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The Buccaneers took to the field at Raymond James Stadium for their first night practice of training camp. A crowd of more than 12,000 fans was on hand to watch the team, which was dressed in shells (shoulder pads, helmets and shorts). The night was rain-free, but hot and humid with a mild breeze. Temps at the start of practice at 7:00 p.m. were still around 90 degrees.
The Buccaneers had two players sitting out with injuries. Defensive tackle Greg Peterson (knee) and defensive end Louis Holmes (ankle) were unable to participate. Holmes injured his ankle in the morning practice, and had a protective boot around the ankle and was using crutches while observing practice.
The quarterbacks and wide receivers spent a lot of the early part of practice working on their timing by running different routes downfield. In particular they were working on deep outs, slants, digs, and go-routes. Wide receiver Dexter Jackson made a great catch with his hands while dragging his back foot to maintain the completion before going out of bounds. Tight end Jerramy Stevens made a fabulous one-handed catch while running down the deep middle of the field.
After that the offense worked on the installation of a package of plays against a blitzing nickel defense. The quarterbacks made many quick passes on hot routes, but the point of emphasis for the installation was the pre-snap reading of the defense, and the first second after the snap of picking up the blitz.
A key component of this was motioning a slot receiver or tight end near the offensive line. The quarterback and slot receiver would use the motion to try and identify which outside defender was moving to cover the receiver and which defender was showing blitz. The slot receiver would point before the snap to the defender that they thought was blitzing. The Bucs used some interesting sets with receivers and tight ends in this installation. One of them was wide receiver Brian Clark lining up as an H-back.
In the rushing scrimmage, the Bucs offense had some good runs. The defense seemed to do a better job defending the run at night compared to their showing in the morning practice. Running back Derrick Ward made some nice cuts on one run and beat defensive tackle Chris Hovan to get up field for five yards before defensive tackle Ryan Sims and linebacker Jermaine Phillips closed on him.
During the field goal attempts in the practice, both kickers, Matt Bryant and Mike Nugent, were perfect on their field goal attempts. The Bucs also worked on kick coverage, and punt return protection. There were some fierce battles between the gunners and the return blockers.
The most furious of them was with wide receiver Maurice Stovall at gunner, and he was double-teamed by cornerback Aqib Talib and safety Tanard Jackson. Stovall fought hard, but Talib and Jackson did a good job of keeping Stovall from breaking free. Talib, in particular, got in some powerful blocks that kept Stovall from maintaining his balance and momentum. Sammie Stroughter also excelled at fighting through the two vise guys on punt coverage and was fast and physical.
Among those returning punts tonight were Stroughter, Clifton Smith, Kareem Huggins, Brian Clark,, Dexter Jackson and Cadillac Williams. In fact, Williams received a ton of work as a punt returner during the night practice, catching punts from the JUGGS machine in addition to live drill punts from Josh Bidwell. Williams fielded all the punts cleanly.
In the seven-on-seven scrimmage portion of practice, quarterback Luke McCown started at quarterback. McCown’s practice was not as sharp as the morning, although he did not have any mistakes like interceptions. McCown worked the short passing game and connected on a lot of quick slant passes to receivers. McCown hit on those to Clark, Stovall, Bryant, and tight end Kellen Winslow.
The Bucs continued to split up the 7-on-7 reps into two groups with Leftwich and McCown on one end of the field with mostly starters and backups and Josh Freeman and Josh Johnson on the other end of the field with some second-stringers and the third- and fourth-stringers. Freeman and Johnson worked with running backs Huggins and Josh Vaughan, tight ends Jason Pociask and Ryan Purvis and receivers Jackson, Joel Filani, Pat Carter, Kelly Campbell and Stroughter. They faced linebackers Geno Hayes, Rod Wilson and Adam Hayward, and defensive backs Torrie Cox, E.J. Biggers, C.J. Byrd, Marshall McDuffie and DeAngelo Willingham.
Freeman threw behind Carter on his first pass, which fell incomplete. His second pass was intended for Pociask, but was broken up underneath by Hayes and Willingham. His third pass found its target as he hit Stroughter perfectly in stride on an effortless quick slant against Willingham.
Johnson hit Stroughter in stride on an out to the sidelines in between Hayward and McDuffie. Huggins dropped a very catchable pass from Johnson on a crossing route.
The drops continued as Pociask couldn’t haul in a well-thrown pass from Freeman moments later. But Freeman rebounded a few plays later, throwing another perfect slant – this time to Jackson – who beat Biggers across the middle for a touchdown. That play was sandwiched in between another drop by Pociask on a throw from Freeman, which was a little too high this time.
After watching this round of 7-on-7, it’s clear that Freeman is better than Johnson, but not yet in the same league as Leftwich or McCown.
The receivers did a good job of holding onto the ball as defenders covered them closely and slapped at the ball to try and force an incompletion. Clark got away from his defender and had a good gain into the secondary before Tanard Jackson and fellow safety Sabby Piscitelli closed on him. There were a couple of plays that McCown did not get off before the play clock expired, and that were the most glaring mistakes that McCown had in practice.
McCown had a nice play later where he was pressured by defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson. McCown scrambled, and if it was a live game Wilkerson may have had a sack, but McCown moved out of the pocket and threw downfield to Jackson, who made a diving catch, and held onto the ball when he landed hard on the ground. Many players, including defensive coaches, were praising Jackson after that catch. Jackson, who had a sensational morning practice, starred once again during the night practice.
Wilkerson did a get a sack later in the practice. He and defensive end Greg White met at quarterback Byron Leftwich and the play was blown dead. Wilkerson came from left defensive end and White from right defensive end. Leftwich didn’t have much of a chance as Wilkerson was there quickly with White just a half second later.
McCown and Clark connected again on a hot read in the 11-on-11 scrimmage. The veteran quarterback had to make the pass quickly because cornerback Ronde Barber was coming free on a blitz. Barber had some good pass pressure on a number of blitzes during the team scrimmage.
McCown made a similar play later, throwing to a wide-open Stevens after a roll out for big yardage. He also hit Winslow with a beautiful pass along the sidelines in front of cornerback Elbert Mack.
Barber had struggled during the morning practice, but rebounded Saturday night and was able to keep up with Jackson stride for stride on an overthrown pass by McCown.
McCown had a slant completion to wide receiver Kelly Campbell broken up by safety Will Allen. Later in the practice Allen had a dropped interception that was as easy an interception as a safety can ask for. Leftwich threw the pass behind Bryant, who tried to make a one-handed catch reaching behind him, but he couldn’t corral the pass and it deflected softly into the air. Allen was right there and had the ball falling down into his hands but he juggled the ball and let it fall to the ground. Allen was very angry with himself after that play.
After a rough morning session in which he was routinely beaten, cornerback Aqib Talib bounced back in the first plays of 7-on-7 during the night practice, breaking up a deep pass from McCown to Antonio Bryant in the end zone.
But he wasn’t so lucky a few snaps later as he and safety Tanard Jackson were beaten down the right sidelines by Michael Clayton who hauled in a touchdown bomb from Leftwich, which led to the cannons at Raymond James Stadium firing.
Leftwich had some excellent passes during the Saturday night session, and did a great job of completing passes downfield. Leftwich and Bryant hooked up for a long touchdown pass that Bryant snared with one-hand just as he crossed the goal line. Bryant had beaten Mack on a go-route.
Leftwich also threw a beautiful deep pass to Jackson, who was tracked down after 40 yards by Piscitelli, who made a touchdown-saving tackle. Leftwich had a nice completion down the seam to Stevens. The savvy veteran did a good job of looking off a safety by staring at a wide receiver before coming back to the middle of the field for Stevens.
Leftwich had another great read when he surveyed the field before going down the sideline to Stroughter who had beaten Byrd down the sideline. Willingham came over to get to Stroughter, but the speedy wide out made a great cut and exploded past Willingham who over pursued. Stroughter slanted across the field and raced into the end zone for a touchdown.
Leftwich threw another touchdown pass on a beautiful rollout. The big quarterback spotted Maurice Stovall, who had gotten behind safety Donte Nicholson and cornerback Torrie Cox, and heaved a 50-yard bomb to the 5-yard line. Stovall hauled in the pass and trotted into the end zone for a touchdown.
But Leftwich’s night continued to be uneven as he threw late to Clayton across the middle and the pass was tipped by cornerback Torrie Cox and into the waiting arms of Tanard Jackson, who returned the pick for a touchdown.
The night practice ended on a touchdown run off right tackle when lineman Demar Dotson sealed off linebacker Matt McCoy, allowing Vaughan to burst free on a 50-yard jaunt for the score.
The only apparent injury during practice was to rookie guard Marc Dile, who walked to the locker room with the medical staff.
PEWTER REPORT’S QB SCORECARD 8/1 P.M. Quarterback Luke McCown was not the play-making force that Byron Leftwich was on Saturday night. But he wasn’t the turnover machine Leftwich was, either. Leftwich was a mad bomber, throwing a ton of long distance touchdown passes, but suffered through two interceptions, including one to Elbert Mack, who finished the day with two picks, and a dropped pick Saturday night.
Leftwich took a couple sacks by holding onto the ball too long, but McCown did not do a great job of managing the play clock, either. As much as Pewter Report wants to give Leftwich the nod in tonight’s scorecard for all of the points he scored, McCown didn’t make any plays that would have gotten his team beat. Because he was smart and efficient with the ball, albeit unspectacular, McCown edges Leftwich in tonight’s practice – but he must throw more touchdowns.
Josh Freeman’s reps with the starters were limited, and it appeared that he looked better in the morning than Saturday night. Josh Johnson had a lackluster Saturday night practice.