Prior to the the first day of mini-camp, Tampa had received two days of heavy rain, which cooled things off a bit for both of Friday's practices. Temperatures at One Buccaneer Place were in the high 80s and the combination of the two days of rain along with a nice breeze kept temperatures bearable Friday.
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden had his players sport helmets with their practice jerseys -- the offense in white jerseys and white shorts, and the defense in red jerseys and red shorts -- for both practices.
Tampa Bay has a total of 88 players on its roster, but seven of those players are NFL Europe exemptions.
Both the morning and afternoon practice sessions started off with routine stretching exercise and warm-up drills for both the offensive and defensive players.
From there, the coaches worked with their respective players on the two fields at One Buc Place.
While Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and defensive line coach Rod Marinelli watched the defensive linemen run dummy drills on the south end of the far field, Gruden took the quarterbacks over to the south side of the closest field. There, Gruden had his signal-callers, including rookie QB Chris Simms, run routine handoff and pitch drills.
Bucs offensive line coach/offensive coordinator Bill Muir worked with his unit on the opposite side of the closest field. Jim Pyne, a former Bucs player and new offensive quality control coach, spent most of his time during both practices with Muir and the offensive line.
Muir was telling his linemen to "step and strike" and "establish an attack mentality." New offensive line assistant coach Jim Pyne was taking particular interest in new undrafted free agent offensive lineman Anthony Davis, who like Pyne, played at Virginia Tech.
Rookie center Austin King shows top effort in drills. He was probably the lone offensive lineman who consistently played through the whistle in the morning session. Maybe it's because he is wearing No. 62, but King looks like Jeff Christy on the field at first glance. He's short at 6-foot-2, but seems to be a real heady, focused player. Although Christy's smallish frame didn't win him many supporters among Bucs fans, he was a good center in his prime. If King can mimic Christy's career, that wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing.
Rookie tackle Lance Nimmo needs to work on keeping his blocking base, but has good size.
New left guard Jason Whittle was running with the starters in place of Cosey Coleman, who was relegated to second string. Whittle is a very aggressive player who shows good quickness and explosion initially. Although it's way too early to begin evaluating offensive linemen, especially without pads, Whittle's quick hands and feet are apparent, and he would have that quickness if he was in pads or not.
Unfortunately, Whittle suffered a broken fibula about one hour into the team's afternoon practice. He'll be sidelined for a month and the Bucs expect him to be ready before the team reports to Orlando for training camp on July 18.
New center Jason Wade stood out in morning drills. At times he showed a very good, wide base, which is impressive because of his tall, 6-foot-4 frame. He appears to have good balance and does a solid job controlling his leverage. Like Christy, he appears to have the range to get to the next level of defenders.
Rookie center Sean Mahan shows the ability to effectively pull and drive block, which were his supposed strengths. We'll have to wait to see how effective he is in pass protection, but the initial book report on Mahan is that he is a capable run blocker and seems to show those traits. In group drills, defensive tackle Warren Sapp relished the opportunity to go up against the rookie, and in their first encounter, Mahan didn't fare too well. But that was to be expected.
One of the things that stood out about Gruden's first mini-camp as Bucs' head coach was how he demanded his offense to line up and get the plays off in 15 seconds or less. He's demanding the same of his offense this year. On several occasions during the morning session, "Chucky" scolded his offense for not lining up and snapping the ball in a "timely" manner. He did not, however, have to remind his offense to get plays off in 15 second or less during the afternoon session.
One of the few lows in the morning session was tight end Ken Dilger's performance. Dilger had sneaked past free safety Dwight Smith on a fly pattern and had him beat by about five yards on a flea flicker play. Quarterback Brad Johnson threw a perfect pass about 40 yards downfield, but Dilger flat out dropped it. Dilger also drew Gruden's ire by blowing an assignment a few plays later, prompting the coach to scream, "What the (expletive) is my tight end doing?"
While quarterback Brad Johnson has the starting job locked up, the battle for the backup jobs between Shaun King, Jim MIller and Simms will be interesting.
Although he was picked off by Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Brooks during 7-on-7 drills, Brad Johnson had two solid practices on Friday. He doesn't have the strongest arm, but Johnson displayed the ability to hit receivers in stride on deep patterns. Don't get too excited, Bucs fans. Johnson threw plenty of deep balls during last year's mini-camps, but rarely launched those types of passes during games.
King is in great shape. He showed great mobility in and outside of the pocket, and he was able to make some plays upfield with his feet. But in the afternoon practice, King started to look a lot like former Bucs backup QB Rob Johnson, who had a tendency to take off with the ball before he even gave his receivers a chance to get open. King took snaps as the second-string quarterback for both of Friday's workouts. He isn't known for his arm strength, but some of King's passes suggested the five-year quarterback had used the offseason to help improve that aspect of his game. Arm strength isn't a necessity in Gruden's offense, but that attribute certainly won't hurt him.
Miller didn't throw a pass on Friday. He's still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. The Bucs expect Miller to be ready to throw when training camp starts on July 18.
While he's currently the third-string quarterback, rookie Chris Simms didn't receive a lot of reps during either one of Friday's practices. Simms displayed impressive arm strength, but was a little off in terms of accuracy due to first-day jitters. Simms also had trouble handling the snap count, but Gruden said Simms would get a better handle on that once he received more reps.
Fullback Jameel Cook, who is in a heated battle against Darian Barnes for the backup fullback spot this year, appears to be a little heavy. Conversely, Barnes showed good hands in pass catching drills and surprising speed after the catch. Barnes was primarily a blocker for Mike Alstott last year, but could see that role expand in 2003. This is his first offseason with the Bucs after being claimed off waivers from the New York Giants last September.
Bucs wide receiver Marquise Walker picked up right where he left off in training camp last year. Walker was on the receiving end of two lectures during Friday morning's practice. Bucs wide receivers coach Richard Mann yelled at Walker for lining up in the wrong formation on one play, and Gruden got after him a few plays later for motioning when he wasn't supposed to. Walker, a 2002 third-round draft pick, barely secured a spot on the Bucs' 53-man roster last year, and if his work ethic doesn't improve, his days as a Buc could be numbered.
Receiver Jacquez Green stood out on the football field for two different reasons. First, Green (5-10, 170) looks like a dwarf when he lines up with the likes of Keyshawn Johnson (6-4, 212), Joe Jurevicius (6-5, 230) and Keenan McCardell (6-1, 191). But the second reason Green stood out Friday was because of his speed. It's no secret that Green is a speedster, but that attribute is magnified when he lines up with Tampa Bay's taller, but slower receivers. It's still very early, but Gruden lined Green up in the slot and had him running crossing routes underneath the defense while the other receivers cleared out coverage by running routes upfield. Green could be very effective in this role, but only if he can shake press coverage, which is something he's struggled with in the past.
Bucs WR Charles Lee had a lot of balls thrown his way Friday. Lee took advantage by showing some good hands. Lee did, however, drop a easy catch on a slant pattern, but he more than made up for that play when he made a nice diving catch on the sideline a few plays later.
Both of Tampa Bay's practices were spirited to say the least, and it shouldn't come as a surprise that the defense displayed most of the enthusiasm.
Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Brooks, who is also the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, was up to his old tricks on Friday morning. Brooks, who recorded five interceptions last year, picked off Brad Johnson in 7-on-7 drills and took it to the house before lateralling to teammate Ronde Barber for the touchdown.
Newly acquired strongside linebacker Dwayne Rudd claimed he was the fastest player on Tampa Bay's defense when he signed with the team last month, and he certainly backed that statement up Friday by displaying some impressive speed during 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills. Rudd used his speed to his advantage, especially in pass coverage, where he made several passes defensed.
Speaking pass coverage, backup middle linebacker Nate Webster looks like he's improved that part of his game. Webster made one of the most impressive plays of the day when he went airborne in the middle of the field in order to defend a pass intended for WR Keyshawn Johnson.
Rookie defensive end Dwayne White had a very rough morning practice. The Bucs' second-round pick was not used to the heat, the humidity, the tempo of an NFL practice or the high intensity of defensive line coach Rod Marinelli. At times he appeared severely fatigued and on the verge of either throwing up or fainting, prompting Sapp to laugh and say, "You pass out before you die." White was sluggish at the end of the morning session and was often late getting off the ball as a result of it. Marinelli was riding White hard through out the morning, shouting, "You're late! You're late! You're still late off the ball!" Marinelli also lit into White and screamed, "Finish the (expletive) drill! That ain't good enough!" Marinelli is the best defensive line in the NFL and even though he comes across as a hard ass, he effectively pushes players to exceed up to and beyond his expectations. One day, when he is a polished veteran, Dewayne White will come to the aid of a young rookie defensive end who is undergoing Marinelli's baptism by fire on the first day of mini-camp much like Simeon Rice did for White today.
Ron Warner, feeling the heat at the crowded defensive end position, showed impressive speed and quickness against left tackle Dan Goodspeed.
Dwight Smith lined up across from John Lynch as the team's starting free safety. Smith, who had what was arguably the most impressive mini-camp of any Bucs player last year, had mixed results on Friday. The Bucs are hoping Smith's ballhawk skills produce more interceptions for the defense next season, but the job hasn't been handed to him yet. The team still likes the upside of second-year S Jermaine Phillips. Corey Ivy saw most of the action at nickel corner in place of Smith, but second-year corner Tim Wansley also received some significant looks on Friday.
Cornerback Torrie Cox has some quick hips and has good change of direction. The ability to change direction without slowing down is a vital trait for cornerbacks at the NFL level.
The Bucs didn't have too much special teams activity. Karl Williams, Jacquez Green and Aaron Stecker fielded punts during the morning practice.
Rookie Andy Groom, whose the only punter on Tampa Bay's current roster, displayed a very powerful and accurate leg during both of Friday's practices. The former Buckeye showed the ability to consistently directional punt, which is something NFL coaches feel most rookies lack when they first enter the NFL. Groom also held for kicker Martin Gramatica on field goal attempts. While the team might still re-sign Tom Tupa, Groom had an impressive first day to say the least.