Pewter Report's Top 5 Mini-Camp Performers

June 20 ­- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers wrapped up its last offseason mini-camp last weekend and now they await training camp, which starts on July 28. But after looking back on it, which players shined the most during the mini-camps? Pewter Report editors Scott Reynolds and Jim Flynn have each selected five players that they felt were the most impressive during the three offseason mini-camps.

Copyright 2002 Pewter Report/
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Mini-camp is over and now the wait for training camp has begun. While the countdown for the start of Tampa Bay's training camp is underway, Pewter Report editor-in-chief Scott Reynolds and assistant editor Jim Flynn have taken a look back at the offseason mini-camps and have each selected five players that they felt were the most impressive during the three offseason mini-camps.

As you will notice, both beat writers selected CB Dwight Smith, RB Michael Pittman and QB Rob Johnson, which will give Bucs fans a clear indication that these players really stood out.


Smith seems destined for stardom in Tampa Bay. After all, the Bucs have had tremendous success drafting cornerbacks in the third round, such as Donnie Abraham in 1996 and Ronde Barber in 1997. Smith could be an elite cornerback and possibly unseat Brian Kelly for a starting spot in the next year or two. Known as a ballhawk at Akron -- snaring an NCAA-high 10 picks as a senior -- Smith has yet to get his hands on a pass in the NFL, but that will likely change as he is the odds-on favorite to win the nickel corner job in Tampa Bay. He was everywhere in mini-camp breaking off several passes, intercepting others and playing with enormous confidence.

The thing that is impressive about Murphy is how much progress and improvement he has shown since last season. Blessed with blazing speed and a high-kneed, reckless running style, Murphy offers some zip to the Bucs' passing game. He had a very solid spring catching the ball, running precise routes and absorbing the fundamental teachings of new receivers coach Richard Mann. Murphy will likely be a spot player at receiver this year and must be considered among the favorites to win the kickoff return job, but when he's on the field he has an electric, big-play presence about him.

There is more to this guy than just muscles. Pittman has displayed great acceleration, balance and power during the Bucs' three mini-camps, and after taking the majority of snaps, he's pegged to be the feature back in Jon Gruden's offense. Pittman also impressed with his ability to catch the ball and it seems he has a good feel for the passing game. As I first stated even before his arrival in Tampa, Pittman has a chance to burst onto the NFL scene like Priest Holmes did in Kansas City last season. He may not lead the league with 1,555 yards like Holmes did, but he will give the Bucs a back with speed and tackle-breaking ability.

I thought Johnson really emerged as a threat to unseat Brad Johnson for the starting quarterback job in the last mini-camp in June. There were hints of his ability in the second mini-camp in late April, but he seems to be more disciplined and more focused after working with Gruden and quarterbacks coach Stan Parrish in May and June. Johnson told me that he was trained to always look downfield to make the big play in Jacksonville and in Buffalo and that he's having a hard time trying to fight that urge in Tampa. But he's making strides and making better decisions, which is really the key to the West Coast offense -- or Gulf Coast offense as Gruden calls it. Johnson's playmaking ability increases when he's outside the pocket with his rocket arm. He needs to develop a better pocket presence and throw underneath, throw it away or scramble. He's still too stubborn at times and won't give up on plays. Once he reins that in he'll be the Bucs' starter.

Rice looks like he's ready to pick up where he left off, which was collecting two sacks against Philadelphia in the Bucs' playoff loss. He finished with 13 sacks on the year, including those two QB takedowns, and 12 of those sacks came over the last nine games. Rice looks so comfortable and confident now that he knows his role in the defense. He's really working on double moves with defensive line coach Rod Marinelli this offseason. Left tackle Kenyatta Walker has made strides picking up Rice's initial move, but its his second move that is giving the second-year offensive lineman fits. I don't think 20 sacks is out of the question this year, especially if Gruden's offense can build up big leads that forces opponents to turn exclusively to the passing game in the second half. That's when Rice will lick his lips.


Smith simply was the most impressive player during Tampa Bay¹s three mini-camps (15 practices). He hauled in almost a handful of interceptions and really stepped up during 11-on-11 drills in place of starting CB Brian Kelly, who had suffered a broken hand. Smith showed impressive instincts and discipline for a second-year player. He's no Donnie Abraham, but Smith will fill the team's nickel cornerback role quite well this season if he performs like he did throughout the offseason workouts.

Warrick who? If I had to sum up Michael Pittman in one word, I'd say "explosive". The former Arizona Cardinal could prove to be a free agent steal for the Pewter Pirates. Pittman showed great hands out of the backfield and picked up Bucs head coach Jon Gruden¹s offense rather quickly. Pittman is a no-nonsense type of guy. He hits holes without hesitation and his elusiveness and power were awesome. Tampa Bay thinks Pittman is poised for a breakout year this season and his mini-camp performances would certainly support such a sentiment.

I didn't think much of QB Rob Johnson when Tampa Bay signed him via free agency. But after further review, Johnson caught my eye during the mini-camp practices. Why? Well, his elusiveness probably was his most impressive trait. Johnson had a knack for avoiding sacks during the practices. It was almost as he preferred to throw on the run and/or out of the pocket. Speaking of the pocket, this was one area where Johnson improved his passing in. During the first and even parts of the second mini-camp, Johnson didn't seem to have much pocket awareness. He would hold onto balls too long at times and would try to make something out of nothing at others. But during the last camp, Johnson showed that he was capable of throwing out of the pocket effectively. Johnson displayed the strongest arm, the best accuracy, the tightest spirals and the fastest legs of all three quarterbacks. He climbed in front of Shaun King as the team's No. 2 quarterback and he's not far behind starting QB Brad Johnson.

Tupa was a late arrival to Bucs mini-camp. He only participated in last weekend's mini-camp since the team didn¹t sign him until mid-May. Tampa Bay¹s punting position looked scary for the first two mini-camps while Tim Morgan and Mike Abrams handled those duties. Both players were inconsistent and one could tell these were not the players Tampa Bay wanted to fill Mark Royals' shoes with. Tupa put on quite the show throughout last weekend¹s mini-camp practices. He consistently put tremendous hang time and distance on his punts. His punts were traveling 60-70 yards in the air. One might have questioned Tampa Bay¹s decision to release Royals, but after watching Tupa last weekend, the Bucs definitely upgraded the position. Tupa will serve as a holder for K Martin Gramatica and he also took some snaps at the team's fourth-string/emergency quarterback and looked like he'd played the position before, but let's hope the Bucs don't have to play him behind center next season.

Gruden will feature a two-tight end formation quite often in his offense, and for good reason. Gruden obviously has a talented tight end in Ken Dilger, but the unsung hero could be Marco Battaglia. Why hadn't people heard of this guy before? Battaglia was regarded as a solid tight end when he entered NFL out of Rutgers in 1996 and he certainly showed good hands and solid blocking ability during the Bucs¹ mini-camps. Battaglia's skills were never really utilized in Cincinnati, where he suffered through the Bengals' search for consistent play at the quarterback position. With a Pro Bowl tight end playing opposite of him and plenty of other legitimate receiving threats around him, Battaglia was the beneficiary of the attention received by other offensive players during the offseason workouts and one shouldn't be surprised if this is the case during the season.

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All photos are courtesy of Pewter Report director of photography Cliff Welch unless noted otherwise.

Copyright 2002 Pewter Report/

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