Inside Bucs' Training Camp: Monday

July 29 - The Tampa Bay Buccaneers held its first day of training camp practices on Monday. Which Bucs players looked sharp? Which players didn't? Pewter Report has the highlights, in-depth observations and inside scoop from Tampa Bay's first day of training camp in this detailed report.

Copyright 2002 Pewter Report/
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Tampa Bay held its first training camp practices under Bucs head coach Jon Gruden on Monday morning and afternoon, but if you didn't know any better, you'd think the Pewter Pirates were holding its fourth mini-camp of the offseason.

Why? Well, the Bucs didn't sport the traditional training camp gear -- pads, helmets, jerseys. Instead, Gruden generously allowed his players to practice in the team's mini-camp gear -- shorts, jerseys and helmets.

This was a wise move on Gruden's part. Temperatures at Disney's Wide World of Sports in Lake Buena Vista, Florida were extremely hot and humid, which made conditions quite uncomfortable. Considering players had not practiced as a team in over a month, one would be hard pressed to disagree with Gruden's decision to allow the players to sport the mini-camp gear for the first two days of training camp.

Despite the hot and humid temperatures, the stands were packed for both practices, and the crowd cheered on the Bucs throughout the morning and afternoon practice.

The team started both practices in individual warmups, just as they had done during the mini-camps.

Bucs punter Tom Tupa loosened his arm up with quarterbacks Brad Johnson, Rob Johnson and Shaun King. Gruden expects Tupa, who will serve as Tampa Bay's fourth-string /emergency quarterback, to begin taking snaps in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills soon.

Bucs running backs coach Kirby Wilson worked with the running backs on blocking technique while Tampa Bay offensive line coach/offensive coordinator Bill Muir worked with his troops on hand and foot technique.

You could definitely tell the Bucs' offense benefited from extra mini-camp session and voluntary workouts during the offseason. The offensive players ran the huddle and got to the line of scrimmage without hesitation. The offensive players seemed like they were on the same page throughout both practices.

"I think the practices went smooth because we had so many mini-camp practices and work this offseason," Bucs QB Brad Johnson said. "Usually, the first day guys are jumping offsides, can't break the huddle and run the wrong routes. Today, overall, was pretty smooth. It felt like it will get that much more crisp."

No, the players didn't run Gruden's plays to perfection, but they were running plays more and thinking about them less, which bodes well for the offensive unit.

Bucs quarterback Brad Johnson had a inconsistent day. He made some bad decisions during 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills. Johnson never took his eyes off his receiver on one particular play, which Bucs Pro Bowl cornerback Ronde Barber observed and took advantage of. Barber jumped in front of the receiver and intercepted Johnson's pass and took it in for a touchdown. Johnson thew another arrant pass, which should have been intercepted by CB Corey Ivy, but Ivy dropped the interception. Brad Johnson did, however, rebound during the afternoon practice and showed some consistency.

Tampa Bay QB Rob Johnson had an impressive day of practice, but again, the pads were not on. You can't help but like what Rob Johnson brings to the quarterback position. He's mobile and is deadly accurate on the run. He also has the strongest arm of any of the quarterbacks, which could prompt Gruden to have Rob Johnson take some snaps with the first-team offense in one or two preseason games.

Bucs QB Shaun King is in fantastic shape. He looked like he was in good physical condition during June's mini-camp, but he definitely is in the best shape of his career. King is thin and ripped. King had mixed results on Monday. He threw a near-perfect long ball to WR Keenan McCardell, but the ball dropped off of McCardell's finger tips as he laid out for the pass. During 7-on-7 drills, Bucs rookie safety Jermaine Phillips intercepted a bad pass from King. In King's defense, Phillips had one heckuva day in terms of performance.

Bucs QB Joe Hamilton, who was placed on the team's injured reserve list last week, was present for Monday's practices.

Tampa Bay running backs Mike Alstott, Zain Gilmore, Aaron Stecker and Byron Hanspard saw plenty of action while Michael Pittman (ankle sprain) and Travis Stephens (foot blister) missed some playing time while nursing their injuries. Gilmore probably won't make Tampa Bay's 53-man roster, but he certainly is an intriguing player. Gilmore is the fastest running back on Tampa Bay's roster and showed some impressive acceleration and elusiveness on Monday. Alstott made a nice one-handed catch on a screen pass, which he took up the field for a 15-yard gain.

So, if Pittman was injured, why was he in action on the sideline? This is one of you things you have to love about Gruden's coaching staff. During the mini-camps, we explained how players that sat out of practice with injuries were not going to just sit and observe practices from the sidelines as they did under former Bucs head coach Tony Dungy. Gruden's strength and conditioning coaches make sure the players use whatever part of their body is working while they recover, which helps keep the players conditioned. Bucs strength and conditioning coach Johnny Parker had Pittman workout with the medicine ball for nearly 30 minutes during the afternoon practice.

As for the receivers, McCardell is faster than advertised. On the play where King nearly connected with him on a deep pass down the left sideline, McCardell had cleared at least five-yards of space between himself and the cornerback.

Bucs WR Frank Murphy has separated himself from the group of receivers behind wide receivers Keyshawn Johnson, McCardell and Joe Jurevicius. Tampa Bay likely will keep six wide receivers on its 53-man roster. Murphy still is working at making the transition from running back to receiver in the NFL, but the fact that he's arguably the hardest working player on the team and second fastest player in camp suggests Murphy has a better chance of securing a roster spot than wide receivers Milton Wynn, E.G. Green, Darryl Daniel, Jermale Kelly, Eddie Hardaway and Aaron Lockett. His straight-line and crossing-route speed stood out during Monday's practices.

The receivers dropped too many passes on Monday, but on the first day of camp, it isn't a shock. Maybe it wasn't shocking, but the fact that Bucs WR Karl Williams was running with the third-team offense was a bit surprising. Williams definitely has to keep his job as the team's punt returner if he is going to make the 53-man roster. Plenty of reporters and fans have tried to write Williams off in the past, including Pewter Report/Buccaneer Magazine, but with the amount of stiff competition at the receiver position this season, the "Truth" is that Williams could get cut even though he re-signed with the Bucs (three-year contract) during the offseason.

The Bucs' tight ends probably had the most impressive day of any unit on the field on Monday. Rookie TE Tracey Wistrom and tight ends Marco Battaglia and Todd Yoder each hauled in passes for long gains. Bucs TE Ken Dilger fumbled after hauling in a pass, but he recovered it. During Tampa Bay's mini-camps, Gruden used the tight ends often to clear out coverage across the middle of the field for his wide receivers, but on Monday, Gruden used the fullbacks to clear out coverage, and for the most part, this strategy was successful.

Tampa Bay's defense had an impressive showing on Monday. Barber intercepted Brad Johnson and returned it for a score. Second-year CB Dwight Smith, who arguably had the most impressive offseason of any Bucs player, picked up where he left by making several pass breakups. Smith and Bucs CB Terrell Buckley lined up opposite each other on second-team defense, but they also split time at the nickel position during first-team drills. Tampa Bay CB Corey Ivy broke up two passes on Monday, but he should of intercepted one of them.

One of the newest members of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- CB Dwayne Stokes -- actually played at strong safety during several drills. Bucs rookie S Jermaine Phillips had a great day of practice. He intercepted King's pass and seemed to be in the right place at the right time on several plays.

Bucs wide receivers Murphy, Green and Lockett fielded punts from punters Tom Tupa and Dave Leaverton at the end of Monday's afternoon practice. Bucs CB Terrell Buckley also was fielding punts, which was rather interesting. Gruden dedicated about 20 minutes to special teams on Monday afternoon. Tupa held on field goals for kickers Martin Gramatica (5-8, 170) and Rob Hart (5-8, 171), who is actually shorter than Gramatica.

Tampa Bay's first day of training camp was not as exciting as it would have been if the team would have sported pads, but one can certainly understand Gruden's thinking.

There will be two more mini-camp-like practices on Tuesday, and on Wednesday, the real evaluating can begin when the Buccaneers take the field with pads on.

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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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