With a new day of Bucs training camp practice came a new message from head coach Raheem Morris.
Before the Bucs took the field for a practice Wednesday morning, Morris stressed the importance of the Bucs becoming a more physical football team in 2009.
To prove his point, Morris put on defensive tape from Tampa Bay's games vs. its NFC South division rival, the Carolina Panthers, dating back to 2003.
"Since '03 we got [the Panthers] and sometimes they got us, but for the most part Carolina has been more physical than us," said Morris. "Even the games we won we came out of there feeling like we lost. We felt like the Panthers outplayed us physically. That's what I told the team this morning, and I showed them a couple of clips where they were being more physical than us. I told the offense, ‘You got your butts kicked, too, but I just chose not to show those clips. I just wanted to show this part of it.'"
Morris went on to tell his players they were going to make a portion of their morning practice live, meaning full out tackling and goal line and red zone sessions that would be physical in nature.
It's unclear which specific plays Morris showed his team from the Panthers games, but the fact that Tampa Bay has won just three of its past 12 meetings vs. Carolina suggests Morris got his point across.
"We did internalize it because you could see it on film, Raheem is a really honest guy, they really did kick our butts," said Bucs RB Earnest Graham. "Like he said, since 2003 they've really come out, they've been that more physical team every time out. We'd like to be that team. Teams that are running the league right now are like that-Caroline, New York, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh. We know we need to come out and be more physical than the other teams. We've got to respond and I think we're a team that can do that."
After showing the tape, which likely included clips from Tampa Bay's last meeting with Carolina, where the Bucs allowed 299 rushing yards, Morris didn't get any arguments from the players, who were quite eager to hit the field for the spirited practice.
"Complete, dead silence just like I got from you guys," Morris said of the players' reaction to the Carolina footage. "A lot of angry men and a lot of guys ready to practice. Usually when you say two periods are going to be live at practice you expect somebody to not want to do it, but today it wasn't even close. Not even close. I'm a leader of men, and I have to lead them in places where sometimes they don't want to go as well just because I have to."
Morris said the his team responded to the message and brought physical play to the football field Wednesday morning. However, the defense really stood out and won the physical goal line session.
"They did well," said Morris. "They played physical and got some tackles down there near the goal line. The defense stood up and they won the drill 7-3. It was a physical showing of people."
Bucs running back Derrick Ward, who rushed for over 1,000 yards as a Giant last season, said he was one of the players looking forward to this morning's physical practice.
"If I'm in pads I want to go live," said Ward. "That's just my mentality and the way I play. It's a contact sport, so playing running back you have to be able to take those hits and avoid hits, and do whatever it takes to get ready to play on Sundays."
Bucs quarterback Byron Leftwich turned in a solid performance on offense, throwing several touchdown passes, including four during one particular 7-on-7 drill.
"I just try to go out there every day and put the ball in the end zone," said Leftwich. "We did a good job of that today and we're just out there working. Guys are getting open and they're making it easy on me. I'm putting the ball on them. That's what we've got to do to be a good football team in this league. You've got to be great in the red zone. You've got to score touchdowns and not field goals. That responsibility comes on the quarterback and I take that responsibility."
Leftwich definitely caught Morris' eye on Wednesday morning, which bodes for him in the competitive battle the Bucs have at quarterback.
"Leftwich has some experience. It's easy to see," said Morris. "He's done it before. He's won 12 games in this league. All that stuff comes out when Leftwich is playing, understanding things and has control of the huddle. Those are some of the things we're talking about with the quarterbacks stepping out of their shells and making things happen. It was good to see."
The live contact portion of Wednesday's practice was as close to playing in a game as the Bucs players will get before their first exhibition contest vs. the Tennessee Titans on Aug. 15. Leftwich welcomes that type of environment.
"I like it because it makes you use your brain and it doesn't allow you to relax," said Leftwich. "It allows the player that you are to come out. As I said in the OTAs, everybody plays great in shorts. I like to get in the live situations as much as possible because that's what you are going to play under."
Although Leftwich performed well, the Bucs defense got the best of the team's offense on Wednesday morning. The offense is looking forward to its chance for redemption.
"Our defense won. They got one up on us," said Ward. "It's still early in training camp and we'll do some more goal line."
The offense didn't go down without a fight, though. The effort was noticed. However, Morris, who sent the players out on the field with a clear message Wednesday morning, sent them off it with one as well.
"You could see some of the guys with their eyes wide – it was the first contact of the training camp," said Ward. "We had to run a half gasser because the defense got one up on us, or I guess they stopped us. I tried to challenge one touchdown that I thought we had, but Raheem wasn't hearing it. It was great competition on both sides of the ball."
QUOTE OF THE DAY Bucs head coach Raheem Morris on RB Derrick Ward bumping an official at practice, which led to gassers for the entire team.
"The offense got a penalty one time on Derrick Ward. He bumped an official. He came too far across the line. The whole team had to run a gasser after that. That's on everybody, right? So we all had to run a gasser."