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The Buccaneers held one practice Thursday, taking the field for a two-hour workout this afternoon.
The players sported full pads and helmets for the practice, which was held in temperatures in the 90s and under partly cloudy skies and in hot and humid conditions.
Several players were held out of Thursday's practice with their respective injuries, including wide receivers Michael Clayton (hamstring), Antonio Bryant (knee) and Joel Filani (hamstring), linebacker Angelo Crowell (hamstring), defensive end Kyle Moore (shoulder) and center Jeff Faine (groin).
The Bucs began the practice with warm-up sessions. The receiving drills were a little sloppy. Running backs Earnest Graham and Josh Vaughan, and wide receiver Dexter Jackson dropped passes during this particular part of practice.
For the second straight day, Bucs rookie WR Sammie Stroughter made a nice, one-handed catch at the beginning of practice. Stroughter's great grab was short-lived, though, as he dropped a slant pass during a session where the receivers practiced running slant routes.
Stroughter wasn't the only receiver guilty of dropping passes during this drill. Maurice Stovall and Pat Carter also dropped passes.
Speaking of the wide receivers, Bucs WRs coach Richard Mann put his players through a brief ball security session where the players were required to catch the ball and run up field while their fellow receivers hit them with a blocking pad. Each player did a good job of holding onto the football.
The defensive backs worked on the middle practice field, practicing intercepting passes at their highest point. As usual, Bucs second-year cornerback Aqib Talib shined here, showing impressive athleticism and hands.
Tampa Bay's defensive linemen worked on the dummy bag drills while the quarterbacks practiced throwing the ball to each other. This was the most work second-year QB Josh Johnson would see Thursday, as most of the reps went to Luke McCown, Byron Leftwich and rookie Josh Freeman.
While Leftwich and McCown took the majority of reps at quarterback, Leftwich appeared to take a few more, and he took advantage of most of his opportunities this afternoon.
The Bucs didn't do a lot of running during this particular practice, but when they did a lot of toss sweeps were called for the running backs. Graham did not take a lot of reps and appeared to be getting some rest while rookie Kareem Huggins and Cadillac Williams received some extra work. Derrick Ward was sidelined with a minor foot injury that isn't expected to keep him out of action long. One of Williams' runs really stood out when he found a hole in the middle and hit it hard for a decent gain.
Tampa Bay's defensive line and offensive line squared off during one part of practice outside of full team drills. But instead of going 1-on-1, the linemen went 2-vs.-2. This drill featured a lot of stunting by the defensive linemen. It was difficult to gauge who performed well in this drill because we aren't sure of the player assignments, but DT Ryan Sims found his way into the backfield quite a few times during this drill.
During the first 11-on-11 session, Leftwich hit WR Kelly Campbell down the left seam. Safety Sabby Piscitelli dove in an attempt to break up the pass, but Leftwich's throw had some heat on it and was hauled in by Campbell, who turned up field for a big gain.
One of Leftwich's next throws came off a play-action rollout to the right. He fired the pass to Carter, who caught the ball in-between CB Elbert Mack and S Donte Nicholson. This particular play produced a 25-yard gain.
Leftwich did a better job of getting the ball out of his hands in a timely manner this afternoon, especially on some of the shorter throws, like one particular dump off to Clark on a drag route during a 9-on-7 drill.
Leftwich once again attempted to hook up with Clark, who was receiving extra work due to Clayton's absence, but this time his pass was nearly intercepted by CB Ronde Barber. However, Clark did a great job of breaking up the pick to force an incompletion.
From there, Leftwich caught fire, throwing a 40-yard touchdown pass deep down the right sideline to WR Cortez Hankton, who beat Talib on the play while Tanard Jackson was late coming over in coverage.
On the very next play, Leftwich put his strong arm on display again, throwing a 40-yard bomb and touchdown to Stroughter, who became wide open when CB Torrie Cox fell in coverage and Nicholson came over late to defend the pass.
Towards the end of practice, Leftwich threw a pass to the flat for TE Kellen Winslow, who hauled it in and showed impressive athleticism while keeping his balance and moving up field between linebacker Jermaine Phillips and Piscitelli.
But Winslow dropped a pass from McCown just a few plays later with middle linebacker Niko Koutouvides in tight coverage across the middle of the field.
Leftwich found the end zone again during the final 11-on-11 period, connecting with Dexter Jackson down the left seam. Jackson beat Mack, who was unusually shaky today, on the play.
McCown had a mixed outing again today, but he started off strong, completing a missile to Clark on a slant. Tanard Jackson had good coverage, but it was a great pass by McCown for a 12-yard gain.
McCown followed up that impressive throw by pump-faking and launching a deep pass down the left sideline to Dexter Jackson, who was wide open for the touchdown due to some confusion in coverage between Mack and Piscitelli.
McCown's next deep pass, which was intended for Carter down the left sideline, fell incomplete, but it drew a pass interference penalty from Tanard Jackson.
From there, McCown appeared to lose some momentum, throwing a pass over tight end Jerramy Stevens' head.
During the next 11-on-11 session, McCown threw a nice pass to Stovall on a slant with safety Will Allen in coverage. Defensive end Stylez G. White had a good pass rush on the play. White was flagged for being offsides later in practice.
There was some miscommunication on offense as well. On one particular play during an 11-on-11 drill, McCown's pass towards the sideline for Stovall was way off the mark. It appeared McCown thought Stovall was going to run a route towards the sideline, but instead, No. 85 simply stopped and looked for the ball down the seam.
McCown began to find his stride in the passing game during the final team period, but he didn't receive help from Dexter Jackson, who attempted to catch the ball, but couldn't due to the tight coverage by Barber.
Freeman saw an increased number of reps this afternoon, but he struggled with accuracy and decision-making. One of his first throws of practice was a sign of things to come when he threw a ball well behind Stovall on a crossing route.
Freeman started his first 11-on-11 session strong, completing a nicely thrown ball to Campbell between cornerback E.J. Biggers and saftety C.J. Byrd. That play produced a 25-yard gain, but Campbell injured his quad on the play and did not return to practice. The injury isn't believed to be serious. He is listed as day-to-day.
During his next set of reps, Freeman completed a pass to Stroughter across the middle, but another pass attempt to Stroughter was too high and fell incomplete.
During his next series, Freeman threw a pass short to tight end Ryan Purvis, which resulted in an incompletion.
Towards the end of practice, Freeman had a throw that was so off the mark you couldn't even tell who the pass what intended for as it sailed towards the sideline. But the rookie also didn't get help from his receivers. During the same 11-on-11 period, Freeman had a nicely thrown ball dropped by Carter.
However, Freeman finished the practice on a strong note, putting up a nice pass down the right sideline for Hankton, who did a great job of going up for the ball and hauling it in with cornerback Marshall McDuffie in tight coverage.
The one rep Josh Johnson received during a 9-on-7 session was completed to Stevens for a short gain.
One defensive player really stole the show this afternoon, and that player was linebacker Quincy Black. But Black was at his best as a rush end, which the team has been experimenting with this offseason and into camp.
During an 11-on-11 session, Black beat tackle Anthony Alabi around the corner to sack Leftwich. A few reps later, Black used his speed and athleticism to get by tackle Demar Dotson to sack McCown. On the very next play, Black found similar success against Dotson, sacking McCown again before the signal caller ever had a chance to throw the ball.
Pass rushing wasn't the only area Black excelled in this afternoon. During the final full team period, Winslow hauled in a short pass from Leftwich on a crossing route, but Black popped the ball out of Winslow's hands from behind, which allowed Barber to recover the fumble.
Black wasn't the only player that got to the quarterback Thursday. Bucs defensive lineman Chris Bradwell worked his way past Alabi for a sack on McCown during an 11-on-11 session. Defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson also sacked McCown after working his way past TE John Gilmore during a full team period.
The shaky offensive line play came mostly from Tampa Bay's backups, but starting LT Donald Penn was guilty of a false start during a full team drill. Immediately after making that mistake, Penn was seen taking a lap around the football field as punishment.
Before Penn could even catch his breath from that lap, he found himself running again, this time with the entire offense, which had lost a third down-to-go period. The players and coaches had to run the suicide together.
As usual, the Bucs dedicated a portion of practice to special teams work. Williams and Clifton Smith took turns fielding punts and did a good job of fielding balls cleanly. Tanard Jackson also saw a lot of special teams work, which allowed Allen to take some reps at free safety with the first-team defense Thursday.
Bucs head coach Raheem Morris allowed his players to practice without pads on Wednesday afternoon and has cancelled Friday afternoon's special teams workout for a team activity. But that doesn't mean the head coach is becoming a softy. He made the entire team, coaches included, run a suicide at one point during Thursday's practice for getting too close to the huddle on the field.
PEWTER REPORT QB SCORECARD Leftwich is picking up steam in a tight battle for the starting quarterback job. He is getting the ball out of his hands quicker and taking less sacks while putting on a clinic in the deep passing game, which has resulted in several touchdowns to receivers. More importantly, Leftwich is showing consistency, which is something he lacked at the beginning of camp.
McCown hasn't been terrible, but he'll have to start making more plays downfield to stay in this competition. While McCown was sacked several times today, it wasn't because he was holding onto the football too long. It was just a matter of poor pass protection, mostly from the second- and third-team offensive lines.