After two days of brutal heat and oppressive humidity, the Buccaneers were greeted with a welcome break from those conditions for the final mini-camp workout on Saturday morning. Just as the Red & Pewter took to the practice field at 10:00 AM on June 15, the skies opened to and an unexpected early morning summer squall, which drenched the practice field for 15 minutes. The good news was that the precipitation kept the temperature down for the first hour of practice. The bad news was that when the sun reappeared an hour into practice, the humidity became stifling.
The Tampa Bay players, especially the ones that were experiencing their first West-Central Florida heat wave, were a bit spent after four practices in temperature that were hovering around the 90-degree mark. The enthusiasm and emotion was there but you could see that most players were just a step slow. That was apparent on the defensive side of the ball, The secondary did not have a good day in coverage either in perimeter or in team periods.
Even though the practice was in helmets and shorts, there were still times where the contact resembled a full gear workout. It seemed like the Buccaneers were itching to get after it in pads and this fact did not escape the watchful eye of head coach Jon Gruden.
"I think we're ready to put on the pads," Gruden stated. "It almost became like a padded practice the longer we went. I'm really, really impressed with the effort and enthusiasm that these guys showed every single day. They need to get rejuvenated and they need to get themselves away from the game a little bit and get ready to go."
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden thew in yet another wrinkle to Tampa Bay's practice on Saturday. On Friday, it was the wet ball drill. On Saturday afternoon, Gruden had the team simulate game-like elements when they practiced using wireless equipment that allows Gruden to communicate and send in plays into his quarterbacks through tiny speakers inside each of their helmets.
A great deal of the individual period was devoted to teaching specific phases of the Tampa Bay offensive and defensive philosophy. On the offensive side of the ball, the quarterbacks worked on progression reads off of play action. They were to look downfield and then come off to a coach standing in the flat or short curl zone. The offensive linemen were working on footwork and hand techniques. The tight ends were involved in drive blocking from a tight wing formation. The running backs were taking inside handoffs from possible fourth-team quarterback and punter Tom Tupa. The wide receivers were in the process of fine-tuning their timing in combination routes with one player in motion.
On the far defensive field, the linebackers were going through ball drills as well as breaking on the shoulder movement of the quarterback. The defensive backs were going through a drill where they would flop their hips from one side to the other and then breaking to the ball plus fending off blockers with a two-hand shiver. The defensive line was going through their speed pass rush club moves along with working on individual swim and rip techniques.
The offense worked a great deal on crossing routes and they had a great deal of success with them during perimeter and team period against the Bucs defense. Even though the Pewter Pirates offense is light years ahead of where they were last season they still, according to Gruden, have a ways to go.
"This offense isn't where I want it to be but they're getting there," Gruden emphasized. "I think we are trying every way we can to stimulate them. We're giving them a lot of sets and packages and formations in different situational aspects on this field. They are responding to it. We worked in the red zone today. We moved the coaches off the field and moved the ball. We worked on our substitutions and sideline communication. They are getting there but it will continued to be refined until we play New Orleans."
GETTING A KICK OUT OF SPECIAL TEAMS
With Gramatica on the shelf with an injury, the Bucs concentrated on the punt game and it was the highlight of practice. Both punters, newly acquired veterans Tom Tupa and David Leaverton, put on a show and it was a vast turnaround from the poor performance by the punters at the last mini-camp.
Tupa rocketed off a moonshot of 70 yards and Leaverton had a daily best of 66 yards. Granted, they were the beneficiaries of a nice breeze at their back, but they consistently were in the 50 to 55-yard range with superior hang time for the coverage team to get down the field.
Special teams coach Rich Bisaccia could have one of the toughest jobs in the organization. If both punters continue to shine, Tampa Bay is going to have release a pretty good player but, according to Bisaccia, competition will tell the tale.
"Actually, we feel like we have great competition at punter," Basaccia said. "Obviously, Tom is a guy that brings a wealth of experience. He's been through a bunch of different situations during his time in the league. He's a tremendous athlete and is calm tempered. I'm just trying to develop a line of communication so we can learn from each other. The competition has been great between him and Leaverton. Today they were both outstanding and that's before I look at the tape. I thought they did a great job today and I think both guys will have a great camp."
The most interesting aspect to report from the ranks of the walking wounded was not that wide out Joe Jurevicius sat out another practice with a toe injury. What was a matter of interest was that the former Penn State Nittany Lion was wearing No. 83 and wide receiver Keith Poole, still nursing a hamstring injury, was missing in action. The Bucs, however, have not officially released Poole
Defensive end Marcus Jones along with defensive tackle Mike Mackenzie continued to miss practice while their shoulders heal. Kicker Martin Gramatica was held out as well due to a groin problem. Also, defensive end John Stamper did not participate in Saturday's workout.
The only casualty during practice was to fullback Jameel Cook. He hurt his left knee on the next to last play of practice when a group of players went down in a pile. After a few minutes he was able to walk off under his own power, but he went immediately to the training room for treatment.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
When Pewter Report asked head coach Jon Gruden did he like that the team changes complexions when Alstott and Pittman are replaced by Stecker or Hanspard or Stephens, he responded:
"You want to have different flavors of ice cream when you go out. When I go to 33 Flavors I like to have a different flavor once in a while. It's an analogy but a good one. Alstott is a classic banger. He can slam it inside and is really a good perimeter runner. Mike Pittman is a guy that can do it all from any set. I think Stephens gives us explosiveness on the perimeter and a guy that has instant stop-and-start quickness. He's also, obviously, a smaller back. Stecker and Hanspard are both nifty guys that can handle it. We hope that Jameel Cook can contribute also."
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