Inside The Bucs' Second Mini-Camp: Saturday

April 27 – Saturday's mini-camp practices brought even more heat than Friday's sessions, but the sun wasn't the source. The practice sessions were full of action, especially during 11-on-11 drills. The Bucs dedicated some significant practice time to special teams among other things, and Buccaneer Magazine has details, analysis and observations from Saturday's mini-camp practices.

Saturday's mini-camp practices brought even more heat than Friday's practices, but Tampa Bay's defense brought most of it, not the sun (see below). Yes, it was hot during both practice sessions, but there was actually a nice breeze keeping conditions somewhat bearable at One Buccaneer Place.

"Everybody's playing in the heat," said Bucs wide receiver Milton Wynn. "Some people are more used to it than others. We all just have to adapt. We have to drink more water, Gatorade – whatever it takes. We have to come out and practice hard everyday and we can't use the heat as an excuse. Coach emphasizes drinking fluids because we're human beings, but at the same time, we're athletes."

After a somewhat quiet Friday, head coach Jon Gruden was back to his usual self – loud, animated and paying attention to detail on the offensive side of the football. During seven-on-seven drills, Gruden jumped all over one of Tampa Bay's wide receivers, who will go unnamed, for lining up wrong. Gruden made the entire offense huddle up again and shouted to the mistaken player, "Huddle up, (player's name), huddle up. You know, you're going to learn real quick that I'm not a real patient guy."

Speaking of receivers, there are almost a handful of them in Bucs' camp that do not wear gloves, which is somewhat interesting since the majority of today's NFL players wear gloves, especially at the receiver, tight end and running back position. Tight ends Todd Yoder and Marco Battaglia and wide receiver Joe Jurevicius do not sport gloves.

Some of Tampa Bay's wide receivers really stepped up on Saturday. Wide receiver Frank Murphy had an opportunity to showoff his speed by catching balls on crossing routes. Quarterback Brad Johnson and WR Joe Jurevicius connected often on quick slants. Jurevicius isn't the fastest guy in the league by any means, but he's able to use his body (6-5, 230) to maneuver past cornerbacks and get open. Although he dropped a pass while he was wide-open, Jurevicius displayed good hands and he's not afraid to go over the middle of the field.

Rookie WR Marquise Walker showed some great hands during Saturday's practices. He's also a lot faster than advertised. After hauling in a pass during 11-on-11 drills, Walker put a nice spin move on CB Ronde Barber, which allowed him to escape the tackle and gain an extra 10 yards.

Saturday morning's practice started off with kicker Martin Gramatica in the spotlight. Gramatica practiced field goals. He was kicking against the wind and was quite accurate. Gramatia was 1-of-2 on his 50-yard field goal attempts. Punter Dave Leaverton held for Gramatica and did a nice job.

The punters also saw significant action. All three punters had their fair share of solid punts, but Leaverton separated himself from rookie Mike Abrams and Tim Morgan by showing some consistency with coffin kicks, hang time and overall length of his punts. One of Leaverton's punts went nearly 60 yards, and that was on a punt into the wind.

Wide receivers Karl Williams, Aaron Lockett, Darryl Daniel and E.G. Green all fielded punts. Lockett appeared to work through his first-day rookie jitters, which led to him fumbling a handful of punts on Friday. Lockett fielded all of the punts cleanly on Saturday.

Long snapper Mike Hedge (Central Florida), who is not officially on Tampa Bay's roster, and rookie tight end Tracey Wistrom handled the long snapping duties during both of Saturday's practices. Both did a good job, but after the morning practice, Wistrom spent some extra time out on the field. One of the coaches worked with him on his technique and actually changed it. Wistrom struggled to long snap after the change at first, but he settled down rather quickly.

Gruden spent a good portion of the morning practice working with the running backs. They worked on catching the ball out of the backfield. Something that has stood out during both mini-camp practices has been the running backs' excellent job of selling fake handoffs.

Bucs RB Michael Pittman has a relentless running style. During 11-on-11 drills, Pittman appeared to be stuffed for a loss by defensive end Simeon Rice, but Pittman stopped on a dime and quickly changed direction to avoid the tackle in the backfield. He made similar moves throughout Saturday's practices.

Rookie RB Travis Stephens possesses impressive speed. During 11-on-11, he broke a run to the weakside and beat safety David Gibson in a footrace to the end zone for a touchdown. Stephens did, however, show a lack of concentration after a catch during one-on-one drills in the morning. Bucs linebacker Al Singleton smacked a ball out of Stephens' hands immediately after he grabbed the pass.

Aaron Stecker's name hasn't been mentioned much during the mini-camp practices, but it will be mentioned more if he has practices like the one he did on Saturday. Stecker took advantage of a hole opened up by the offensive line and sprinted 70 yards for a touchdown during 11-on-11. Stecker showed very good awareness during both practices on Saturday.

Bucs fullback Mike Alstott got into the action as well. On one play, quarterback Brad Johnson faked a reverse to wide receiver Milton Wynn and handed the ball off to Alstott. The A-Train had a wide-open lane and exploded through it for a big gain.

Tampa Bay's quarterbacks weren't as sharp as they had been on Friday. Brad Johnson was intercepted by rookie safety Glenn Sumpter during 11-on-11 drills. It was a bad pass, but Sumpter also made a nice play on the ball. But the most impressive play of the day by far came in the afternoon session during 11-on-11 drills when Brad Johnson threw a perfect strike to WR E.G. Green, who was double covered in the middle of the field while running a corner post.

The highlight of the day for Shaun King was when he hit WR Joe Jurevicius in stride down the left sideline for a touchdown on what appeared to be blown coverage on the defense's part. The more you watch Rob Johnson, the more you wonder if he almost prefers to throw on the run. He does it so well, especially on Saturday, when he drilled WR Milton Wynn on the sideline while eluding a sack. Despite the success Rob Johnson has had while throwing on the run, Gruden thinks he and the other quarterbacks have some more room to improve.

"I'm real pleased with all three of our quarterbacks," said Gruden. "Rob (Johnson) has done some interesting things. He's making the down the field throws. The problem that we have right now with Rob is -- sometimes the best play you can make is throwing the ball away. Sometimes the best play you can make is checking it down right in front of you. Don't be greedy with the football. At times, he just zooms in and has so much confidence in his ability to throw it in there that he runs out of time and something bad happens. But I'm impressed with the way he's improving and the way he's picking this system up. I just want him to continue to improve on his decision making."

During his tenure in Buffalo, Rob Johnson was criticized for holding onto the ball too long, which translated into sacks. But Gruden thinks people should not be so quick to place all of the blame on Rob Johnson for those sacks.

"It depends on how you look at it," said Gruden. "He did take a lot of hits and a lot of sacks. Looking at those sacks on film, he's not the only reason why he got sacked."

Tampa Bay's defense was putting a tremendous amount of heat on Tampa Bay's offense during 11-on-11 drills on Saturday. Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin sent several blitz packages at the offense. Most of the blitzes came from the corners, but some came from the safeties and linebackers, too.

Tampa Bay cornerback Dwight Smith continued to play the No. 2 cornerback position in place of Brian Kelly (broken hand). Smith continues to be the most impressive player at the Bucs' mini-camp. He has showed sharp instincts and has made great plays on the ball. Smith watched WR Keyshawn Johnson haul in a couple of passes on Saturday, which frustrated the second-year corner, but Smith had great position each time. Johnson just made good plays on great passes.

Bucs CB Ronde Barber looks like he will pick up right where he left off last season. He too has shown good instincts. During 11-on-11 drills, Barber (5-foot-10) actually out-jumped WR Milton Wynn (6-foot-2) for a ball and knocked it down to cause an incompletion.

Cornerback Corey Chamblin has also been impressive. Chamblin made a great play on a tipped ball for an interception during 11-on-11 drills. The ball was actually tipped back from the secondary toward the offensive line, but Chamblin did a nice job of continuing to look for the ball and caught the interception while facing the secondary on the ground. Chamblin has also demonstrated quick closing speed in coverage.

Safety David Gibson had an impressive outing on Saturday. He was taking good angles in coverage.

Tampa Bay's linebackers had a solid outing on Saturday. Linebacker Jamal White made a very nice pass breakup during Saturday's morning practice. Bucs middle linebacker Shelton Quarles seems to be getting used to life at the middle linebacker position, which he just switched to a few months ago.

"We moved Shelton Quarles into the middle linebacker position to get more athletic in my opinion," said Gruden. "The guy has a real good handle on our defense. He's a very good communicator and leader. We think he has some good sideline-to-sideline ability. He can play on every down. That's a major change for us. And we expect Nate Webster to compete."

The days of injured players sitting on the sidelines during practice are over. On Friday, DT Warren Sapp and DE Marcus Jones went through jump roping sessions and agility drills with speed coach Mike Morris. On Saturday, CB Brian Kelly, LB Derrick Brooks and LB Nate Webster joined Morris after he was done going through the drills with Sapp and Jones.

Saturday's mini-camp practices were both very intense and the effort was impressive. With the Florida heat and humidity apparently arriving early this year, Tampa Bay's players should be well-conditioned for the sizzling conditions they will encounter during training camp and in home games during the first part of the regular season.

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