFTERNOON OFF Gruden gave the players the afternoon off on Wednesday, cancelling the scheduled second practice of the day.
Instead of practice, the Bucs embarked on a bonding experience with the players during training camp. Gruden said that the players were going to the movies and the flick that was selected was “Rescue Dawn”.
“Every year after the fourth padded practice I like for the big guys to get an afternoon off,” Gruden said. “That’s the case again this year. We’ve had four really good 9-on-7 physical practices and we’ll use this afternoon to have a little fellowship, a little camaraderie, a little team activity.”
QUOTE OF THE DAY Bucs coach Jon Gruden when asked about the fumbling issues that popped up during Wednesday morning’s practice drills.
“We had two fumbles, I think one was on a late whistle honestly and Lionel Gates fumbled in a short yardage situation. If you fumble the ball you won’t be here long. You cannot turn the ball over. The ballcarrier holds the entire organization in their hands and when you let us down you know you really let us down.”
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