Newly acquired wide receiver Keenan McCardell was the standout performer of the single practice that was held by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Saturday morning from 8:40 until 10:50 at the Disney Wide World of Sports Complex. The 11-year veteran out of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas had his best practice of training camp. During the first team period No. 87 made a fine running catch while shielding defensive back Dwight Smith with his body. Then, during 7-on-7 period, he made a nice catch of a pass from quarterback Brad Johnson on a smash out route. He capped his practice with a 20-yard touchdown grab from Johnson again in the red zone period at the end of practice. This didn't go unnoticed by wide receivers coach Richard Mann.
"It was his best day of practice," Mann stated. "I know his legs are a little weary now and he doesn't have the pep in his step like he did the first day of training camp but he is fighting through it. He's catching the football although he's sore. I know I haven't looked at the films yet I think he did have a good practice and, usually, if he touches the ball he is going to catch it."
A Bucs Offensive Line Hitting the Sled
Yes, Buccaneers fans, I saw it with my own eyes. The Pewter Pirates hogs were driving a seven- man sled. This is something that has been absent from offensive line drills since I began covering the Tampa Bay professional football team two seasons ago. Offensive line coach/offensive coordinator Bill Muir is a firm believer in fundamental football and hitting a blocking sled is as old school as you can get.
The grand experiment of moving Left tackle Kenyatta Walker to the right side is not an experiment but a test. Muir is trying to see what kind of versatility he has from tackle to tackle. There is also a reason for this move and it has a lot to do with the final 53-man roster.
"The only two players we have that cannot play a second position is Christy and Wunsch," Muir said. "We are considering going into the regular season with seven offensive lineman for games. We want to see now who can play what positions across the offensive line."
Will the Returner Please Stand Up
No one has emerged as the head-and-shoulders leader in the race to be the kickoff and punt returner for the Buccaneers. It just seems that a different player rises to the forefront of the returner derby and then is replaced by a different player at the next practice. Today, running back Byron Hanspard was the top gun of all the returners with an excellent 38-yard return of a kickoff. The former Texas Tech Red Raider hit the hole at full speed and never let up until he reached kicker David Leaverton. Wide receiver Aaron Lockett struggled on his two kickoff returns. On the first he was taken down by strong safety David Gibson after a 14-yard gain and was wrapped up by defensive back Corey Chamblin after only eight yards on the second. In both cases No. 8 showed the propensity to dance and that's the quickest way to end up on the pine.
This brings us back to the thought revealed by Muir that the Bucs man dress only seven offensive lineman on game day. Could the Buccaneers be trying to find a roster spot for a return specialist? Head coach Jon Gruden was asked that specific question and it is a possibility if someone would step up and be the man on returns for Tampa Bay.
"We want to keep all the good players here," Gruden stressed. "We are going to try to keep the best 53 men and if someone clearly emerges as an impact punt returner we are not going to let that guy out of here. He can put points on the board and create field position for us. That changes the strategy of the game but that has to happen before we can even speculate on that roster spot."
Both defensive end Simeon Rice and running back Michael Pittman took part in the entire practice today. Pittman made a nice catch on a streak pattern thrown by back-up quarterback Rob Johnson in 7-on-7 for a long gain. Rice made a nice play in the red zone period on No. 32 when he combined with defensive tackle Warren Sapp to stop the former Fresno State Bulldog for no gain on a power lead.
Both wide receiver E.G. Green and offensive tackle Marcus Jenkins were kept out of the entire practice but, unlike under the former regime in Tampa Bay, did not spent a good part of practice just observing. Both went through timed workouts on the exercise bike to stay in shape.
Smith Comes Up Big Again
The only turnover of the day was registered by cornerback Dwight Smith. On the last play of the final 7-on-7 drills, reserve quarterback Shaun King tried to hit wide receiver Keenan McCardell on a long go pattern down the sideline. Strong safety John Lynch, playing his deep half in the Bucs cover 2 scheme, came over and deflected the pigskin to No. 26. Again, the former Akron University standout is in the right place at the right time and makes the most of his opportunities.