I questioned whether it was a good move to go without shoulder pads because of the chance of getting knocked down and being injured by hitting the ground. In conversation with Ian Beckles, former Tampa Bay offensive lineman, informed me that the guys who get the most out of this is the lineman on both sides of the ball because the can't hit. With shoulder pads, commonly called half-shell, the hogs in the trenches still bang with their upper body so it gave the big boys a much needed day off."
"I almost cried when they told us we would practice without pads," Beckles said. "It gave my body, that was bruised and battered all over, a chance to recover."
Even head coach Jon Gruden saw that his troops were getting a little banged up. Like a good leader, Gruden backed off so his charges could recover.
"We got some guys beat up a little bit," Gruden insisted. "We had two real physical days I think on Friday and Saturday so hopefully our guys can rejuvenate a little bit physically today and get ready to go tomorrow."
The jury is still out on Rob Johnson for me. Is he throwing a heavy ball or just bringing it with more velocity than the other two signal callers? No. 11 had a very inconsistent practice in that when he was good he was very good and when he was bad he was horrible. He threw two bad interceptions in the afternoon practice but was hot as a pistol in the morning session.
Also, in my humble opinion, either Brad Johnson is starting to get a tired arm or he may have strained a muscle in his throwing arm. He was constantly stretching and flexing his right arm during both practices and it seemed to me that he was laboring in his throws.
The group that is starting to feel the effects of a depleted squad is the running backs. With Michael Pittman and Travis Stephens on the shelf for both workouts, both Aaron Stecker and Byron Hanspard pulled double duty. For Hanspard this was a good thing because, if he doesn't make the final 53-man roster of the Bucs, this could be his last chance to play in the National Football League. Stecker, who has looked good so far at training camp, continued to be impressive and is making great strides toward locking up the spot of third running back behind Pittman and Mike Alstott. No. 27 had a decent day running the football but looked extremely good on the receiving end of many passes thrown by all three quarterbacks.
The tight ends, as a group, continue to impress. From top to bottom, they just keep making catch after catch. The sad thing is that only three will survive and tight end coach Art Valero is not happy about that scenario but knows that's part of professional football.
"Unfortunately, that's the way things work," Valero said. "The good thing about it is that competition is always going to make everybody better. The great thing about it is that we have so much competition there. I have a great group of people that just want to buy in and work hard at everything. Hopefully, we'll get some of these people on film so other teams can pick them up."
The wide receivers finally had a chance to dispel the rumor that they weren't fast enough to get deep. The morning one-on-one session with the cornerbacks was almost entirely devoted to the vertical passing game. The two surprises were Milton Wynn and Karl Williams. Both, who are not considered speed merchants, were getting open deep down the field. In my opinion the fight for the final two or three wide receiver spots on the roster will be between Frank Murphy, E.G. Green, rookie Marquise Walker, Wynn and Williams. Aaron Lockett or Darryl Daniels must make the team as a return specialist.
Both lines, offense as well as defense, took today as a fundamental and technique day. Without pads, offensive line coach Bill Muir and defensive line coach Rod Marinelli used the time to work on detail work with their individual groups. With Marcus Jones out for the day with a sore shoulder Greg Spires took his spot with the starting defensive unit. The former Florida State Seminole had an excellent mini-camp and has continued his impressive play in training camp. A lot of experts think that he can unseat No. 78 at the left defensive end but I feel that the 6-foot-6 Jones will prevail over the 6-foot-1 Spires.
The linebackers had the best day of any group on Sunday. They record all three interceptions for the day with middle linebacker Shelton Quarles and weak side linebacker Derrick Brooks taking their thefts to the house in the 7-on-7 period. Reserve middle linebacker Nate Webster received an early birthday present when quarterback Rob Johnson dropped one right in his lap without a white shirt within 10 yards of him. Obviously, it was a misread by the quarterback or a blown route by the wide receiver but No. 52 still ended up with the pigskin. Also, Ryan Nece continued to show great athleticism and was within inches of making big plays in the passing periods.
A bright spot in the Bucs secondary is rookie free safety Jermaine Phillips. The 6-foot-1 and 214 pound former University of Georgia Bulldog has made the most of his opportunity with the absence of John Howell from training camp. He has quickly caught on to the cover 2 system that the Bucs employ and has caught the eye of defensive back coach Mike Tomlin and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin as well as Gruden.
"I think he's starting to catch on," Gruden stressed. "He's making some plays back there. He's showing up on the special team tape. That's why we drafted him as a guy who we think can develop into a real good safety man. He's got some real good role models back there. Dexter Jackson has had a great camp. We know about John Lynch and I've been impressed with David Gibson. We hope to get Howell back soon but he is taking advantage of his opportunities and getting better."
Special teams worked on punt coverage after both practices. Wide receiver Darryl Daniels will be given a look as a return specialist and that may be the only way he makes the final roster with the logjam at wideout for the Buccaneers.