Tampa Bay wide receiver Keenan McCardell, who had missed the last two days with a sprained knee, returned to practice on Thursday. McCardell participated in most of the full-pads sessions and went through the one-on-one drills without any noticeable limp. He was limited in team drills, though.
"The initial report (on McCardell's injury) was a week to two weeks, and we're two or three days into this thing," said head coach Jon Gruden. "McCardell is chomping at the bit to get going."
"This game is about injuries and playing through pain," McCardell said. "It was hurt, but that's football. I won't be at 100 percent. But nobody will. That's training camp. Everybody is sore. We're in doubles right now -- the dog days as Coach Gruden calls it. It's the grind. You want to be out there grinding with the team."
McCardell said he hopes to play in Monday's preseason opener against Miami.
"It's big. You want to be able to get into a rhythm with the quarterbacks. I missed two days -- it's just three practices -- but it seems like an eternity. I need to be out there.
"We'll see. It's still day-to-day. The guys in the training room are taking it very slow. I'm actually pushing them. They're trying to slow me down. I want to play. I want to do my job. I want to work. I get paid to do a job. I want to go out there and do my job."
Thursday marked the return of second-year free safety John Howell to practice. Howell was excused from the first week and a half of training camp to be with his family due to his brother-in-law being charged with a DUI manslaughter in Nebraska, according to a newspaper report on Wednesday. The Bucs were happy to have him back in camp.
"We're not going to really say very much about why he was late," Gruden said. "We're just going to leave it with the fact that it was a personal matter. But I'll say this, he's a great guy, we think he's got a real bright future in the league as a player and we're going to help him get squared away, focused on the bullseye and into a rhythm as a safety man. We need him here and we think he's got a real good future."
"It's great to be back to work," Howell said. "This is kind of my second family here. I had a rough couple of last weeks, just some personal issues. I felt that I wouldn't be helping out any with my mind on that and some concerns that I had at home. I got that behind me now and I just want to say that I'm happy to be back.
"I felt comfortable being back on the playing field. It was harder to be away than it is to come back a little bit behind. I'm confident that I'll be able to step up here, get my legs back underneath me and get in the meeting rooms and get my mind right and back on the game. I don't think I'm too far behind. I think I've got a pretty good work ethic and I'll be able to get back pretty soon."
Rookie free safety Jermaine Phillips received some invaluable reps during Howell's absence, but the team said that his absence wouldn't impact Howell's chances of making this team.
"I love this team, I love this organization, but I believe my family's first and most important," said Howell. "If I can't take care of them, if I put my job before my family, then something's wrong."
Several players sat out the morning practice session with various injuries. Cornerback Dwight Smith was held out with a hamstring injury, while center/guard Todd Washington had some swelling in his knee. Rookie defensive end John Stamper continued to miss practice with a severely pulled hamstring. Guard Marcus Jenkins (foot), guard/center Shane Grice and running back Byron Hanspard (knee) also missed practice with various ailments.
Running back Michael Pittman also missed a couple snaps while getting his foot re-taped for a blister, a similar ailment that hit Travis Stephens the other day.
"(Pittman's) got a blister now on his toe," Gruden said. "He must be wearing Travis Stephens' shoes. I don't know, I'm a young coach, I guess, but I've never seen running backs get blisters in training camp. So that's something we're going to investigate."
The Buccaneers worked on the shovel pass extensively during the morning practice. At the start of the session with just the quarterbacks and running backs, the drills generally received mixed results from Gruden.
In nearly half of the pass attempts, either the running backs dropped it or the quarterback didn't pitch it with enough umph. Rookie Travis Stephens and Aaron Stecker were culprits when it came to the drops, and Shaun King was guilty of not putting enough force behind his shovel passes.
"You've got to catch the ball, men!" Gruden screamed. "You've got to catch it! Be urgent and get upfield."
The delivery between the quarterbacks and the running backs was much more crisp in team drills with Stecker scoring on a shovel pass from Brad Johnson near the goal line.
TIME FOR SOME ACTION
The Bucs worked on their play-action passing on Thursday in situations where they were in third-and-short. All three quarterbacks did a relatively good job with their play fakes.
In one of the last plays in the morning practice, King fooled the safeties with his play-action fake which allowed wide receiver Frank Murphy to streak downfield wide open. Murphy caught the pass in stride and raced in for a 70-yard touchdown.
"It felt good to get in the open field," Murphy said about his touchdown pass from King.
"We run the football to set up the play action pass," Gruden said. "If you can run the ball, then the play-action pass is legitimate. If you can get yourself in some third-and-3's like we had a ton of today, then you're going to see the naked bootlegs and the play-action passes work. But if we're looking at third-and-10 or second-and-13, it doesn't really matter what your playbook is, you're in for a long day."
LOOKING FOR BACKUPS
One of the things that Gruden's offense was working on during the morning practice session was contingency plans and audibles when facing extreme looks from the defense.
"If you want to be diverse and multiple and do some things, you have to have "X" amount of plays in practice and you have to have some of these plays line up against very, very, very bad looks," Gruden said. "Blitz looks, weakside overloads where you have to be able to audible. Contingency plans are very much a part of this training camp. We don't want to waste plays and run the ball into overloads and throw the ball into double coverage. We want to try to have an inventory that is comfortable and accessible for everybody to get to if need be. That's easier said than done.
"This afternoon's practice, we'll start what we call our 12-12-12's where we'll line up our offense against a service squad defense and our defense against a service squad offense and we'll get very personal with some of these contingency plans we're talking about."
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