The Buccaneers got in an hour-long special teams practice on Tuesday with an interesting twist. Under the Jon Gruden regime, a special teams workout meant that the players that didn’t participate on special teams didn’t have to take the field and got some time off.
Under new head coach Raheem Morris, the non-special teamers, including quarterbacks, were out on the far practice field doing some conditioning drills and sprints.
“We call it we-fense and we’re going to stick with that theme,” Morris said. “Everybody’s got to come out here. We get some guys that do a little running and we have the guys that aren’t involved doing a little lifting.
“It’s not a day off. It’s special teams practice. It’s we-fense time. That’s what we came out to do.”
During the special teams practice, the biggest story was the kicking dual that wasn’t on Tuesday. Newcomer Mike Nugent participated in all the field goal drills while incumbent kicker Matt Bryant was held out of practice with a minor injury.
“Matt didn’t practice today. He had a little small tweak,” Morris said. “We have a little deal with those two. Mike Nugent went today and Matt will probably handle the next one. We’re just getting ready for the big competition between the two. I’m not sure what (the injury) was exactly. I usually don’t bother kickers too much. If they say they have a tweak, they have a tweak. You never know what it is. They kind of know their bodies. When they are ready to kick they’ll kick. He wasn’t ready to kick today.”
Nugent was successful in all of his field goal attempts except for two, which were two too many for special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia.
“He missed two. I think they were 44 maybe 42 yards,” Bisaccia said. “We weren’t happy with that. It’s a little bit of a new situation for him, but there’s no need for built-in excuses. We’d like to make all of them.”
On Nugent’s second miss, the entire team surrounded Nugent getting within feet of him and was yelling and waving their arms at him.
“Nugent’s doing fine,” Morris said. “He’s got a powerful leg. He’s got pop to his leg. He missed the pressure field goal today when the guys got around him. I think they were in his way. He got a little pissed at him. I could see he got a little pissed at them.”
“Hopefully we’ll get Matt back here tomorrow or the day after,” Bisaccia said. “The day they played in the stadium they both kicked. Today was a little bit more Mike’s day. Tomorrow we’re back to two-a-days. They might both be off and Josh (Bidwell) might be off, too. I’ll visit with Coach (Morris) tonight and see what we want to do.”
Bryant said that he expects to return to practice soon.
“It wasn’t much. I just got a little tired from the other day,” Bryant said. “I don’t care (about splitting reps). It doesn’t matter to me.”
Bisaccia said that two new NFL rules are making the Bucs re-think the way they approach special teams. The first is the outlawing of wedges on kickoff returns.
“It’s not so much a hindrance as it is something new that we all have to learn,” Bisaccia said. “Peanut was pretty good at hiding behind those big guys up front with a three-man wedge. Historically here we’ve been a lot more two-man double-teams with a little bit more of a trap scheme.”
The second new special teams rule applies to how team’s position their personnel on kickoffs.
“Really the kickoff rules are a little bit different, too,” Bisaccia said. “A lot of people are talking about the wedge, but not the kickoff. Those rules are actually a little bit more difficult for us than the wedge rules. One guy has to be outside the numbers all the time now (when the ball is kicked) and three guys have to be on the hash to outside the hash (when the ball is kicked) so that can eliminate some of those ‘muddle huddles’ that a lot of people have been doing.”
The Buccaneers used a ‘muddle huddle’ against Detroit and at Atlanta last year in which the team tightly compacted their personnel near the ball in between the hash marks, especially on onside kick attempts.
“They can start inside, but as the ball is kicked, they have to be distributed with three outside the hash and one always outside the numbers,” Bisaccia said.
The Bucs had Pro Bowler Clifton Smith, Dexter Jackson Sammie Stroughter and Kareem Huggins as their standard return men on Tuesday, but training camp sensation Elbert Mack also took a rep or two as a return man.