OVER THREE DOZEN TRYOUT PLAYERS ATTEND BUCS ROOKIE MINI-CAMP The entire Tampa Bay 2008 draft class was in attendance at One Buccaneer Place on Friday to kick off a three-day rookie mini-camp. Joining the Bucs' draft picks was a handful of young, veteran players, five signed undrafted free agents and close to three dozen rookies on a try-out basis.
"We had a nice beginning here to our mini-camp, a lot of new energy, a lot of new faces," Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said.
The practice wasn't particularly sharp, but it wasn't expected to be, given the fact that no one knew the playbook or hardly anyone had played together before. The fact that most of the players in attendance were trying to make a good impression on Tampa Bay's coaching staff and front office, wasn't lost on Gruden.
"Well, there's obviously a lot of pressing going on," Gruden said. "It's a tryout camp for a lot of guys. Right now with the mandated rule, the way I understand it you're only allowed to bring 80 guys to camp. So throughout the NFL, roster spots are at a premium, they're hard to get, so guys want to impress. I'm sure there is some pressing going on. At the same time, they're learning a brand new system and meeting a lot of new faces. So this is tough. There's no question – around the league, this is tough. But I did see some guys really do some good things today."
TALIB HAS GOOD DEBUT AS A BUCCANEER Tampa Bay's first-round pick made a good first impression on Friday. Not only was Kansas cornerback Aqib Talib the best defensive back in attendance at the rookie mini-camp, he was also the best athlete out of the 54 players in attendance.
Talib was drafted in the first round because of his size and playmaking ability, having picked off 13 passes in three years at KU. On Friday, he showed off that athleticism and ballhawking skill.
"He made a couple of splash plays today," Gruden said. "He's obviously a very talented player. He's just got to discipline himself in learning our defense and being able to apply the energy that he needs to apply on a daily basis."
At 6-foot-1, 206 pounds, Talib was the tallest of the defensive backs and that size allowed him to stand out in the first of three rookie mini-camp practices.
"Yes, he does [stand out]," Gruden said. "He has the measurables that I think everybody's looking for at that position. He's long and linear, he's got quickness and natural coverage ability. I don't want to say much more than that. He's still got a long way to go to master the defense, but we have a good start. Between [defensive coordinator] Monte [Kiffin] and [defensive backs coach] Raheem [Morris] he's in good hands, I think."
SMALL SCHOOL ADJUSTMENT Of Tampa Bay's seven 2008 draft selections, two players – Appalachian State wide receiver Dexter Jackson, who was selected in the second round, and San Diego quarterback Josh Johnson, who was a fifth-round draft pick, come from Division I-AA schools, which may make their adjustment to the NFL more difficult.
"Oh, I don't know. You could say that maybe, but for all these guys it's a big learning curve," Gruden said. "Some of these guys are in a spread offense and have never been in a two-back set. A lot of college football teams we study don't even use a fullback, so for some of our linebackers to read a two-back set, it's almost impossible to do. They've never done it. So you put it all into perspective. Obviously, the level of competition in Division II or Division I-AA isn't quite the caliber as what it is at some other places, but I think it's all relative."
The speedy Jackson, who clocked in the 4.3 range in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, looked more winded during the first 40 minutes of practice than the team's other receivers, which prompted a question to Gruden about the level of conditioning that his draft class is in.
"Well, we'll see. You can only judge that based on the next couple of days," Gruden said. "None of them are in the kind of shape they need to be in; I hope they understand that. It's going to get a lot hotter here and the speed is going to really pick up. I think they understand that. But in fairness to a lot of these guys, they've been making a lot of travel circuits around the country, visiting with other teams. They've got a long way to go to get their conditioning; I say that every year."
Despite not being in top shape, Gruden was pleased with Jackson's and Johnson's first day, but noted that this is the first step in what hopefully is a long journey for both small school players in Tampa Bay.
"Oh, it's going to be a work in progress, but you see athletic ability," Gruden said of Jackson and Johnson. "We've got a long way to go – that's about the best way I can sum it up. But work will get done and it will take some time. They're two good kids; I think they will continue to improve."
BUCS UNSETTLED AT WIDE RECEIVER One of the interesting notes that came out of Friday's rookie mini-camp was the fact that Tampa Bay is looking for a starting flanker (Z receiver) opposite Joey Galloway. Gruden was asked about where Jackson fit in with the Bucs' receiving corps, which a reporter characterized as a logjam.
"I don't know about the receiving corps, what the logjam is," Gruden said. "We've got to establish ourselves at the position and it's wide open right now. Joey Galloway obviously is the starter at split end, but we've got a lot of competition everywhere else."
That means that in Gruden's mind, neither veterans Ike Hilliard, Michael Clayton nor Maurice Stovall currently has a hold of the starting flanker job. That could open the door for Jackson if the rookie quickly learns the playbook and prepares himself to have the kind of rookie season Clayton had in 2004 in which he caught 80 passes and scored seven touchdowns.
"Well, obviously, we're looking for a young guy that can make plays, number one," Gruden said. "Number two, a guy that has some versatility to help us on special teams and be a guy that can play split end or flanker, a guy that can learn a couple positions. That's what most guys, backup or young guys, have to do. Along the way, we'd like to see a guy that can reach up, grab the ball and make some plays."
BUC SHOTS Some odds and ends from the first day of the Bucs' rookie mini-camp:
• Gruden on the signing of Troy cornerback Albert Mack, who had eight interceptions to lead all Division I-A players.
"I know he was real productive guy. He's quick and he was very overshadowed by [Leodis] McKelvin, maybe for obvious reasons. [McKelvin] is a heck of a player. But this young guy can make plays. In a zone scheme like ours he's very effective. We think he has some talent."
• Gruden on bringing in TCU defensive end Tommy Blake, who was projected to be a first-round pick prior to the 2007 season, but left school twice his senior year due to depression and social anxiety disorder, according to his agent. While at TCU, Blake recorded 23 sacks, including four in eight games in 2007.
"We want to just look at him. He's had some well-documented ups and some well-documented downs. But he's a young guy and we want to look at him for ourselves and try to get all the evaluations done in our minds that we can, and give this kid an opportunity to present himself as a pro football player. We'll judge our conclusions when we get them."
• Tampa Bay had quite a few players from area colleges participate in the rookie mini-camp on a tryout basis. Wide receiver Amarri Jackson and offensive tackle Walt Walker were on hand from South Florida (Tampa); long snapper Garrison Sanborn, guard Jacky Claude and safety Anthony Houllis participated from Florida State (Tallahassee), linebacker Ron McCollough was there from Bethune Cookman (Daytona Beach), cornerback Bryan Flowers was in attendance from Jacksonville and safety Kyle Brady represented Florida (Gainesville). Bulls quarterbacks coach Mike Canales and USF wide receiver Taurus Johnson were in attendance to watch Jackson and Walker.
QUOTE OF THE DAY Fourth-round pick and ookie defensive tackle Dre' Moore on getting just two hours sleep the night before his first practice as a Buccaneer:
“I was just really nervous. I was up all night just wondering what we would be doing out here and what I should be ready for. But once I got here I think I calmed down, settled in and had a good day.”
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