FIRST SENIOR BOWL PRACTICES HELD IN RAIN Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden and his staff took the field for the North’s team first workout at the 2007 Under Armour Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. on Monday afternoon.
The North and South teams conducted their respective practices from 2:45 to 4:15 p.m. While the South team practiced at Fairhope Municipal Stadium, the North team held its workout at Ladd Peebles Stadium.
Both practices were held under cloudy skies and a fairly steady rain. However, neither practice was delayed or cut short due to the inclimate weather.
This marks the second time in three years that Gruden and Tampa Bay’s staff are heading up a team at the Senior Bowl. The Bucs finished the 2006 regular season with a 4-12 record and will have the third or fourth overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft.
Gruden feels his team, which struggled mightily in 2006, is now in a position to reap the benefits of that disappointing season.
“I’d rather be playing in the Super Bowl, but the Senior Bowl is a great way for us to get better,” said Gruden. “It is a tremendous tool to learn about the players that are eligible for this draft.”
BUCS SIGN WR THOMAS Tampa Bay recently signed wide receiver Levon Thomas, who played collegiately at Georgia Tech.
The 6-foot, 195-pound Thomas was signed by the Colts on April 29, 2005, and then spent most '05 on New Orleans' practice squad. He was claimed off waivers from New Orleans by the Colts in July of 2006.
GRUDEN HIGH ON NEW COACHES One of the main reasons why the Bucs are coaching the Senior Bowl is because they are in search of new players that can help them get better.
But before they’ve even signed or drafted any new players in 2007, the Bucs feel they have already gotten better due to some of the new additions on their coaching staff.
The Bucs fired defensive line coach Jethro Franklin and defensive backs coach Greg Burns after just one season on the job, and replaced them with Larry Coyer and Raheem Morris, respectively.
“Larry Coyer has long established himself as a top flight defensive coach in football,” said Gruden. “He’s going to coach our defensive line and assume a leadership role on our staff. His experience speaks for itself. His production has been quite impressive. He’ll bring us a level of toughness and expertise that we want. We’re excited to have him.
“We’re excited to have Raheem Morris back. He’s a fiery, upbeat guy. We hated losing him last year, but he got some tremendous hands on experience as the defensive coordinator at Kansas State.”
In addition to those moves on the defensive side of the ball, the Bucs promoted defensive quality control coach Gus Bradley to linebackers coach, where he fills the void left by Joe Barry, who accepted a job as Detroit’s defensive coordinator several weeks ago.
“Gus went through a grueling two or three days of interviewing with us last year,” said Gruden. “We really felt walking away from it that he was ready to roll. He’s a very good, young coach. I think by the end of the week you’re going to see that he’s going to bring a lot to this football team. He’s a great teacher, and a very good motivator. He’s very familiar with the system we run here, and you put all of that together and you’ve got a fine coach. He’s got some big shoes to fill because Joe did a really good job for us.”
Tampa Bay also hired tight ends coach Bob Casullo after letting Ron Middleton out of his contract so he could take a job with Alabama, where his ailing wife is scheduled to receive much-needed treatment for a serious medical condition.
Casullo worked with Gruden and Bucs general manager Bruce Allen in Oakland for four seasons (2000-03). He also worked with Bucs quarterbacks coach Paul Hackett in 2004 with the New York Jets.
“Bob Casullo is a guy that has been around playoff teams and Super Bowl teams,” said Gruden. “I think he could coach any position. He’s a very gifted football man. His experience at this level is going to help us.”
After spending two seasons in Seattle as the Seahawks’ special teams coach, Casullo is pleased to be reunited with Gruden and Allen in Tampa Bay.
“They brought me down there, we had a great interview and I was very impressed with what they had for me,” said Casullo. “We had a good run in Oakland. That was a wonderful experience, and this was a good chance to reunite with Jon and Bruce, and I’m excited about that.”
GRUDEN HAPPY FOR TOMLIN The Pittsburgh Steelers recently hired Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin as their new head coach.
Tomlin, who spent just one season in Minnesota, had served as Tampa Bay’s defensive backs coach from 2001-05 before getting the job with the Vikings.
Tampa Bay’s defense has had several leaves fall off of its coaching tree, including Indianapolis head coach Tony Dungy, Chicago head coach Lovie Smith, Kansas City head coach Herm Edwards and now Tomlin.
That’s a feat Gruden and the rest of the Bucs organization are proud of.
“I’m certainly excited about that,” said Gruden. “It’s an awesome opportunity for Mike. I’m really proud of him, and happy for him. We’re counting on him to do a great job. Pittsburgh got a great young coach.”
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