The weather was extremely hot at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 2007 rookie mini-camp at One Buccaneer Place on Friday. Temperatures were in excess of 90 degrees on Friday, which was the hottest day of the year in Florida.
The media only got to watch the first 40 minutes of practice during the one-hour, 45-minute practice, but Pewter Report was able to make some key observations on some of the rookies and the coaches in our truncated period of time. We spent the majority of time watching the rookie defenders as the defensive players comprised seven out of the 10 Buccaneers 2007 draft picks.
Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin started things off with team interception and pursuit drills. Tampa Bay didn’t generate nearly enough turnovers last year with only 11 interceptions and seven fumble recoveries. Kiffin and the defensive coaches were stressing interceptions and forced fumbles throughout the workout. Defensive backs coach Raheem Morris and assistant defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake were working with the secondary, teaching the DBs how to make the tackle and still punch the ball out.
Second-round draft pick, safety Sabby Piscitelli, did a great job punching the footballs out of the ballcarriers’ arms. He’s a very physical player who wasn’t pulling any punches out on the practice field – no pun intended.
From just looking at him for 40 minutes, it is obvious Piscitelli has been well coached and picks up drills very quickly. If there was a leader in the secondary today it was the former Oregon State safety. He just has the look of a winner. When he sprints through drills near the red zone he always goes past the goal line and touches the back line of the end zone. No other member of the secondary was as diligent in doing that during drills and exhibiting the high-end traits that made players like John Lynch and Mike Alstott successful.
During the fumble cause and recovery drills, Morris emphasized doing something with the ball once they possessed it, telling his players, “Scoop and score, baby! Scoop and score!”
Morris was his usual animated self and reminds you of former Bucs DBs coach Mike Tomlin the way he runs around and conducts drills at un ultra-high tempo. That tempo really burned out several of the Bucs defensive backs, whose hands were on their hips on this hot and humid day.
One of the players who struggled the most was Syracuse safety Tanard Jackson, who was the Bucs’ fourth-round draft pick. Fifteen minutes into practice, Jackson had his helmet off and was on one knee. He even had to go to a trainer to take some puffs of an inhaler, which is the sign of an asthmatic. After practice, Jackson said his inhaler was “like life support” and confirmed to Pewter Report that he does have asthma, but that it has not really bothered him since his little league days.
“[The heat and my asthma] got to me a little bit today, but that’s part of it,” Jackson said. “I’m going to try my best to not let this heat get to me. I have asthma, so that makes it rougher. I need to get used to it down here. I’ve never had much problems with since Pop Warner. I had it bad when I was little. I had to use the nebulizer on the sidelines. In high school and college I pretty much grew out of it, but I never had to practice in the heat or play in the heat that much.”
Growing up in Silver Springs, Maryland and playing up in New York at Syracuse University didn’t prepare Jackson for the heat and humidity of Florida and knows that he will have to adjust to it. Jackson also confessed to being out of shape and knows that training camp in Orlando is unforgiving as it is hotter and more humid than the weather conditions in Tampa, which almost always has a breeze from the Gulf of Mexico to provide some relief.
“I’ve been hearing about training camp and I’m sure August will be even hotter,” Jacksons said. “I need to be outside as much as possible. I’ll get used to it because I get in shape quick. I told the coaches that I wasn’t really doing much before I came here and I didn’t know what to expect. Once I get in shape, I’ll be fine.”
When Jackson was able to catch his breath and compete in the drills, he looked quicker and faster than he did on tape and at the Combine. He appears to be one of those athletes that plays faster than he times in the 40-yard dash.
Jackson wasn’t quick to run away from his well documented off-field incidents at Syracuse and discussed his role in a fight between Syracuse football players and students that he was attempting to break up when he got stabbed.
“I got stabbed in the left side of my lower chest,” Jackson said. “There was a scuffle going on between some of my teammates and some guys at Syracuse. I didn’t feel it until I got home and I saw all of the blood on my shirt. Then it hit me. I was lucky to be alive. I definitely learned from that.
“I couldn’t even tell you what it was like to be stabbed. I didn’t feel it until later. It was an experience I definitely learned from. Anything can be taken away from you. That’s the way it works. I think the off-field issues definitely hurt me in the draft, but they made me a stronger and better person. I realized what I had at stake.”
Jackson really enjoyed playing safety at the Senior Bowl and he said that week helped prepare him for the position switch because he played so well.
“My confidence level is high,” Jackson said. “I think playing corner is more difficult than safety because you are on an island against world-class speed. After doing that for four years at Syracuse, now I’m seeing the plays develop in front of me at safety. I think it can be a smooth transition.”
Lake and Morris worked with the secondary on breaking on the ball as they transitioned out of a backpedal. Both Piscitelli and Jackson had good anticipation and quick-twitch muscle reaction as they broke on the ball.
Morris and Lake were telling the rookies, “Eyes before feet!”
That meant, don’t react too early. Trust what you see and then break on the ball.
There have been some natural comparisons made between Piscitelli and former safety John Lynch, but the one thing that is apparent is the fact that Piscitelli is faster than Lynch and has more range. That is in no way saying that he will become the pro that Lynch became. Lynch beat opponents with his intelligence and his right forearm. It remains to be seen if Piscitelli masters this defense the way Lynch did and can apply what he learns the same way. At this stage of the game, Piscitelli isn’t the hitter or tackler that Lynch is, but he is faster than the six-time Pro Bowler.
Rookie linebackers Quincy Black and Adam Hayward, who were 2007 draft picks, flashed their speed in linebacker-specific drills, but also appeared to be winded, too. Playing in New Mexico, Black is used to the heat, but not the sweltering humidity. Hayward wasn’t used to either the heat or the humidity playing for Portland State and Colorado State in his past.
Like Jackson, both Black and Hayward will need to work on their conditioning. Training to run 40-yard dashes for pro days is one thing. Training to practice for almost two hours straight in the Florida heat is something else.
Arkansas linebacker Sam Olajubutu also stood out and showed why he was a priority undrafted free agent for the Buccaneers. He can flat out fly and ran around at full speed on Friday. He is small – every bit of 5-foot-8 – but is compactly built.
Pewter Report did not get a good look at first-round draft pick defensive end Gaines Adams and fifth-round pick defensive tackle Greg Peterson due to the limited viewing time for the media, but we should have a better look on Saturday. Second-round guard Arron Sears and seventh-round offensive tackle Chris Denman certainly look the part, but it is very difficult to effectively gauge the skills of offensive linemen in shorts and jerseys – especially against a bunch of tryout players.
Both of Tampa Bay quarterbacks were inaccurate and struggling to find timing with receivers. This was to be expected. Of the two signal callers – Zac Taylor (Nebraska) was much more accurate and polished than Pat Julmiste (USF).
Olympic gold medal runner and try-out wide receiver Justin Gatlin does indeed have great speed, but he needs to work on his hands. He’s 25 years old and hasn’t played organized football since high school. To say he is raw is an understatement.
I’ve said it before and it bears repeating. The quality of coaching has been elevated with the arrival of Morris and defensive line coach Larry Coyer, who replace Greg Burns and Jethro Franklin, respectively. Needless to say, Morris had all of the defensive backs’ attention during drills.
“He’s one of a kind,” Jackson said of Morris. “He’s a guy who likes to mix it up off the field, but when it comes time to work, he works. When you play for a coach who likes to have fun and work hard at the same time, you can’t ask for much more than that.”
The only veteran Buccaneer that Pewter Report saw that was on-hand during the rookie mini-camp practice was running back Michael Pittman, who took in the action on the sidelines.
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Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com