The Bucs started the morning and afternoon practices off just as they had on Friday. The team stretched for about 10 minutes, and then immediately jumped into the action.
While the offensive linemen and quarterbacks were warming up on the field, they were also dipping the footballs in buckets full of water to apparently simulate rainy and/or wet conditions. They did this for about the first 10 minutes or so, and then stopped.
The closest field was reserved for special teams' play in the early part of the morning mini-camp practice. Tampa Bay punter Tim Morgan practiced punting, but had a shaky outing. Morgan struggled to get punts off cleanly and lacked accuracy on coffin kicks. Bucs wide receiver E.G. Green fielded most of Morgan¹s punts out of bounds. Morgan also held for kicker Martin Gramatica on field goals. After dropping the first snap, Morgan fared well in this area. Gramatica was accurate on field goal attempts.
Tampa Bay's offense struggled against the defense on Friday and even during Saturday morning's practice, but by the afternoon practice, Gruden's offense was moving the ball against Monte Kiffin's defense.
The offense found some success by running fake end-arounds, delayed handoffs and draw plays up the middle of the field. Tampa Bay's rushing offense finished near 31st in the league last season, but in Gruden's offense, the running backs are exploding through the line of scrimmage. Bucs running backs Michael Pittman, Byron Hanspard and Aaron Stecker all moved the offense up the field by rushing through the middle of Tampa Bay's defense. When Pittman has an opening, he absolutely explodes through defenders, and he has the speed to outrun them, too. I was impressed by Pittman¹s film from Arizona, but he¹s even more impressive in person.
One of the most impressive plays of the day came when Stecker sprinted through the defensive line untouched at mid-field and beat free safety Dexter Jackson in a footrace into the end zone for a touchdown.
Gruden probably couldn't help but notice how well fullback Mike Alstott played during Saturday's practices. The A-Train demonstrated some impressive athleticism by hurdling through a hole opened up by his offensive line. While Alstott is not as quick as the other running backs, he too exploded through the holes created by the offensive line.
Bucs wide receivers coach Richard Mann and head coach Jon Gruden dedicated themselves to both coaching and observing the wide receivers for a good portion of Saturday morning's practice There is a lot of shifting and motion in Gruden's offense, which the players, particularly the wide receivers, are absorbing at a rapid pace.
Tampa Bay's wide receiving corps were considered by many to be a weak link under former Bucs head coach Tony Dungy. Perhaps Gruden didn't like what he had seen on game film from the Bucs receivers, or maybe he just chose Saturday to work with them. But whatever the case was, Gruden and Mann gave Tampa Bay's wide receivers an earful during Saturday morning's practice.
The coaches were eyeing the receiver position. Mann even made first-team wide receivers Keyshawn Johnson and Frank Murphy redo a mirror drill because they didn¹t execute it properly.
Once the receivers warmed up, they started several drills. The receivers appeared to be confused at a times, which is somewhat expected since they are absorbing a new offensive system. Gruden was even louder than the first day of camp, and he continued to participate in the drills. Gruden covered receivers as they ran smash routes. This is a drill that calls for the receiver to run up toward the linebacker, and if the linebacker lets the receiver cross, they are supposed to run all the way through to the other side. If the linebacker makes contact with the receiver, the receiver must then bounce back out toward the opposite side of the field. Gruden served as the linebacker and yelled at several receivers for not challenging him and for not coming all the way into his face before breaking on their routes.
Gruden shouted words of encouragement to his receivers at times, and expressed dissatisfaction at others during the morning session, but he appeared to grow impatient with one wide receiver. Gruden told the receiver he was hurting the team by not knowing the playbook as well as he should. He also advised the receiver to not come back if he wasn't going to study his playbook more.
Some of Tampa Bay¹s receivers stood out more than others during Saturday's practices. Wide receiver E.G. Green had an impressive outing. He displayed quick acceleration up the field after hauling in passes from the quarterbacks. Bucs WR Milton Wynn made a couple of impressive catches during 11-on-11 drills. Wide receiver Darryl Daniel shook off his defender during 11-on-11 drills, and QB Brad Johnson drilled him in the middle of the field for a big play and gain. He also made a nice catch while he was on the ground. Bucs CB Ronde Barber deflected a pass and as the ball fell toward the ground, Daniel scooped the ball out of the air before it could hit the grass. Daniel is not a popular player amongst fans, but he could be a sleeper.
Gruden was also critical of his tight ends' blocking ability during Saturday's practices. After one play concluded, Gruden shouted at one tight end, "That's (expletive) John Lynch out there. You've got to knock him out."
Tampa Bay offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Bill Muir continued to work his players through technique drills. But he also worked on drills, which called for the guards and centers to pull from their respective positions and then hustle up the field and block.
Gruden wanted Kiffin to send some blitz packages against the quarterbacks on Saturday. The quarterbacks responded well for the most part. Bucs QB Brad Johnson looked very sharp during Saturday's practice. Gruden had QB Shaun King take a snap and then scramble up the right side of the field on a designed run play. King received a nice block up the field from TE Mike Roberg and he gained significant ground before running out of bounds.
Gruden's fiery coaching style has rubbed off on secondary coach Mike Tomlin and linebackers coach Joe Barry. Both coaches were Gruden-like in their coaching approach, especially during 11-on-11 drills.
Bucs cornerbacks Dwight Smith and Ronde Barber were all over the field during 11-on-11 drills. Barber was aggressive and made some impressive plays, including one where he intercepted a pass that deflected off of a receiver's hands and ran it into the end zone for a touchdown. During 11-on-11 drills, Barber collided with RB Byron Hanspard and completely took Hanspard off of his feet after he hauled in a pass.
Smith made several pass breakups, but he was even more impressive in his ability to read throws intended for Tampa Bay's running backs out of the backfield before the balls were even thrown. Smith's instincts in pass coverage were impressive. Tampa Bay CB Corey Chamblin chimed into the action when he put a hand on a ball intended for WR Keyshawn Johnson across the middle of the field. Chamlin's deflection probably saved a touchdown, and he received quite an ovation from his fellow defensive teammates. Bucs CB Brian Kelly broke his hand during Saturday morning's practice session. He will be out 3-4 weeks, but he should be ready for the team's next mini-camp.
Tampa Bay's linebackers continued to rotate on Saturday. Shelton Quarles continued to play at middle linebacker while Al Singleton played at weakside linebacker in place of Derrick Brooks. Chris Jones played at strongside linebacker, but both Singleton and Jones rotated at the outside linebacker positions. Bucs LB Andre Offing made a nice play in coverage during 11-on-11 drills, but he missed an opportunity at an easy interception.
Tampa Bay's defensive line ran bag drills on the far field at One Buc Place. Tampa Bay DT Warren Sapp and DE Marcus Jones were both held out of practice. Because of those players' absences, new Bucs DE Greg Spires and DT Chuck Darby saw more playing time.
Both practices ended just as Friday's did--with a yell as the players came together near midfield for words of encouragement from Gruden. One might have expected Saturday's practices to be a bit sloppy since Friday's sessions were so intense. But it was just the opposite, especially during Saturday afternoon's practice, when the offense showed the defense what it's capable of.
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