Aside from linebacker Ryan Nece, who did some light running while continuing to rehab his torn anterior cruciate knee ligament, the only other Buc to sit out the morning practice was rookie center Austin King. King's left knee was wrapped in a neoprene brace and he walked with a slight limp.
As practice began, Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden showed some new wrinkles such as a reverse to Keyshawn Johnson and a "Rocket" back set featuring two halfbacks in the backfield. The team's two speedsters, Travis Stephens and Tony Taylor, were the "Rocket" backs.
In observing the wide receivers in pass catching drills, the athleticism of Onome Ojo and newcomer Jermaine White is apparent. Ojo is 6-foot-4 and weighs 205 pounds. White is 6-foot-6 and weighs 214. While both have great speed, agility, and decent hands, they need a lot of work catching the ball and running precise routes. They appear to be very raw prospects at this point, but exciting to watch nonetheless.
It's amazing that the only receiver the Bucs have really "developed" on the practice fields at One Buccaneer Place since the mid 1990s is Karl Williams, who was an undrafted free agent signee in 1996. Two recent big receivers that Tampa Bay has tried to develop, Darnell McDonald and Drew O'Connor, didn't pan out, and didn't really get top coaching from former coaches. Perhaps veteran receivers coach Richard Mann will have luck with either Ojo, who was on Tampa Bay's practice squad last year, or White.
Speaking of Williams, the eight-year veteran may not be the most physically talented player in terms of size and speed, but he's quick, catches the ball smoothly and does almost everything right on the practice field. I'm not sure how many more years Williams will remain in Tampa Bay, but he's career has not been a fluke. He's an incredibly hard worker who has gotten the most out of his ability.
Receiver Marquise Walker, last year's third-round pick, is certainly better than he was this time last year, but still gets chided too often by Gruden and Mann for lining up incorrectly or not running precise routes, which is inexcusable for a player who has already been in Gruden's system for a year. He must make his mark on special teams this year and work up from there, considering he will not beat out Keyshawn Johnson, Keenan McCardell or Joe Jurevicius for playing time.
Rookie quarterback Chris Simms did some rolling out on Saturday, and while you would think that his lanky, 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame would make him look a bit uncoordinated, Simms was actually rather mobile and smooth on his rollouts. He moved well and threw the ball accurately and with good velocity.
Simms has a tendency to throw high and behind receivers, but that could be attributed to some uncertainty of the playbook as well as some rookie nerves. While he's far from a finished product, Simms has some nice tools to develop and would best be served if he didn't see the field for at least two years. His body and his football knowledge need time to grow and develop. While he will face some extra scrutiny because of his knock for not winning the big games at Texas and because he's Phil Simms' son, he is a heck of nice kid who deserves a chance to succeed or fail based on his play in red and pewter, not burnt orange and white.
Simms got some individual coaching from quarterbacks coach Stan Parrish away from the team on another practice field in the morning session. Parrish and Simms worked on footwork and handoffs on running plays, as well as turning and moving with the ball after the snap.
Veteran quarterback Shaun King had one of the best practices he's ever had in terms of throwing the football on Saturday morning. He was precise, accurate and was definitive with his delivery. King may be playing a bit looser since the Bucs released Shane Matthews. He is getting plenty of reps as Brad Johnson's backup in mini-camp due to the fact that Jim Miller is still sidelined by his right throwing arm, which underwent rotator cuff surgery.
Offensive line coach Bill Muir preached to tackles Mitch White and Dan Goodspeed in drills about become quicker, more aggressive and more explosive. Both players need to do a better job moving their feet. "Let's see some suddenness," Muir said.
Right guard Cosey Coleman looked a bit more aggressive and focused on Saturday after being re-inserted into the starting lineup due to Jason Whittle's broken leg. But Coleman can't rest or give up an inch, because Whittle will be back and ready to go for training camp. Even though he had just one full practice under his belt, Whittle showed some tenacity and quickness that will push Coleman, who needs to do a better job finishing plays.
Coleman finished one play in the morning during an 11-on-11 drill when he pulled to the left from his right guard position and had a big collision with defensive end Corey White, who was knocked to the ground. Even though the coaches don't like seeing players who aren't in pads on the ground, they would like to see more of that type of effort and finish from Coleman.
The offensive line spent the morning practice working on pulling and turning movements. With players such as Jerry Wunsch, Pete Pierson, Jeff Christy and Russ Hochstein gone, it's apparent that this year's unit is much more active and athletic than last year's.
Offensive tackle Kenyatta Walker needs to continue to add more upper body strength to his frame. He engages defenders well, but has trouble sustaining blocks without giving up too much ground. Walker tends to get stood up at times and loses the power in his base. A stronger upper body would allow him to maintain a better base.
Cornell Green has been working at right tackle, but also took reps at right guard due to Whittle's absence. Green is improving after another year of Muir's teaching, but still needs to play lower. He also needs to get his hands lower. Because he comes up too high from his stance, his hands tend to get too close to his opponent's headgear, which could draw a penalty for hands to the face on Sundays.
Rookie guard Sean Mahan was given a bit of rookie hazing by Muir. After Mahan blew an assignment, Muir chimed in and joked, "I thought you Notre Dame guys were smart."
Defensive end Ron Warner, who started in place of the absent Simeon Rice on Saturday, continued an impressive mini-camp by putting together a solid three-play series against starting left tackle Roman Oben. Warner used his speed and balance on a shoulder dip move to get around Oben on one play, then on another play he faked going outside only to hard charge the inside. The one thing Warner must be wary of is when he goes low and dips the shoulder he is susceptible to being slammed to the ground by a tackle if the offensive lineman recognizes the move quick enough.
The current second team linebackers are Clayton White, Nate Webster and Justin Smith. Expect Nece to enter the mix when he returns to action in training camp.
Speaking of linebackers, Dwayne Rudd showed good speed in covering tight ends on Saturday. It was obvious that his head was swimming a bit while he adjusts to the Bucs' defense, but he certainly has the athletic ability to really play within this scheme. That's a judgment that can be made even without pads on.
Running back Michael Pittman seems to be more sure of the holes he's hitting, which could indicate a better grasp of the offensive system. It's important for him to start off the 2003 season the way he finished 2003.
For the second straight day, fullback Darian Barnes looked impressive catching the ball and running with it after the catch. Barnes was strictly a blocker last year, but appears to be working himself into the offense as a receiver as well. He runs as fast or faster than Alstott, which is quite impressive considering he is about 10 pounds heavier than the A-Train.
Rookie defensive end Dewayne White had a much better day on Saturday than he did on Friday. He knew what to expect and was focused on making a favorable impression. Defensive line coach Rod Marinelli also praised him for making noticeable progress.
The one area where White needs some work is keeping his feet moving when he is locked up. In one particular one-on-one battle with rookie offensive lineman Anthony Davis, White's feet stopped during his pass rush. The rule is if an offensive lineman creates a stalemate situation on a passing play, he wins, but if a defensive lineman creates a stalemate on a running play, he wins. Still, White showed a good spin move and has active hands, he just has to work on his feet.
Rookie defensive tackle Cleveland Pinkney hasn't had the best showing in mini-camp. He's trying to hard to make a favorable impression and he's losing sight of his fundamentals. Pinkney has jumped offsides on several occasions, which is a cardinal sin for a player so close to the snap of the ball. He has drawn the ire of Coach Marinelli throughout the weekend and needs to focus before he's sent packing.
Conversely, Bernard Riley, who is an undrafted free agent from Southern California, has been impressive in spurts. On Saturday, the young defensive tackle received a pat on the backside from Warren Sapp and some one-on-one coaching from the future Hall of Famer. Sapp has been known to spot talent in the past. Two years ago, he took a liking to undrafted rookie Chartric Darby, who wound up making the club that year and starting next to Sapp in Super Bowl XXXVII.
Dan Wilcox could be a sleeper at tight end. At 6-foot-1, he's shorter than Gruden would like for a tight end, but he has good hands and moves better with the ball than either Ken Dilger or Rickey Dudley. Wilcox has also played fullback and certainly moves like a back after the catch.
Pewter Report is going to nickname rookie punter Andy Groom "Andy Boom" for his booming leg. Groom kicks for distance and hang time and usually achieves both. He needs work on his directional kicking, but his leg strength is very impressive. The Bucs haven't re-signed Tom Tupa yet, preferring to get a full look at Groom over the entire mini-camp before doing so. Tampa Bay may also want to see how well he kicks on Sunday with a tired leg considering he has taken all of the punting reps during this mini-camp.
This is just a hunch, but expect Aaron Stecker to really challenge Travis Stephens for the backup halfback role. Stephens will get a long look because he didn't play last year and the coaches are anxious to see what he can do, but Stecker wants to make sure they don't become too enamored with the new guy and forget about the veteran.