Players and coaches have been raving about the play of Shelton Quarles, who has been exceptionally steady in the middle of the defense, and Webster is losing valuable time in which he could be impressing the coaching staff.
The skies were overcast and the temperatures were in the 80s -- humid, but manageable conditions for the Bucs, who were in full pads on Friday morning, but in shorts and jerseys only during the afternoon session.
The offensive line spent the first few minutes at practice driving the five-man blocking sled. It always bothered me that previous offensive line coach Chris Foerster never used one. I coached little league football for two years a couple of years ago and even we had a five-man blocking sled (thanks to a very generous gift from former Tampa Bay defensive lineman Tyoka Jackson). Blocking sleds are a must, and thankfully Bill Muir insisted that the Bucs buy one upon his arrival.
The offensive line is much more physical in their drills under Muir. An emphasis is placed on hand movement and "punching" or "striking" a defensive lineman.
The O-line was working on pulling during their individual practice time. One player who stood out was second-year player Russ Hochstein, who should thrive in the Bucs' new offensive scheme. Hochstein, who has good quickness and a strong sense of timing, played at Nebraska were guards are expected to pull in their sleep.
In observing the defensive line bag drills, defensive end Marcus Jones seems to have regained full strength in his injured shoulder. Jones was powerful in his pass rushing drills and looked to be in much better shape than he was in last year. Jones bulked up too much (to around 295) last year in order to go against the bulkier right tackles. But that extra weight robbed him of his quickness which hampered his containment as well as his pass rush. Jones now weighs closer to 275.
Rookie John Stamper showed good agility in the pass rushing bag drills. He did re-injure his hamstring later in practice, but seemed to have this drill down pat -- showing a great balance of strength and quickness. Stamper seems to have problems when he goes against players instead of bags.
Undersized rookie end Corey White has great hips and really moved well through the bags en route to the QB bag. Nose tackle Anthony McFarland has really mastered this drill, as has under tackle Warren Sapp. Both Sapp and McFarland have great body control as they maneuver through a series of about five standing dummies, striking each bag and then doing a rip technique or a swim move on the way to the QB bag. Defensive end Simeon Rice, who would suffer a thigh bruise later in practice, runs through the drill like a gazelle. All finesse, not much power. But then again Rice's finesse got him 13 sacks last season, including two in the postseason.
One last note on the defensive line. Second-year defensive end Ellis Wyms has been impressing coaches and scouts and has the look of someone who could really step up this year and earn more playing time. He's in much better shape than he was in mini-camp, which only helps.
Coach Mike Tomlin had his defensive backs working on tackling. He stressed wrapping up and taking the proper angle to the ballcarrier. Pro Bowl corner Ronde Barber was using textbook form and newcomer Corey Chamblin was also impressing.
The Bucs worked on their goal line offense during the morning session. This was the first full contact drill of training camp, complete with cut blocks by the offensive line and tackling by the defense.
Running back Michael Pittman, who returned to full action on Friday, was rocked on a play from the 10-yard line by a penetrating Derrick Brooks. Pittman was stopped for no gain and almost fumbled.
The Bucs' Pro Bowl linebacker also came on a blitz and sacked Brad Johnson. Running back Aaron Stecker blew a protection assignment, which allowed Brooks to knife through the line and get to Johnson. It also drew head coach Jon Gruden's ire. He made the Bucs the same play again to correct the mistake.
Aaron Stecker was also dropped for a loss when defensive tackle Chartric Darby sliced through the line to capture the Bucs running back.
Brooks was yapping at the offense when he accurately pointed out that they broke the huddle with more than 11 players on a goal line play from the 5-yard line.
"Too many men!" Brooks shouted. "Too many men! They've got 12! They want to play with 12!"
Rookie safety Jermaine Phillips had a very strong morning practice, smacking Byron Hanspard at the 1-yard line and knocking him to the ground. The youngster from Georgia always plays with his tongue wagging like Michael Jordan. Out of the dozens of mini-camp and training camp pictures of Phillips that Pewter Report photographer Cliff Welch has taken, almost all of them have Phillips with his tongue sticking out.
Second-year fullback Jameel Cook is becoming a vocal leader in the huddle. Cook is an emotional player who has been seen giving numerous pep talks to his offensive teammates during practice, including Friday morning's workout.
Pittman was held out of the full-contact goal line drill down at the 2-yard line due to his ankle sprain. Pittman declared himself "about 90 percent", but was kept out of this drill for precautionary reasons. The fear was that with the close quarters near the goal line that he might get his ankle turned in the pile-up.
Gruden told his players that an extended curfew (one hour) was at stake for the winning squad in a seven-play battle at the 2-yard line. This seemed to stoke the fires of the offensive and defensive players.
Brooks told his defensive unit, "Let's go men! No bulls---! Let's tow the line. We'll get plenty of rest at 10:00 (a.m. -- which was a scheduled water break)."
Strong safety John Lynch came up and head-butted each of the starting defensive players to help set the tone for the seven-play showdown.
On the first play from the defense's 2-yard line, Mike Alstott showed tremendous athleticism leaping two yards into the end zone for a touchdown. Cosey Coleman and the offensive line got a great surge off the snap and plowed into the defense.
But when Alstott and some of the starters went out on the second play, the defense got the upper hand. They stopped five-straight offensive running plays.
Al Singleton stopped Stecker cold at the 1-yard line. Linebacker Jack Golden nailed Stecker for no gain on the second try. Phillips laid the wood on Stecker on the third attempt which had defensive players like Brooks and Warren Sapp leading a chant of "Defense! Defense!" from the sidelines.
Gruden inserted Byron Hanspard in for two more running plays, but the defense held firm on both attempts and denied the offense the end zone. It was only on the last play of the seven-play game that the offense found the end zone again.
Shaun King used play action to slow the defense enough to find tight end Tracey Wistrom wide open in the left part of the end zone for a touchdown. That prompted Sapp to kick a water bottle 20 feet up in the air and over the fence around the practice field.
After a 10:00 a.m. water break, special teams Richard Bissacia's field goal unit took to the field. Kickers Martin Gramatica and Rob Hart took turns nailing long field goals. Bissacia was disappointed at the surge of the field goal block unit, and screamed, "It's points! Every time they make a field goal it's points! I need a goal line mentality here!"
After the field goal session, the Bucs went to a 7-on-7 drill where Rob Johnson and King got most of the reps with the starters. Both quarterbacks were extremely sharp and accurate for much of the morning practice.
The Bucs ran a lot of great crossing routes and Keyshawn Johnson, Frank Murphy, Joe Jurevicius and Keenan McCardell all made great grabs. Those four are clearly the top four receivers in camp right now. They have distanced themselves from the other receivers during this first week.
King was extremely impressive throwing the deep crossing routes, and made some good decisions on the run. Rob Johnson has had a solid week of practice and is gaining ground on Brad Johnson, the starter, but it was important for King to come out and have a good showing -- especially with the reps with the first-string.
McCardell ran a nice post pattern and made a diving catch about 40 yards downfield. Rob Johnson patiently hung in the pocket and found McCardell streaking between safeties David Gibson and Phillips. After McCardell made the catch, the safeties were so distraught after giving up the big play that neither touched McCardell down. He got up and ran another 20 yards into the end zone, which drew Tomlin's ire.
On the next play, Johnson made a nice play on a rollout, heaving a pass to Wistrom who had shielded a defender for a 15-yard gain. Johnson continues to display a rocket arm and pinpoint accuracy on rollouts.
Defensive tackle Buck Gurley made a heads up play by breaking up a screen pass intended for Pittman. Gurley came close to picking the pass off.
Chamblin made a great pass breakup on a ball intended for Keyshawn Johnson. Johnson acted like a bit of a prima donna and was bothered by an elbow thrown by safety Dexter Jackson on the tail end of a deep post pattern. Johnson whipped his head around and spiked the football as he shouted at Jackson, who jogged away with a laugh.
On the last play of the morning practice, it was Terrell Buckley throwing an elbow at Johnson, who was angered by another cheap shot.
The Bucs practiced in shorts and jerseys in the afternoon and although the practice was a bit sloppy on offense and overall rather uneventful, Gruden cut the session short by almost half an hour and gave the players Saturday afternoon off.
The Bucs will practice in pads on Saturday morning, but will be spared the scheduled one-hour special teams work in the afternoon. There's a good chance that that workout will be rescheduled at some point to replace a team afternoon practice.
Defensive end John Stamper and receiver E.G. Green missed the afternoon session with a hamstring pull and a calf strain, respectively.