Inside Bucs' Mini-Camp: Sunday

May 4 - The Bucs' Sunday practice was more of a review of the two previous days than an introduction of any new terminology as Tampa Bay finishes its first mini-camp of the 2003 season. Pewter Report has the inside scoop in this detailed report.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers spent most of the Sunday morning practice reviewing and fine tuning what they had learned from the first two days of mini-camp. A good amount of the practice was repetition work to make sure that everyone was on the same page, especially the 20-plus new players that were experiencing "Camp Gruden" for the first time in their professional career.

Speaking of head coach Jon Gruden, he only had one noticeable explosion during the two-hour workout. He spewed venom at second-year wide out Onome Ojo jumped when he jumped offside to get Chuckie's ire up to the boiling point.

The Bucs' mentor also had some words of praise for perennial whipping boy Marquise Walker. The first pick of the Gruden regime has been, to say the least, a flop in his first year. It's nice to see that the former University of Michigan standout is putting last year behind him and it's also nice to see that the head honcho is recognizing some good plays by No. 82 even if it's only in mini-camp. Maybe a change of number will bring a change in attitude and confidence for Walker.

The notable Bucs that were MIA for the Sunday practice were strong safety John Lynch and defensive tackle Warren Sapp on the defensive side of the football. Both were kept out of the final workout for precautionary reasons with No. 99 still on the mend from off-season knee surgery and No. 47 was sidelined with a sore hamstring. On offense rookie center Austin King spent the entire practice on the exercise bike rather than aggravate a leg injury and quarterback Jim Miller will be kept out of any throwing until, possibly, the beginning of training camp after having his throwing arm repaired after the 2002 season. Other than those four players the Bucs had a full compliment on the practice field at One Buc Place.

The offensive player that had the best overall session was wide receiver Charles Lee. During team period he caught a touchdown pass from quarterback Brad Johnson. Number 81 came from the slot on the left side of the formation and ran a crossing route to the flag on the right side of the gridiron. Johnson faked the off-tackle power play to running back Mike Alstott and free safety Dwight Smith made two mistakes on the play. First, No. 26 bit on the play-action fake and, secondly, he took a bad angle in picking up Lee crossing his face. Smith went for the interception and Johnson read that perfectly. Number 14 laid the ball up with some touch for the score instead of throwing a rope that would have been picked off. That's the difference between a cagey veteran and an untested rookie at the helm. Lee also had a big TD reception in the red zone offense period and was far and away the outstanding offensive player of the day.

Another good performance was by new center John Wade. It's very difficult for an offensive lineman to look good when practices are just helmets because they can't block. The key to blocking is to control the defensive player by getting below their pad level. When there's no pads it's almost impossible to block. Big No. 75 didn't let that small item stand in his way as he put middle linebacker Nate Webster on his butt on the first play of team period.

The Buccaneers really exploited their size at wide receiver and two plays really exemplified this. The first was in team when Ojo (6-foot-4) ran a sluggo (quick slant) route and cornerback Corey Ivy (5-foot-8) read it perfectly closing on the release of the ball. The football and both players arrived simultaneous at the same spot of the gridiron but the big man was able to corral the high throw that took advantage of his eight-inch size differential. The second was in goal line when a familiar combination – Johnson to Johnson – hooked up for six points. It was more of a jump ball at the goal line than a pass and No. 19 went high in the air to gobble up the pigskin.

Reserve quarterback Shaun King looks very comfortable in running the Gulf Shore offense and rightfully so. This is the first time in his five-year professional career that No. 10 will have the same offensive coordinator and offensive system two years in a row. He seems more confident and in control plus the former Tulane signal caller is seeing the entire field instead of locking on to one receiver.

Rookie quarterback Chris Simms is getting his feet wet slowly under the tutelage of Gruden and starting QB Brad Johnson. After every series Simms goes immediately to the veteran beginning his 12th National Football League campaign and he critiques the performance expounding pearls of wisdom only a player with over a decade of professional experience under center could do.

The most interesting, and scary, time for the defense was on the first play of team period as well. Defensive end Simeon Rice caught a helmet in the shoulder from defensive tackle Chartric Darby. Number 97 spent the next couple plays flexing the arm but didn't miss a play but there were a couple of Bucs coaches and higher ups in the organization holding their breath for a few minutes.

The defense was its normal intimidating self but wasn't getting the big-play turnovers that they had experienced the first two days. Free safety Jermaine Phillips had a shot at an overthrown ball in team period and a few other defenders got their hands on the slippery pumpkin but couldn't hang on. It was after one of the aforementioned scenarios that defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin brought his linebacker and secondary together for a "word of prayer" from the defensive coordinator. We were, obviously, out of earshot but just watching the gyrations and body language I gave it a 6.5 on the "Kiffonmeter". Seen better but the point got across to the troops.

Overall, I had to give the day to the offense. The players, especially the offensive line, look so much more confident and comfortable coming into Year Two of the Gruden era. The offense is improving and will continue to improve as long as the have to go up against the best defense in the NFL day after day. The work ethic of the Bucs defense has rubbed off on the offensive counterparts and each side of the ball is pushing the other to the limit. Makes for very up-tempo practices and it shows.

Two negatives for the practice were on each side of the ball. On offense, Travis Stephens is still struggling when it comes to catching the football coming out of the backfield. He dropped another pass today but the bigger problem was that he didn't get in a good position to catch the football. That may be the only area that is keeping the former University of Tennessee star from cracking the lineup because he is the speed burner that was advertised. As for the defense, two rookies could not complete the traditional rookie run at the end of the last mini-camp practice and both were defensive lineman. Free agent defensive tackle Bernard Riley only finished two of the five gassers – running across the field and back – and second-round selection DeWayne White only completed three. That won't sit well with defensive line and assistant head coach Rod Marinelli.

All in all it was a successful end to a successful weekend. I know I'm ready for Orlando. How about you?

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