Walking into the practice field area at One Buccaneer Place, the first noticeable difference in the Jon Gruden era is the Bucs' canopied back porch, which is actually just an enormous concrete slab, is empty. The weight machines that once littered the back porch, making it a maze of sorts, is gone. All of the team's free weights actually fit inside the Bucs' weight room, which is now patrolled by new strength and conditioning coaches Johnny Parker and Mike Morris.
As the Bucs players emerged from the locker room, change was in the cool, breezy Florida air. No longer was the red Bucs flag adorning the side of the pewter helmets. They'll be placed on the helmets closer to the start of the season. The players wore white game/practice pants without pads instead of the customary black workout shorts of years past.
The only black clothing on the field was that sported by Gruden, who wore a black, long-sleeve windbreaker, black workout shorts and a new black Bucs visor. Gruden's fiery demeanor makes him come across as a cool "bad ass", and his outfit on the first day of mini-camp only reinforced that image.
Changes were apparent all over the field. The players warmed up doing exercises related to their football position. Quarterbacks loosened their arms by throwing low-velocity passes, and receivers jogged half speed to catch the balls. After 10 or 15 minutes, the team came together for a group stretch.
Under Tony Dungy's regime, the group stretch came first. New stretches under Gruden include heel-over-toe stretches, kerryoke, and backpedal drills -- for everyone, not just defensive backs.
Instead of Dungy's whistle to signal the end of one drill and the beginning of another, which usually coincided with players running from one part of the practice field to another, Gruden uses an air horn. When the "air horn coach" blew the horn midway through the morning workout and the sound fizzled out to a low muffle instead of a blaring honk, Gruden glared at him and screamed, "Get another horn!"
Gazing around the practice field closest to the locker room at One Buccaneer Place, which is the field the offense typically practices on, it's obvious that fourth-year quarterback Shaun King is in tremendous shape. He looks like he's slimmed down, and appears to be more athletic. It's clear that he's worked hard to better sculpt his body. He didn't speak with the media on Friday, but he's undoubtedly fired up by Gruden's praise for his talents since his arrival in Tampa in February, and that has energized him for what appears to be a three-way quarterback derby in training camp for the right to start under center.
New quarterback Rob Johnson is as athletic as they come. Hardly an ounce of body fat on him. He's not big and muscular, rather he's lean and muscular. His arm strength sparkled on downfield passes as well as the quick, darting throws underneath.
Rob Johnson's mobility was as good as advertised on the first day of mini-camp, but he really needs to develop a feel for pressure. Too many times he hung in the pocket rather than use his mobility to elude the pass rush.
Gruden instructed Monte Kiffin to bring several blitzes at all three quarterbacks right from day one to get them used to making quick decisions under duress. Kiffin brought outside linebackers, middle linebackers, free safeties and strong safeties at the Bucs' QBs.
Brad Johnson was the starting quarterback, but all three passers split the reps about equally. The quarterbacks did several rollout and bootleg passing plays, and naturally, King and Rob Johnson looked more fluid. Brad Johnson lumbered a bit, but was still accurate with his throws.
One new thing the Bucs quarterbacks are being taught is to always look away from the primary receiver before throwing to him. This looks off the safeties and doesn't key the cornerbacks that the pass is coming their way. As a result, receivers were running more open today than in past mini-camps, and there was hardly an interception thrown. Brad Johnson seemed adept at looking off defensive backs.
Gruden was heavily involved with the quarterbacks and the offense, as he will be calling the plays this year. He rarely spent any time with the defense, leaving that in the trusted hands of Kiffin and his defensive coaches. Gruden was very hands on with the offense, showing quarterbacks how to set and throw, as well as showing receivers how to burst off the line and how and when to cut.
Gruden was seen playing the part of defensive back and defensive lineman, which was a far cry from Dungy, who usually stood in the middle of all of the drills with his arms crossed and walked in a small circle watching the receivers, then linebackers, then defensive backs, then defensive line, then tight ends, etc.
Another big change is the sheer number of coaches on the field. There were too many to keep track of on Friday. Aside from Gruden, the holdover defensive staff, receivers coach Richard Mann and offensive coordinator/line coach Bill Muir, there were about a dozen more new faces to which the media had a hard time identifying. Gruden has about a half dozen quality control coaches who help the position coaches.
The Bucs' running back stable looks as competitive as ever with holdovers Mike Alstott, Aaron Stecker and Jameel Cook seeing action with newcomers Byron Hanspard and the muscle-bound Michael Pittman. Pittman is as chiseled an athlete as the Bucs have, with bulging biceps capable of bench pressing 475 pounds and rock hard thighs and calves. Pittman rolls up his sleeves so that his huge guns, which are littered with tattoos (one saying Black Superman), are on display.
Pittman looks impressive in team drills. He has quick feet which allow him to instantly accelerate through an open hole. His muscular, 220-pound frame allows him to blast through any hole which is not entirely open. It is also apparent that he can catch the ball out of the backfield. This guy reeks of talent.
Hanspard is a slashing-type runner with shifty movements. He runs a little high, which will cause him to take more shots from defenders, and doesn't show too much power in his rushing style. Still, he's blazing fast and once he gets to the outside he's usually gone. Hanspard also needs to have the fundamentals emphasized. He carries the ball too loosely away from his body.
Stecker and Alstott had their moments at practice, wanting to impress the new coaching staff like everyone else. Both are in incredible shape and ready to stake claim to their share of the carries in Gruden's offense.
At the receiver position, Frank Murphy was running with the first team alongside Keyshawn Johnson. Murphy was playing the "X" receiver, which is the split end. Johnson was playing the "Z" receiver, which is the flanker. The receivers ran a lot of slants, deep outs and go routes, which is something that the Clyde Christensen offense didn't feature much of.
Among the receivers who shined catching the ball and running crisp routes on Friday were Johnson, Murphy, Darryl Daniel and E.G. Green. Murphy is probably the fastest player on the team and quickly accelerates off the line, which is something that Gruden demands from his receivers. "Explode off the ball! Get your ass off the ball!" Gruden barked during practice.
Daniel and Green cut effortlessly at times and don't take many false steps. That don't have to gear down coming in and out of their routes and keep that same fluid speed up when they zig and when they zag.
Keith Poole had his moments. But the thing about Poole is how skinny he is. He is a scrappy player and a hard worker, but the guy hardly has any calves. You can see why he's pulled his hamstrings in the past because he relies so much on that muscle group. He is fast though.
Milton Wynn looked impressive for a big target. He showed good hands and body control and is still refining his route running ability.
Drew O'Connor created a buzz from Bucs fans when he signed on with the team again this week, but had a rather average showing. He appeared stiff and really had to gear down coming out of his breaks, almost coming to a stop at times. He looked like he was fighting to catch some passes. He's still a raw prospect and has a long way to go.
Eddie Hardaway dropped several balls, ran some soft routes and seems to run out of control at times. He had a rough morning, but rebounded in the afternoon practice. Frank Rice, who blew out his knee last year in training camp, is back for a second look with the Bucs.
Several receivers commented to Buccaneer Magazine how working for Coach Mann was a joy compared to working with Charlie Williams, who was deemed a nice guy, but just didn't have the experience teaching the fundamentals. One of the new drills consists of catching the ball, taking one step and dragging the toe of the other foot. This emphasizes getting both feet down in bounds after the catch.
Gruden also laid down the law with running backs, tight ends and receivers that he does not tolerate players running out of bounds, unless it is to stop the clock in a two-minute situation. He doesn't want his players to run out or be shoved out of bounds. He wants them to be knocked out of bounds after scrapping for every possible yard.
The offense did a lot of shifting of formations and putting guys in motion. There was no jogging down the line of scrimmage, either. Everything is full speed under Gruden, who stresses a game-condition tempo.
He would bark out, "Fifteen seconds! Fifteen seconds!", which meant that he wanted the offense out of the huddle, to the line of scrimmage, and any and all shifts or motions to take place within that time frame before the ball is snapped. Gruden's offense is very fast paced.
The offensive line spent a lot of time doing hand-fighting and punching drills. Muir wants his offensive line to attack and be physical. Several offensive linemen relayed to Buccaneer Magazine that Muir told them that Gruden's offense is "a lineman's dream." The offensive line was more intense than ever, especially firing off against the defense in team work. The offensive line was as physical as they could be without having pads on and spent a lot of time doing one-on-ones with the defensive line.
New guard Kerry Jenkins and right tackle Jerry Wunsch stood out. Center Todd Washington and left tackle Kenyatta Walker had some rough spots, but also had some rather brilliant plays in one-on-ones and in team work.
New tight end Marco Battaglia has better athleticism than Dave Moore and is a step faster. He does a fine job catching the ball and told Buccaneer Magazine he feels he can have a breakout season in this offense after being handicapped in Cincinnati with their constant inconsistencies at the quarterback position.
Todd Yoder had a sour day dropping several catchable passes, but Mike Roberg looked good catching most of the throws that came his way.
On defense, Warren Sapp (shoulder) and Derrick Brooks (foot) sat out and will miss the mini-camp for precautionary reasons. Sapp looks to be in tremendous shape, especially his lower body. He's likely not had much of a chance to work on his upper body due to his shoulder surgery rehab, but doesn't have much of a gut.
Shelton Quarles was the starting middle linebacker, alongside new starting strongside linebacker Al Singleton. Cornerback Ronde Barber seems to have instincts honed to a razor's edge again this season as he broke up four passes on the day that we noticed.
New defensive end Greg Spires looked a bit heavier than Steve White, and didn't show a quick burst off the ball like White had, but still looked good. He's a bit bulkier and perhaps a stronger player. The thing they both have in common is size and hustle.
The defensive coaches, who have always been the more energetic coaches in Tampa Bay, seemed to yell, holler and show even more emotion now under Gruden. It seemed like they had to try to be a bit reserved under Dungy's regime to fit his mold of coach. But under Gruden, who would yell and scream louder than the roar of the jumbo jet engines that dotted the landscape at nearby Tampa International Airport, the defensive coaches get even more fired up and vocal.
On special teams, new long snapper Elmer Bench is an odd looking fellow. Listed at 5-foot-9, 216 pounds, he looks like a little kid playing with the big boys when he lines up next to the Bucs' 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-6 linemen on placements. Although he's short, he's got a squatty build similar to Jeff Christy with huge thighs and calves.
New punter Tim Morgan had his moments, blasting a couple of kicks with distance and hang time. He did have a bad hold for Martin Gramatica which caused the kicker to miss a 20-yard field goal in the abbreviated special teams period, which only featured field goals and punting.
Both practices ended with a yell as the players came together near midfield for words of encouragement from Gruden. When the players didn't show enough emotion, Gruden ordered them to disband, go back and then come together with a louder scream. The players rowdily and enthusiastically responded, sounding like a new platoon of Army soldiers sounding off at boot camp.
But just because Gruden's practices are more up-tempo and energetic than Dungy's doesn't necessarily mean that they will be more effective. Different doesn't always mean better. That's for the players to decide, but on Friday they seemed to welcome the change.