Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris sent a clear message to his team before training camp began, and in that message he emphasized the importance of physical play and tempo.
During Sunday afternoon's practice at One Buccaneer Place, Morris didn't see that message being relayed back to him by the Bucs offense, particularly the quarterbacks and offensive line.
"Today, I thought our offensive tempo was just not up to par," said Morris. "I didn't like it at all. I didn't like it coming out of the huddle, I didn't like the way we came off the ball up front, I didn't like the procedure from the quarterbacks to the team, nothing."
That criticism came just one day after the Bucs offense performed quite well against the defense, particularly during the team's night practice at Raymond James Stadium, where the offense produced several big plays, especially in the passing game.
Morris wasn't happy with the way the team's defense performed on the first day of training camp. He challenged the defensive players and coaches to perform better, and Morris liked the response he saw from Jim Bates' players on Sunday.
"Up front on defense yesterday we weren't any good, and today we responded," said Morris. "That had something to do with [the offensive struggles today] as well. We watch the tape. The players watch the tape and they get angry. The defensive guys came out and hustled and played hard for every snap. You like to see the response, but you have to see the consistency at the same time."
Morris suggested the root of Tampa Bay's offensive woes stemmed from the lackluster performance of the offensive line, which is expected to be strength of the team in 2009.
However, the quarterback play was also suspect from signal callers Luke McCown, Byron Leftwich, rookie Josh Freeman and Josh Johnson. Their play included several errant throws, players lining up wrong and even some interceptions.
"As a group today I didn't think they were very good," Morris said of the quarterbacks. "They did not do a good job of getting the call from [offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski], taking it to the huddle and leading the way. Any time the offense struggles it probably starts right there.
"They have to be better. They were pretty good last night. They were on fire. But again, it was under the lights and in front of fans. You have to do it every day and you have to be consistent."
Morris didn't care for the tempo the offensive linemen and quarterbacks were setting, so towards the end of practice he decided to call a live drill, which helped dictate the tempo.
"I didn't like the tempo with the O-linemen at all, and it all starts up front," said Morris. "If those up front people aren't doing it right and the tempo isn't being set by the quarterbacks it's not going to work, period. The defense had it going pretty good. They were humming around and making plays on the ball. That's what I was trying to prove to the offense. It's easy to run around in shorts and make plays. It's easy to play under the lights in our stadium like we did last night. It's easy to catch passes when you know you're not going to get hit. So, the last six plays of practice I said, ‘Let's strap up and go live.' If those guys don't want to set the tempo then I'll do it. At the end of the day I'm going to be held responsible for it anyway."
When asked what he attributed the offense's problems to Sunday, Morris suggested the offense's impressive performance under the lights of Raymond James Stadium had something to do with it.
"More than likely it was coming off the high from last night," said Morris. "We were coming from the stadium where we had people screaming, fans cheering and music playing. It was a pretty exciting atmosphere. But when you come to practice you have to practice. It doesn't matter where you are. You have to play in practice like you plan to play in games."
Morris appears to be running a tougher training camp than the type former head coach Jon Gruden oversaw during his seven-year tenure in Tampa Bay.
This year's training camp has featured the players in full pads to start camp, and the pads will stay on for the majority of the team's workouts this year in Morris' effort to make the Bucs a tougher team and one that can finish strong down the stretch.
The hot and humid conditions in the Tampa Bay area certainly don't do the players any favors in full pads, and could be part of the reason why there were some lapses in concentration on offense today, but Morris is stressing the importance of physical and mental toughness in training camp.
"No excuses," said Morris. "You know why? Because we're going to London and we're going to play [the Patriots on Oct. 25]. There's a five-hour time difference. We're going to be hot, or maybe wet. Whatever the case may be, there ‘s no excuses. Hopefully one day we'll be good enough and we'll get a Thursday night game coming off a Sunday game. You get a win and everybody is happy, and then you got to turn around and play on a short week, and when that happens there are no excuses."
MONDAY PRACTICE TICKETS STILL AVAILABLE Tickets to both of Tampa Bay's training camp practices at One Buc Place on Monday are still available. It was previously announced that the tickets for Monday's practices had sold out, but the Bucs have made more tickets available.
To secure tickets to Bucs training camp visit One Buc Club. Tickets can also be obtained at One Buc Place as long as they are available.