Inside The Bucs' Second Mini-Camp: Friday

April 26 - Friday's practices in the second mini-camp of the Jon Gruden era were marked with several fantastic one-handed catches, lots of new faces and a big hit on TE Ken Dilger. Buccaneer Magazine covers the first day of the Bucs' three-day mini-camp like no else can, with a 2,000-word report full of details, analysis, insight and observations. This report is a "must read" for fans who want the inside scoop from Bucs mini-camp.

It felt like Florida at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' second mini-camp in the Jon Gruden era. It was hot, hazy and humid, not cool, clear and breezy as it was during the first mini-camp during the first week in April.

The only other change was the fact that the Bucs had about three dozen new players in attendance which pushed Tampa Bay's roster to 86 players. The newcomers were mostly rookies -- draft picks and free agents -- in addition to TE Ken Dilger and WRs Joe Jurevicius and Karl Williams, who was re-signed by the team prior to the NFL Draft.

But the tempo, look and feel of the practices remained the same at One Buc Place. Gruden spent the early part of the morning practice working with the quarterbacks and running backs on handoffs and quick throws to the backs out of the backfield. A new wrinkle for Tampa Bay's offense was the misdirection flip pitch, which the St. Louis Rams made popular over the last two years.

Running back Michael Pittman sported a dark faceshield on his helmet. The helmets during this mini-camp had the Bucs flag decals on them this go around, which made them look more appropriate. It was just awkward seeing the plain pewter helmets without the flags during the first mini-camp.

Running back Aaron Stecker drew Gruden's ire in the morning practice after he fumbled during a non-contact team drill.

Quarterback Shaun King once again made a strong impression with his physique. Gone is the pudginess that he carried around since his rookie season in 1999. He is well cut and looks lean and athletic.

There was a change in the starting lineup with Keyshawn Johnson replacing Frank Murphy as the starter at the weakside "X" position. Johnson had played the "Z" position at the first mini-camp. E.G. Green was the starter opposite Johnson. Murphy was running second team with newcomer Joe Jurevicius running third team.

Jurevicius isn't the niftiest or most nimble player, but he has good hands, a nice head fake and decent speed. The fact that he's 6-foot-5 also makes him stand out -- naturally. Jurevicius and new tight end Ken Dilger share the same number 85 on offense.

"Ken is a good guy and I think he's been No. 85 for a long time," Jurevicius said. "If one of the other numbers pops up, then Ken can have 85. Numbers aren't really that big of a thing to me. Here's the deal. I'm trying to save my money, so therefore, I'm not going to waste it on a number. I'm one of the smart guys.

"My ultimate goal as a football player is to win a Super Bowl. When I was in New York, I had an opportunity to play in Tampa in the Super Bowl. We didn't win it. Obviously there was a need at receiver here, and I think I can come in here and add some things to the mix and help out. This team, with the offense, defense and coaching staff, has an unbelievably shot at winning the Super Bowl."

Dilger looked impressive catching the ball and running his routes on Friday. He also showed some serious toughness when he got rocked by second-year free safety John Howell going across the middle. Howell and Dilger were both going for the ball and Dilger caught a shot right in the helmet and chest that sent him horizontal. John Madden would have called it a "decleater." But Dilger is a pro's pro and got up and shook off the hit and finished the rest of practice.

"Yeah, it's non-contact, but you never know what's going to happen once you get the defensive backs out there," Dilger said of the hit. "It's just part of the game."

"I just took a deep breath," Gruden said of Dilger getting popped. "I said, 'uh-oh'. That's what tight ends do, though. They do inside and they get hit. Hopefully not out on our practice field by our own people, but the guy has made a living going inside and coming up with clutch catches in serious congestion. What a great football player he is and what a great presence he has in our locker room. He's going to be a real good addition."

The morning practice was full of dynamic, one-handed catches. One of those acrobatic catches was turned in by rookie wide receiver Marquise Walker, who made a nice, juggling catch across the middle. Walker showed great focus and concentration by tipping the pass to himself and not slowing up at all on his route. Walker has decent speed, but there isn't much suddenness to his game.

Tight end Marco Battaglia made a real nice, one-handed catch on a 20-yard deep out. Battaglia has sure hands and even if he doesn't beat out Dilger for the starting spot, he'll be used extensively in the Bucs' two-tight set, which is one of their regular formations.

Conversely, Todd Yoder struggled, dropping several passes. Yoder needs a good showing after having a so-so performance at the team's last mini-camp.

Murphy also made a nice acrobatic catch, blowing by cornerback Anthony Midget to tip a 50-yard bomb to himself at the 10-yard line and then run it in for a touchdown. Murphy had a solid morning workout making several nice catches. His afternoon workout was so-so with a couple of dropped balls.

Rookie receiver Aaron Lockett was only thrown the ball on deep go routes. He showed off his 4.3 speed tracking down a couple of bombs, but typically caught the ball with his body instead of his hands. Lockett needs to win the Bucs punt return duties to secure a roster spot, and muffed his first three attempts at fielding punts due to a case of nerves.

"It was the first-day jitters," Lockett said. "I was nervous out there. Hopefully this first practice is behind me and now I can really show what I can do out there."

Williams, Lockett, Green and Darryl Daniel were the punt returners on Friday. Lockett isn't small, he's tiny. He makes Jacquez Green look big.

Punter Tim Morgan, who struggled during the last mini-camp, kicked well. He has the most powerful leg of the Bucs' group of punters. The ball just explodes off his foot. New punters David Leaverton and Mike Abrams also had their moments.

Wide receiver Keith Poole didn't practice due to continual hamstring problems. Poole has been plagued by hamstring injuries throughout his pro career and tweaked his hamstring again at the team's last mini-camp.

Rookie running back Travis Stephens, the Bucs' fourth-round draft pick, showed his speed and quickness in his debut at One Buc Place. Stephens is short, but much more muscular than Warrick Dunn. He has short arms, and no one will confuse his biceps with Pittman's, but he has broad shoulders and a thicker lower body. He doesn't look small like Dunn did.

Stephens also showed great lateral quickness shuffling in the pile before bursting out into the secondary on several runs. He runs with great body lean which makes it difficult for defenders to get to his waist to tackle him. But he did have a fumble in the afternoon session during a non-contact team drill. Like Stecker earlier in the day, Stephens got chewed out a bit.

"He's quick, just like we thought he was," Gruden said of Stephens. "He's a guy that has a different stride and a different game about him. He's hard to find in the holes. He's got tremendous stop-and-start quickness. I was really excited to see what he did today."

The Bucs offense used both the near and far practice fields on Friday, with two QBs throwing to backs and tight ends on one field against linebackers while two other QBs were throwing to receivers against defensive backs. King and Brad Johnson were paired together in one group and Rob Johnson and former Alabama quarterback Andrew Zow were together in the other group. After the drills were half way over, the QBs would switch groups. Zow was in for a tryout with the team and hasn't been signed by the Bucs yet.

The defense always runs a pursuit drill and a convoy drill under Monte Kiffin. They align themselves in a defensive formation and then all 11 guys turn and run full speed towards one of the pylons the end zone upon his command. Then Kiffin will throw a "gimme" interception to a defensive player and then the whole defense will sprint towards the opposite end zone creating a convoy for the ballcarrier.

It was hard not to notice rookie safety Jermaine Phillips, the Bucs' fifth-round pick, during these drills during the morning period. His athelticism really stands out. He really jumped up to get one of the INTs, catching it at its highest point, and then blew past everybody with the pick towards the end zone. It was only one practice, but it is apparent that Phillips has great size, speed and hands. He is one well put together athlete, too.

The one-on-one line drills were very physical despite the players only wearing helmets and jerseys without pads. Simeon Rice was really giving left tackle Kenyatta Walker fits during some of their sparring sessions. Walker is getting really good at picking up Rice's first move, but it's his counter moves that are still giving Walker some trouble. Rice seems so comfortable in the Bucs defense as compared to a year ago when he was struggling to learn Tampa Bay's one-gap scheme. This could really be a breakout year for him. Twenty sacks is not out of the realm of possibility.

Hard-working free agent Mike Mackenzie bulldozed a lineman during one of the drills. He is similar to a poor man's Brad Culpepper. All effort, hustle and heart mixed with some power in an undersized package. Mackenzie started at under tackle in place of Warren Sapp on Friday.

Defensive end Ellis Wyms showed a nice spin move against a couple of right tackles. It is an effective move he is working to perfect.

Undrafted free agent Corey White is really undersized at 6-foot-2, 250 pounds, but has amazing quickness. He played rush end and some linebacker at North Carolina State and was giving 6-foot-7, 316-pound left tackle Brian Gruber a hard time with his leverage and speed.

Nose tackle Anthony McFarland was really working right guard Cosey Coleman. Coleman hasn't become the dominant player in the pros that he was at Tennessee, but another training camp against McFarland should quickly speed up his development.

Rookie defensive end John Stamper, the team's sixth-round pick, showed a good burst off the line in one-on-one drills, but he looks stiff. His body type and game remind you of John McLaughlin, who never mastered the defensive end position in the pros.

From seeing nose tackle Buck Gurley and defensive end Greg Spires at two mini-camps, it wouldn't be out of the question to assume that by the end of the year (or earlier) that they could be better than their predecessors, James Cannida and Steve White.

Guard Marcus Jenkins, who was a try-out player from Central Florida University was constantly beaten by a host of Buccaneers led by under tackle Chartric Darby whose quickness allowed him to penetrate the backfield several times in individual and team drills.

The defense was short-handed without starters DT Warren Sapp (shoulder surgery), LB Derrick Brooks (foot sprain), CB Brian Kelly (broken hand) and DE Marcus Jones (shoulder surgery). Sapp, Jones and Brooks went through jump roping sessions and agility drills with speed coach Mike Morris. One of the drills involved sprinting about 10 yards on the Bucs' concrete back porch and trying to catch a tennis ball that Morris would bounce before it hit the ground twice.

Linebacker Chris Jones filled in for Brooks in the Bucs' starting lineup. Wyms subbed in for Jones while Dwight Smith replaced Kelly. Smith had an outstanding practice on Friday breaking up passes intended for Daniel and Battaglia without drawing a pass interference penalty, even though they don't call penalties in practice. His anticipation and knowledge of the defense were razor sharp on Friday. But Smith did lose a foot race to the end zone to Pittman, who busted a long run off tackle and took it to the house.

Rookie cornerback Tim Wansley, the team's seventh-round draft pick, sat out drills while he is recovering from a broken leg he suffered last December at Georgia.

The intensity and emotion of the defense really picked up during the afternoon session. The defense brought the blitz out of the nickel package, and were blitzing both safeties at times. Cornerback Corey Chamblin, who replaced Smith in the afternoon practice, shined on his blitzes and in coverage, breaking up passes intended for Keyshawn Johnson and Frank Murphy.

Johnson really stepped his game up in the afternoon session and caught almost everything thrown to him, and making some sensational grabs, especially across the middle.

Tampa Bay's quarterbacks were really under duress in the blitz period in the afternoon practice. Rob Johnson, who had looked brilliant all day throwing the ball on rollouts, was pressured and tossed an ill-advised pass to a running back who just crossed the line of scrimmage in the middle of the field. McFarland tipped the pass, caught it, and ran 40 yards for a touchdown, much to the delight of Sapp, who was hootin' and hollerin' and racing alongside Big Mac all the way to the end zone.

Rob Johnson came back later in the drills to elude the rush and throw a touchdown bomb to Green. On another blitz play, King dodged strong safety John Lynch and heaved a bomb to Daniel, who was wide open for an easy touchdown, but Daniel dropped the pass.

Lynch would have his revenge on Brad Johnson though, picking off a pass down the sidelines intended for Keyshawn Johnson in the afternoon practice. The play was reminiscent of his INT against Brad Johnson in the second half of the 1999 Divisional playoff game against Washington.

Cornerback Ronde Barber would also get into the interception action, pilfering a King throw in the afternoon.

Gruden was still preaching an up-tempo pace for his offense all day. He kept yelling "15 seconds. 15 seconds", which was an indication that he wanted his offense to sprint to the line, shift and go in motion within a time span of 15 seconds.

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