For the first time in five practices, the Pewter Pirates looked a little ragged due to fatigue. On the offensive side of the ball, you could tell that most of the players were mentally drained from trying to digest as much Grudenese as they could. Instead of reacting a lot of players, especially the specialists, were trying to think on the move and this resulted in some errors. The good news is many of the Tampa Bay miscues were mistakes of commission and not of omission. This will improve as the players become comfortable with their new language that their head coach speaks fluently and with pause or stutter.
On the defensive side of the football, it looked like the lack of depth started to show in the play of the Bucs. With defensive lineman Warren Sapp and Marcus Jones plus linebackers Derrick Brooks and Nate Webster along with defensive back Brian Kelly, many of the Buccaneers in red shirts had to do double duty. By the end of today's practice you could see that many of them were a little heavy-legged but that was expected for the first full-squad workout of the season.
Starting with special teams, kicker Martin Gramatica has showed no ill effects of last seasons leg injury. He attempted four field goals and was good once from 40 yards out and split the uprights twice from 45 yards away. His final attempt, from 53 yards in the middle of the field, had plenty of leg and great height but just slid wide right. Holder Tim Morgan did a great job of getting an errant snap on the second placement.
Morgan had a better day punting for two reasons. The first is that it would be hard to have a worst performance than Saturday. He didn't hit many punts well and the ones he did get a leg into were beaten down by a very stiff wind. He also was under a very heavy rush, even though the Bucs only practiced with helmets and no other equipment, so he was forced to concentrated totally on kicking the ball. He still had some ducks but most of those were due to bad snaps or a severe punt rush. The former San Jose State punter did show flashes of brilliance with good distance and excellent hang time into a constant double-digit wind. Morgan needed that because, after Saturday, his confidence had to be pretty low.
The wide receivers seem to be the position that has attracted Gruden's most attention and for two reasons. First, the verbiage is so detailed that by changing one word in an audible the entire pass routes change. This means that the wide outs need to play at a high concentration level because they will be reading coverage on the run that will determine the route they will run. Secondly, this group may be to one that needs the most coaching from top to bottom. Other than Keyshawn Johnson there isn't a player who is a starting wide receiver in the wide receiver corps. Someone will have to step forward and the door is open for any of the wide outs to claim the X receiver position. Gruden is spending a bulk of his time working with the wide outs to get a first-hand look at the talent level of the Bucs receivers.
A few players did stand out with their performance on Sunday. All three tight end, returnees Todd Yoder and Mike Roberg as well as newcomer Marco Battaglia, shined at different times during seven-on-seven and team periods. All three showed the ability to get deep plus the propensity to catch the short and intermediate balls in traffic. Also having a good outing was wide receiver Darryl Daniels and guard Kerry Jenkins.
On the defensive side of the ball, safety John Lynch had a leaping interception in perimeter period. Quarterback Rob Johnson either overthrew his receiver or someone ran the wrong route but the former Stanford University two-sport star made a nice athletic play on the football. Also having a good practice was defensive tackle Anthony McFarland and reserve cornerback Dwight Smith.
There was only one notable injury to report and that was to defensive end Simeon Rice. Going up against offensive tackle Kenyatta Walker during a pass protection drill he injured his left shoulder. This could have been a reaggrevation of an injury that he sustained earlier in training camp but the former University of Illinois star returned to team drills at the end of practice on a part-time basis. It did not seem as serious as Kelly's broken hand on Saturday or wide receivers Keith Poole's hamstring.
Overall, the attitude of the entire team was old school football. A lot of rah-rah and backslapping as well as verbal encouragement was evident throughout, not only Sunday's workout, but also the entire mini-camp. Players were exuberant and motivated plus, for the first time since I have been coving the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, coaches on both sides of the football were actually coaches. Whether it was to correct a mistake or to praise a good play, every position coach as well as the head coach was involved before and after every play. If a player has thin skin, especially on offense, they better grow a thicker outer covering because no player is exempt from criticism or adulation.
Also, the Monte Kiffin led defense might find it a bit more difficult to dominate the myriad of offensive sets and shifts as well as motions that Gruden's self-proclaimed Gulf Shore offense will present. The best part of practice during the next two mini-camps and training camp will definitely be the chess match that will go one as Gruden's offense tries to penetrate Kiffin's defense. That may be worth the price of admission because both leaders are the ultimate competitors and they take pride in that fact.
A great coach once said that nothing great is ever accomplished without enthusiasm. Believe me when I tell you that there is enthusiasm throughout the entire practice session and it's filtering down from the top. If this continues into training camp and the 2002 season then Tampa Bay could be witnessing some great things.
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