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On Thursday night, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had their final full practice before their preseason opener at the Tennessee Titans. The Bucs will have a walk-thru on Friday, and Thursday evening's practice resembled that of an organized team activity (OTA). The players were dressed in shorts, jerseys, and helmets. Inside Raymond James Stadium, temperatures were in the 80s and under overcast skies.
The early part of practice had the Buccaneers walking through some kickoff returns. Next, Tampa Bay practiced entering the field of play from the locker room for pregame warm-ups. The players came out in their position groups and warmed up the way they would before a game.
The Bucs spent a lot of time working on special teams in the practice. Kicker Mike Nugent got a lot of reps with new holder punter Dirk Johnson. Overall, Nugent had a solid practice. He made field goals from 32 yards, two field goals from 42 yards, and a field goal from 47 yards. Nugent's final field goal was from well over 50 yards with the entire team circling him and yelling as he kicked. Nugent missed the field goal wide left, but had plenty of leg.
Tampa Bay spent a lot of time working on a variety of special teams situations. They worked on punting from the end zone, fake punts, onside kicks, fake onside kicks, pooch kicks, and fake field goals turned to punts. Johnson got some work on punts and kickoffs. His punts looked good with hang time and distance.
Wide receiver Sammie Stroughter received the lion's share of the reps returning punts and kicks. Running back Kareem Huggins got some returns on punts, and wide receiver Brian Clark returned some kicks. Starting returner Clifton Smith caught a few kicks, but was mainly observing the practice from the sideline as he works his way back from a hamstring injury. Wide receiver Dexter Jackson was present and observing practice, but did not participate as a receiver or returner.
The Buccaneers starting offense and defense both worked on substituting quickly onto the field. All the players were on one sideline, and the coaching staff had headsets on. The Bucs players needed some firing up, as some were playing at a walk-thru pace at first. Tampa Bay head coach Raheem Morris checked the team into the proper tempo.
"This is not a walk-thru," yelled Morris. "OTA tempo. OTA tempo."
On one of the first plays in the team scrimmage, cornerback Torrie Cox made the wrong read on a run that opened up a lane for the tailback. Linebacker Adam Hayward got on his teammate after that play.
"Are you serious, Cox?" asked Hayward. "Are you that dumb?"
The two players straightened it out as they came back to the huddle. Hayward had his own dumb mistake later in practice. Veteran quarterback Byron Leftwich hit tight end Kellen Winslow with a pass deep down the seam of the defense. Hayward was beat on the play, and yelled a loud expletive when the play was whistled dead. Hayward took off his helmet and threw it across the field. The officials flagged him for an unsportsmanlike conduct, and his head coach called him out for it.
"You got the penalty, too, Wood," said Morris. "A dumb ass penalty."
Leftwich started out in the team scrimmages by throwing a touchdown pass to wide receiver Maurice Stovall. The wideout beat cornerback Aqib Talib on the play, and it looked like Talib stopped short when he could have broken up the pass. Stovall ran into the end zone from about 20 yards out.
On the next play, Talib finished the rep. Leftwich threw again to Stovall along the sideline, but Talib snatched the ball out of the air. Stovall grabbed Talib quickly, and the cornerback lateraled the ball to linebacker Barrett Ruud, who returned the interception downfield for a nice gain.
Leftwich worked with his check down and short receivers to move the ball in Thursday evening's practice. He moved the chains on short passes like a dump off to tight end Jerramy Stevens, who got open against cornerback DeAngelo Willingham. Leftwich made a nice play to move the ball by stepping up in the pocket to avoid some pressure, and hit Stevens for a moderate completion in front of safety Will Allen.
Leftwich connected on a bullet slant to wide receiver Mario Urrutia in front of cornerback E.J. Biggers. On a similar play, Leftwich's pass intended for Brian Clark was slapped away by cornerback Elbert Mack.
He also potentially avoided some sacks by throwing the ball away. The defense amped up the pass rush during a two-minute drill scrimmage.
Leftwich was pressured by defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson on two plays that caused Leftwich to throw the ball out of bounds. Defensive tackle Ryan Sims contributed a pressure. Defensive end Gaines Adams sacked Leftwich on the final play of the two-minute drive inside the defense's red zone. One second later defensive end Stylez G. White was on Leftwich as well. The sack ran out the clock and ended the drive.
Veteran Luke McCown started out like Leftwich with a touchdown pass. Wide receiver Brian Clark beat Talib running down the sideline on a straight-line route downfield. The touchdown pass of about 30 to 40 yards was the same distance as Stovall's.
McCown also moved the ball with a lot of short, ball control passing to his tight ends and running backs. It was very reminiscent of the short, quick passing by called in former Bucs head coach Jon Gruden's offense.
McCown threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Winslow that was one of the best catches of training camp. Winslow had gotten open on a deep slant that beat cornerback Kyle Arrington. The pass was high and slightly behind the target, but Winslow reached up with his right hand and palmed the pass out of the air. The catch caused a lot of cheers from his teammates.
McCown hit another 30-yard touchdown pass on a slant to Stovall. Stovall, who has a tall frame, was running between safety Donte Nicholson and cornerback Marshall McDuffie. The big receiver caught the pass in stride as he was crossing the goal line. McCown tried for another touchdown on a slant, but Arrington slapped the pass out of the hands of Clark.
Rookie quarterback Josh Freeman got a fair amount of reps. He also got some work with the first team offensive line. He had a great pass deep down the sideline to Urrutia. The pass went right over the head of cornerback Kyle Arrington, who had good coverage on Urrutia.
Freeman connected on a pass to Clark in front of Mack, and got a good amount of work in the red zone 11-on-11 scrimmage. He worked a few passes to his tight ends, including one to Ryan Purvis on an out route that Freeman threw precisely for a nice gain. At the 10-yard line, Freeman threw a touchdown strike to Urrutia.
Prior to the snap and after the play the normally quiet secondary coach Joe Baker was heard loudly yelling at the defense.
"Eight-yard rule," shouted Baker. "Let's go."
Linebacker Geno Hayes received some direction from linebackers coach Joe Barry on the scheme.
"Geno, in eight-yard rule you got the inside low," said Barry. "They (defensive backs) got outside high."
Fourth-string quarterback Josh Johnson got some work on Thursday evening. Johnson struggled with some inaccurate passes. He threw too high for the 6-foot-6 Urrutia, and too high and behind Stroughter running a slant that was easily broken up by Mack.
The best pass of the practice from Johnson came on a jump ball that Urrutia went up and snatched over Biggers. Urrutia did a great job of catching the pass at the highest point, and holding the ball up above his head so Biggers couldn't slap it out of his hands. The pass went for about a 25-yard gain.
Johnson had a completion to Stroughter across the middle on a crossing route for a moderate gain, but he surely would have been sacked on the play. Quincy Black was standing in front of Johnson after rushing from the left defensive end spot. Hayward was there for the sack as well when he came up the middle on a blitz.
Johnson hit a couple of short completions, and also threw too high for his target in the end zone. On that play it looked like Black had Johnson sacked again. The final pass of the practice was too low to Urrutia in the end zone.
Tampa Bay worked on the two-minute situation, and started the drives with a little more than two minutes on the clock. Each drive started with a run on first down. The clock was blown dead at the two-minute mark. Stovall, Urrutia, Wilkerson, and McCown stood out with great practices on Thursday evening. PEWTER REPORT QB SCORECARD While neither quarterback got as many reps as they normally do in a regular practice, McCown was on target throughout the workout. He threw more touchdown passes, and did not throw an interception. Leftwich did get the ball in the end zone, but also threw a pick, and may have taken a few sacks.