It's not a coincidence that the Bucs have got taller at their pass catching positions and faster at their running back spots. If you look at what head coach Jon Gruden has done in the past with his offense in Oakland you see big wide outs. Starters Tim Brown at 6-foot and Jerry Rice at 6-foot-2 with 6-foot-3 Jerry Porter along with 6-foot-1 Marcus Knight as backups put you in a bind defensively when you had to match up in coverage. The Pewter Pirates are the doing the same thing on a little bigger scale. With the addition of Joe Jurevicius, at 6-foot-5, and third round draft pick Marquise Walker, at a shade under 6-foot-3, joining 6-foot-4 Keyshawn Johnson as well as 6-foot-2 Milton Wynn Tampa Bay's wide receiver corps looks like the front line of a basketball team. Throw in newly acquired tight ends Ken Dilger at 6-foot-5 plus 6-foot-3 Marco Battaglia teaming up with a pair of 6-foot-4 holdovers in Todd Yoder and Mike Roberg it's blatantly obvious that the Buccaneers think bigger is better.
Also, if you look at their pass route schemes, almost all of their drop back passes are crossing routes in the five to ten yard range or deep routes between 20 and 30 yards. Their play action passing game utilizes the 10 to 20 yard range because the linebackers are frozen and cannot get to their normal 10 to 15 yard depth drops. After six practices it has become obvious that plays are being designed for No. 19. Formations and routes are being used to get Johnson single coverage or open spaces in zone defenses.
There is definitely a looser atmosphere around the practice field. The players are more exuberant and not afraid to show their emotions. The subdued style of the Dungy administration has been replaced by the "Compete or You'll Hear About It" in your face mantra of the Gruden era. Players are also more open and expressive with the coaches. A perfect example was the banter that occurred with offensive coordinator Bill Muir facing off against the defensive tackle duo of Warren Sapp and Anthony McFarland. It was a very animated and spirited exchange between coach and players. The big thing was it was "old school" Muir playing with 21st century Sapp and McFarland. Even though there is close to a two-generation difference in age between coach and players it is was good to see that players, on either side of the football, are back to having fun playing football as well as enjoying the coaching staff. Nothing great is ever accomplished without enthusiasm and the Gruden-led Buccaneers are showing the enthusiasm that was not in evidence for, at least, the past two seasons.
Head coach Jon Gruden expressed his displease with some aspects of practice. In true Gruden style here a few of his rantings and ravings.
Q: Is there any particular area you felt you had to work on when you took the job in Tampa Bay?
A: There's always things that every football team has to work on. You have to work on every phase of the game from the head coach's organization to the defense to the offense. You have to work on every aspect. We're not going to overlook anything. We have not arrived in any area. What you have done in the past is in the past. We are going to live our lives in the future and we have to continue to improve in every area.
Q: Are you happy to get out of mini-camp without any major injuries like Correll Buckhalter in Philadelphia?
A: That's an unfortunate thing. Any time you strap it on you are, obviously vulnerable to an injury here or there. Our guys know how to practice. We got a little bit aggressive today. We had too many collisions and too many guys on the ground. There's a certain etiquette that you have to learn to practice with in shorts. That's something that I think our team does understand. There are some new players that need to get acclimated to the tempo because we can still practice explosively with full speed executions without all the banging all the time. We are fortunate to have the veteran player and the tempo that has been established here.
Q: How do they know how much is too much?
A: Usually the big guys take control. If we have any problem with the tempo we just go to (Jeff) Christy or (Warren) Sapp or one of those guys. They hold court in the locker room and you get beat up if you are a little bit out of the norm. Usually the players handle that and it's all about etiquette. You're not going to make this team in April or May or June. You're going to make this team in July and there's a time and a place to make it full speed and physical. That's when the pads are on.
Q: We're you a little disappointed with the red zone period today?
A: Not at all. We had a couple of tipped passes but there can't be any tipped passes then. We have to learn that we don't bat balls down in this particular phase of practice. We don't cut our defensive lineman so we don't jump and bat balls down. The two turnovers down there we a direct result of a defensive lineman batting the damn ball down. I thought the execution was good on both sides of the ball we just have to continue to emphasize the etiquette with which we are going to practice with.
Quarterback Brad Johnson, with 11 years of experience in the National Football League, is now the elder statesmen in the Bucs locker room. He sounded off on a few issues exclusively for Buccaneer Magazine after the Sunday workout.
Q: Does your role with the team now change with the fact that you're the senior player in the locker room?
A: My role has always been the same. Anytime you can do something, whether you're a rookie or an 11-year veteran in the league, you have to lead by working hard. You have to be prepared by knowing the system and then by making plays. That's been my attitude regardless of age. Experience is only as good as the play that you make. The big key in this league is to not make the same mistake twice.
Q: Can you compare Coach Gruden's offense to any other that you have been around?
A: It's very similar to the one I ran in Washington. The difference is that Jon (Gruden) uses a lot more personnel. There's a lot more shifts and motions. A lot of the plays are the same but he has a lot of different ways to get to the play. He may have 25 different ways, with all the shifts and motions, to get to a particular play. Those two offenses are very similar in the running game and pass attack. Both of them are very aggressive in some parts of the field and both are very good. Jon's had a lot of success and I'm looking forward to working with him.
Q: It seems like this team made a conscious effort to get taller at wide receiver and tight end. Do you think that was the case?
A: There's a lot of different ways to go. I think you have to look at the past history of the system and where Gruden has been especially when you look at what he did in Oakland. He had big receivers, particularly Jerry Rice and Tim Brown, and some big tight ends with some smaller backs. I think the system fits us all perfectly. It's going to be interesting to see how it comes out in the end. I don't know what the numbers are going to be for each individual player but, as a team, it will be much better.
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