The list of the walking wounded grew a little longer on Sunday with the addition of defensive tackle Anthony McFarland. He was kept out of practice for precautionary reasons after sustaining an ankle injury when he was inadvertently kicked by running back Michael Pittman while pursuing No. 32. The injury occurred during team period of the afternoon workout and does not seem to be of a serious nature.
Others kept out of practice were defensive tackle Warren Sapp plus linebackers Derrick Brooks and Nate Webster along with defensive end Marcus Jones who are all recovering from offseason surgery. None of those players were expected to participate in any contact drill but all four should be ready for the final mini-camp that will take place from June 13 to 15. When asked if he's ready to get a look at No. 55 and 78 and 99 head coach Jon Gruden was very succinct in his commentary.
"We need those guys without a doubt," Gruden stressed. "They are doing the right thing right now. They are working extremely hard in the weight room. They are getting their conditioning done and they are rehabbing. We expect to see them shortly but, in the meantime, we're going to continue to work with the guys that are healthy. Hopefully we will be able to find another player or two that will come in and step up to help our team."
Also kept out of contact drills were wide receiver Keith Poole and defensive back Brian Kelly. Both were injured in the first mini-camp, Poole with a hamstring strain and Kelly with a broken hand, and both were expected to take part in this mini-camp but have not progressed far enough in the rehabilitation for the medical staff to allow their return to full workouts.
The only injury of the day was defensive back Ronde Barber. During a goal line perimeter period the Pro Bowl cornerback tried to defense a quick slant to wide out Frank Murphy. He collided with linebacker Chris Jones, filling in for the injured Derrick Brooks, and No. 20 had the wind knocked out of him. He returned later in the period and seemed to suffer no ill effects from the contact.
Practice culminated with a rookie indoctrination run. The veterans on offense and defense line up on both sides as the rookies ran gassers, across the field and back wind sprints.
Kicker Martin Gramatica was three-for-four in the field goal department from 48 yards out. He split the uprights from the right and left hash marks and was good from one of his middle-of-the-field placements. The other kick was partially blocked but still had enough impetus to make it to the goalpost but hit the left upright and bounced away.
The punting was almost a complete disaster. While warming up all three punters, rookie Mike Abrams and first-year punters David Leaverton and Tim Morgan, were having extreme difficulty with the strong winds coming out of the south. Luckily the trio moved to the far practice field and they were able to boot the pigskin with the breeze at their back. All three took advantage of this confidence building change -of-direction and with Morgan booming the longest that measured 75 yards.
The Bucs had five new faces running with the first unit and a new defensive back when they went to their nickel package. Cornerback Dwight Smith was subbing for Brian Kelly and weakside linebacker Chris Jones, a second-year pro out of Clemson, was manning that spot for Derrick Brooks. The defensive line was a makeshift unit with defensive end Simeon Rice being the only starter to answer the bell. At both defensive tackle positions was Chartric Darby along Ellis Wyms, who moved down from defensive end, plus defensive end Greg Spires, a Florida State alumni with five years professional experience. When the Pewter Pirates go to their nickel coverage scheme cornerback Anthony Midget is the nickel back.
The entire defensive coaching staff is much more animated and vociferous this season. They are coaching on the run and getting involved after every play with a particular player to either correct a mistake or reinforce a good performance. Gruden feels that there is a competition not just among the players but also with the coaching staff.
"I don't have to tell these guys anything," Gruden said. "These guys are every bit as competitive or more competitive than I am. You get in an inside run period and Joe Barry and (Rod) Marinelli are going to be there and they are going to be fired up. They are going to be scrambling and fighting for inches just like the linebackers and the defensive line. We're down in one-on-one and it's (Mike) Tomlin against Richard Mann and both guys want to be able to go take a shower in the little cell that we have and feel good about the day. Bragging rights are important in coaching too and I'm really fortunate to have a group of guys that are passionate about the game. I think it carries over to the players. Whether that's good or bad is up to other people to decide. I like passion and I like guys that genuinely like the game and like working at it. It's personal and everything about it is personal. It's a very personal game. It's about stopping people, converting third downs and scoring and winning. Everything from special teams to every phase of our football is going to be competitive and, hopefully, highly spirited.
The players on the defensive side of the ball are showing more fire as well. Even mild-mannered safety John Lynch expressed his displeasure to a teammate on a missed assignment. Newly converted middle linebacker Shelton Quarles was also very vocal especially in the goal line period.
Cornerback Dwight Smith continues to look impressive in mini-camp. The from Akron star pilfered two more balls today, one in 7-on-7 and the other in goal line perimeter period, and has been making plays throughout both mini-camp sessions. Gruden feels that Smith needs to make and impression during mini-camps and must continue to play well in the future to catch the eye of the coaching staff.
"He has to do that," Gruden stated. "Dwight missed a day-and-a-half or so with cramping but Dwight is a good football player. He has a nose for the ball and he's a very physical corner. It's time for Dwight Smith to do that. He has to do it again tomorrow and he's got to do it again consistently. That's what we're looking for from him. He has playmaking ability and he's a young who is very physical. I like Dwight Smith and he helped himself today."
Rookie Markese Fitzgerald had an interception in team period. Quarterback Ron Johnson tried to get the football to Keyshaun Johnson on a deep out and the ball just flutter. That allowed Fitzgerald to step in front of No. 19 for the pick.
One of the big coaching points with the offense staff is getting out of the huddle and to the football quickly. Gruden is instilling in the offensive unit that the must hustle to the football because the quarterback needs at least 15 seconds to look over the defense and change the play if need be. Quarterback Brad Johnson feels that this ability to change the play will really help the offense get on track.
"It's a good system because it, really, gets the ball out of your hands quick. It's a very good running game. You can check from run to run, from run to pass and pass to run. The big thing is to get down the protections and personnel. In this offense we have a lot of guys who can make plays after the catch which will be a key for us. It should help us get out of bad third-and-long situations. It's an excellent system but it is a vocabulary system. It takes some to time to spit it out in the huddle but, after a while, it all makes sense. After our second mini-camp it's becoming pretty familiar and it's only going to get better."
Rookie tight end Tracey Wistrom had an up-and-down day. From the positive side he made a great diving catch coming out of a crossing route in 7-on-7. From a negative standpoint he had the football stripped after a catch by linebacker Jack Golden. The two former Big XII rivals, Golden from Oklahoma State and Wistrom from Nebraska, were involved in a 7-on-7 drill and Golden punched the ball out from behind after Wistrom caught a drag route near the sidelines. The ball rolled harmlessly out of bounds but welcome to the NFL, Mr. Wistrom.
Running back Mike Alstott had an impressive day and, even though it was a workout held in shorts and helmets, ran over rookie safety Jermaine Phillips. Obviously the former Georgia standout didn't know that the A-Train was going to slow up and ended up on his backside. Not a position you want to be in when the team goes to full gear so welcome to the NFL, Mr. Phillips.
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