Copyright 2009

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First, some quick Insider notes from Tuesday’s special teams practice. The team practiced in shells (shoulder pads, helmets, jerseys and shorts) for about an hour, then called the practice early with about 20 minutes or so remaining.

The first-team punt coverage consisted of tight end John Gilmore, linebackers Geno Hayes, Niko Koutouvides, Adam Hayward and Quincy Black, safeties Donte Nicholson and Will Allen (who is the personal protector), long snapper Andrew Economos, punter Josh Bidwell and safety Sabby Piscitelli and receiver Maurice Stovall as the team’s gunners. Rotating in as gunners with Piscitelli and Stovall on the first team were receiver Brian Clark and cornerback Elbert Mack.

Tampa Bay’s first-team punt return team consisted of return man Clifton Smith, Koutouvides, Piscitelli, Clark, Nicholson, Stovall, Black, Allen, Mack, safety Tanard Jackson and cornerback Aqib Talib. Dexter Jackson and Sammie Stroughter also took reps returning punts.

The Bucs’ first-team kickoff coverage unit consisted of Mack, Piscitelli, Hayward, Allen, Nicholson, kicker Mike Nugent, Black, Koutouvides, Smith and Clark, with Stovall rotating in for him.

The first-team kick return team consisted of Mack (who took a rep in place of Smith) and Stovall back as returners, Gilmore, defensive tackle Roy Miller, fullback B.J. Askew and Hayward as the primary blockers closest to the goal line, and linebacker Matt McCoy, Black, Koutouvides, Hayes and Allen as the front line closest to the kickoff.

Smith, Mack, Kareem Huggins and Kelly Campbell were the team’s primary kick returners during Tuesday’s practice.

Now on to Wednesday morning’s session, which was in full pads and postponed for 30 minutes due to thunderstorms about 40 minutes into practice.

Missing practice due to injury were linebacker Angelo Crowell (hamstring), tight end Kellen Winslow (ankle), wide receiver Antonio Bryant (knee), and wide receiver Joel Filani. Winslow seems to be ready to play if the Bucs had a game. He ran a suicide sprint with the offense at the end of practice.

Pewter Report has stated earlier in the offseason that Crowell is not guaranteed to make the team despite signing a big contract, and that suggestion may be coming closer to being a reality. Crowell missed half the OTAs due to swelling in his knee and has not come close to challenging  Black and Hayes for the starting strongside linebacker spot. Now Crowell is expected to miss a week with a hamstring injury, which will only set him back further.

The precedence for cutting a "name" player like Crowell can be traced to players like cornerback Terrell Buckley and defensive back Eugene Wilson, who didn't make the team last year. If Crowell doesn't get healthy quick and start making plays, he won't be able to catch up to Black and Hayes, who are regulars on special teams, too.

Wide receiver Michael Clayton and tight end Jason Pociask went in early with injuries. Clayton’s injury was a hamstring pull.

In warm-ups in the rain the Buccaneers receivers did a good job of catching the wet passes. There were only two drops by the receivers. Dexter Jackson and Kelly Campbell were the guilty parties, but those were their only drops of balls that were increasingly slippery.

The defensive linemen were working on running through the bags and dummies, simulating pass rushing the quarterback. Rookie defensive tackle Roy Miller is short and squatty and plays with a great, natural leverage. His technique and tempo have improved from the organized team activities (OTAs).

Defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson is one of the most active and violent defensive linemen when rushing the passer. Wilkerson uses his hands very well and is developing quite a chop to go along with his rip technique. Wilkerson could be in for a very good season.

The Bucs defensive tackles spent part of the individual drill shedding guards. Defensive coordinator Jim Bates was imploring defensive tackle Greg Peterson to be more forceful with his punch.

“Shoot those hands, Greg! Shoot ‘em!” Bates yelled.

The secondary worked on tracking the ball and did some interception drills. One thing that has stood out during all six training camp practices (not including Tuesday’s special teams workout), is that strong safety Sabby Piscitelli hasn’t made many plays, but there’s a reason for that. He’s not getting challenged in practices. Quarterbacks are making a conscience effort to stay away from number 21 with their passes. This time last year, Piscitelli was picking off passes left and right. This year, he’s been much quieter on the field, but he has hardly given up any big plays, either. Thus far, Piscitelli’s camp has been uneventful, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

It will be interesting to see if cornerback Elbert Mack continues to shine during training camp. If he does, and proves that he’s the best cornerback, does that mean that he replaces Aqib Talib, last year’s first-round pick, or 34-year old Ronde Barber in the starting lineup? Logic would say that Barber might be the guy, given the fact that Tampa Bay is undergoing a youth movement.

Although Barber can still play at a high level, according to Bates the other day, his body might do a better job of holding up over the course of 16 games by playing exclusively in the nickel package, which the team runs about 40-50 percent of the time. But don’t count the intensively competitive Barber out just yet.

Right before the rain delay, the Bucs were practicing their goal line defense in the group install. The defensive line consisted of Wilkerson at left end, Miller, Ryan Sims and Chris Hovan at defensive tackle and Gaines Adams at right end. Piscitelli was the left safety lined up behind Wilkerson and Will Allen was the right safety lined up behind Adams. Tanard Jackson was lined up next to Piscitelli in the middle of the defense as a fourth linebacker, joining Quincy Black, Barrett Ruud and Jermaine Phillips as the last line of defense.

When the team resumed its practice after rain delay the Bucs were in the midst of a live tackling, full contact goal line drill. This quick period featured mostly runs and before Pewter Report could make it out to the field, the defense apparently had made a couple stops because they wound up winning the period by one play, according to middle linebacker Barrett Ruud. However, Bucs head coach Raheem Morris told the media that the defense won 7-3 – despite the officials signaling more than three touchdowns.

Earnest Graham scored a touchdown off right tackle, but was stuffed inside on the next play. Derrick Ward scored a touchdown off left tackle following two runs by Graham.

Byron Leftwich went to the air on the next play, throwing a touchdown pass to fullback Jameel Cook in the left flat. Safety Donte Nicholson was late getting over to cover Cook.

The offense continued to thrive in goal line, with Graham scoring another touchdown off left tackle. However, the defense rose up on the next play, which featured Luke McCown throwing a pass to fullback B.J. Askew in the right flat. Linebacker Quincy Black, who has had a phenomenal camp, made the touchdown-saving tackle.

Kareem Huggins was ruled down on the next play on a run up the middle. With Josh Freeman in at quarterback, Clifton Smith got a rep as a goal line back with rookie Josh Vaughan in at fullback. Both backs got stuffed from a big surge up the middle from the defense.

Freeman’s play-action pass to tight end Jerramy Stevens on the next play was batted down in the end zone by middle linebacker Rod Wilson.

Huggins tried to go inside on the last goal line rep, but was denied. However, he spun to his left at the last instance and got the ball across the goal line.

The Bucs receivers and cornerbacks had a spirited 1-on-1 session with all three quarterbacks except for Leftwich taking part. Freeman threw a great slant pass to Stovall, who was defended by Talib.

Josh Johnson’s slant to Clayton was broken up by Barber.

McCown’s pass to Dexter Jackson fell out of Jackson’s hands after he beat cornerback Kyle Arrington. Arrington had gotten a great bump at the line of scrimmage, but Jackson was physical on the play and was able to recover and dash past him – only to drop the pass.

McCown threw a comeback to Pat Carter, who beat cornerback DeAngelo Willingham.

Freeman’s pass to Clark was broken up by rookie cornerback E.J. Biggers, who had great coverage.

Johnson found Campbell with a mid-range comeback against Talib, who misread the play and kept running downfield.

McCown overthrew Clayton, who had beaten Barber, on a fade route.

Freeman’s pass to Sammie Stroughter was broken up by Arrington, who has had an up-and-down camp.

McCown hit Stovall on a great slant pass in front of defensive back C.J. Byrd.

Freeman hit Cortez Hankton in front of Willingham on a slant.

McCown hit Carter with a great fade pass downfield against Barber.

Freeman made a great throw to Clark in front of Talib. Clark ran a perfect skinny post pattern and Talib was a step slow in recognizing the route. Talib really struggled in coverage this morning.

Johnson and McCown threw a couple incompletions before Freeman’s pass to Campbell was broken up by Biggers, who had a very good morning practice.

McCown zipped a great throw to Stovall, who beat Talib on an out-and-up. After that play, in which Talib was out of position, the second-year cornerback was visibly frustrated.

The 1-on-1’s ended when Freeman’s slant pass to Clark was broken up by Barber, who had great coverage underneath, but struggled to keep up with some of the downfield throws.

Linebacker Adam Hayward had a great practice. He had impeccable coverage on tight end John Gilmore in a team session, and quarterback Josh Freeman was forced to throw the pass away. Later in practice in the 9-on-7 run scrimmage, Hayward stuffed a run by running back Earnest Graham at the line of scrimmage for no gain. On a pass from McCown to running back Josh Vaughan, Hayward flew across the field and put a devastating hit on Vaughan. If Hayward did not make the play Vaughan would have had a nice gain.

Another linebacker that had a good showing in the run scrimmage was Jermaine Phillips. The first run of the 9-on-7 session went for no gain as Phillips filled the hole that Ward tried to run through. Although Phillips did not wrap Ward up, and the veteran back was able to push ahead for a few yards. The next play Phillips did not let that happen. On a zone rush to the opposite side of Phillips, the veteran ran around the line and put a big hit on Cadillac Williams and took him to the ground at the line of scrimmage for no gain.

The defense did a good job of stuffing the running lanes overall in this part of the practice. Wilson had some good plays denying the running backs from getting up field. Wilson tackled Graham and Williams for minimal gains on consecutive plays. Black got into the act with a nice form tackle of Smith at the line of scrimmage.

During the special teams portion of practice the Bucs worked on punts. The starting punt coverage team had the following players on it: Stovall, Nicholson, Black, Hayward, Economos, Hayes, Jackson, Askew, Koutouvides, Clark, and Bidwell. Subbing in with the first unit was Mack and Smith. Smith was taking reps as a personal protector for the punter.

The Buccaneers also practiced getting reps for their gunners, and gunner blockers. The player that had the most impressive play as a gunner was wide receiver Dexter Jackson. The second-year wide receiver juked and knifed through Tanard Jackson and Talib in an instant to break loose downfield. The play generated a lot of cheers from teammates, and Talib signaled to Tanard Jackson that it was his fault that the gunner was able to break through.

During the 11-on-11 portion of practice, Dexter Jackson made another great play. Jackson caught a pitch on an end around at the 20-yard line. Jackson had the edge sealed from a massive block from Gilmore. Wilkerson had a bead on Jackson close to the line of scrimmage, but Gilmore came from Wilkerson’s side and blasted the veteran defensive end. It was one of the bigger hits thus far in training camp, and Gilmore and the offensive players were celebrating the block afterwards.

Jackson raced downfield for the end zone, but was tackled at the 1-yard line by Hayes, defensive end Stylez White, and Biggers. Jackson may have made it in if he would have dove for the end zone at about the two or three-yard line, but Jackson showed good speed in racing downfield to get close to the end zone.

Wilkerson came back to stuff a run by Ward. Defensive end Gaines Adams beat left tackle James Lee for a sack on Leftwich that in a game would have wiped out a nice completion to Clayton. The veteran receiver caught a 10-yard pass and shed a tackle to pickup an extra five to eight yards. Clayton was tackled forward and the ball came out, but the referee ruled that Clayton was down. Biggers recovered the near fumble.

Leftwich connected for a touchdown pass to tight end Ryan Purvis. Leftwich threw a fastball into Purvis from 10 yards away and the rookie tight end held onto the ball despite a big hit from Black. Safety Tanard Jackson was exhibiting frustration after the play, and perhaps should have come up to cover Purvis from the back of the end zone.

The offensive line and defensive line did another 1-on-1 pass protection drill. Quarterback Josh Johnson stood at the marker when the ball was snapped and moved back out of the way if the rushers came close. Black got in the 1-on-1 session on Wednesday morning. On his first rep, Black jumped offsides and the lines had to reset. Both attempts saw Black rushing from left defensive end and going against tackle Demar Dotson. Black had his first rush stuffed easily by Dotson, the rep ended with slapping of the facemask by each player. Black was chopping Dotson’s hands away and hit Dotson’s grill in the process. Dotson shoved back and hit Black in the helmet a few times. On his second rush, Black beat Dotson with some speed to the outside and a cutback to the middle.

Adams and right tackle Jeremy Trueblood each had a victory in two battles. Adams won the first when he used a very good rip move to get under Trueblood and got to the marker. Defensive line coach Todd Wash celebrated with Adams after that play. The next rep had Adams try to beat Trueblood with a bull rush that went nowhere. Trueblood barely moved, and a frustrated Adams got some instruction from Bates after the play.

Left tackle Donald Penn won both of his reps against White. Penn has done a good job of riding the ends out and around the pocket throughout training camp. Left guard Jeremy Zuttah had some impressive reps against Hovan. Zuttah anchored well against Hovan’s bull rush, and beat the veteran tackle on both tries.

After struggling with some speed rushers like Wilkerson in previous days, right guard Davin Joseph had no trouble blocking the powerful Sims.

One of the most impressive pass rushes came from defensive tackle Dre Moore, who took starting center Jeff Faine right onto the quarterback marker in a couple of seconds. Faine was very angry with himself after that play.

Another impressive bull rush came from Miller, who quickly beat guard Rob Bruggeman. Fellow rookie defensive linemen Kyle Moore started out well with a fast spin move and he looked like he was going to win his rep, but right tackle Anthony Alabi recovered enough to push Moore out and around.

The Bucs broke off into 7-on-7 red zone drills with Pewter Report watching the starters with McCown and Leftwich throwing the ball. McCown started off the session with an outlet pass to Askew that Talib had well covered.

Leftwich was in for a pair of plays, rifling a beautiful pass to Hankton against Talib for a touchdown on the first one, then having Dexter Jackson drop a touchdown with Arrington in coverage.

McCown’s pass to Clark down the middle fell incomplete when Clark turned the wrong way and was attempting to catch the ball over the wrong shoulder. But McCown did find Clayton for a nice gain over the middle on the next pass.

Leftwich hit Stovall across the middle on the following play, then zipped a touchdown pass to Dexter Jackson in the corner of the end zone with Arrington trailing in coverage.

Great coverage forced McCown to scramble for yardage on his next snap, followed by a pass intended for Hankton that was broken up by Barber in the end zone.

Leftwich’s final two throws were rocket touchdowns as he nailed Clayton on a slant in the end zone with Mack in tight coverage, and hitting a wide open Clark in the left flat for a touchdown to end the session. Clayton’s hamstring pull occurred on the touchdown when he slipped on the wet grass.

From what Pewter Report has seen from Leftwich, and to some degree McCown, the Bucs’ red zone offense should be much more productive in 2009 than it was last year, which ranked near the bottom of the NFL.

The Bucs offense ran a gasser during practice because the offense lost to the defense in the goal line drills, and the entire team ran a gasser when Ward bumped an official while protesting a call.

Leftwich was the clear winner this morning in the QB battle. He had his strongest showing to date with multiple touchdown passes in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills. His best throw might have been a fade into the end zone to Stevens, throwing it right on the money off his back foot. Leftwich avoided turnovers today and would have probably only taken a sack or two. His decision-making was fast and right on this morning.

McCown had a decent practice, but not a great one. He was inconsistent play-to-play and series to-series. McCown wasn’t bad, he just wasn’t in Leftwich’s class this morning. Leftwich clearly outshined him and may have pulled into the lead in the minds of the Bucs’ brass in terms of the QB battle. If he's not in the lead, Leftwich has at least pulled even with McCown based on the last two practices.

Once again, Freeman got limited reps outside of the junior varsity 7-on-7 session, and appears to be out of the mix to start the season opener unless he miraculously lights it up in the preseason.

Leftwich 2, McCown 2, Freeman 0

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