While watching a four-man perimeter drill featuring an offensive tackle, a tight end, a defensive lineman and a linebacker during the morning practice, it became evident that strongside linebacker Al Singleton is a man on a mission. Singleton, the team's fourth-round draft pick in 1997, has bided his time on special teams waiting for a starting opportunity. Now he has it and is making the most of it.
Singleton was dominant in the drills and easily shedded the blocks of several tight ends, once throwing Todd Yoder on the ground off the snap. Yoder's job is in jeopardy due to the emergence of seventh-round draft pick Tracey Wistrom, who has showed that he can be a more effective blocker in the running game at times. Yoder must shore up his blocking to be guaranteed a spot as the Bucs' third-string tight end.
The tight end position was also active today in practice during special teams. Gruden had the entire extra point team, minus the holder and kicker, line up on the left side of the hash about 15 yards away. The center then snapped the ball diagonally to tight end/blocker Mike Roberg, who tried to run the ball for an apparent two-point conversion. Roberg's effort on the trick play was close to getting in the end zone, but cornerback Ronde Barber and others appeared to stop him just short.
Speaking of special teams, punter Tom Tupa was working with the quarterbacks doing some handoffs and short throws to the backs out of the backfield during individual drills. Tupa, a former passer in the NFL, will be the team's emergency fourth quarterback on game day.
Six-foot-five wide receiver Joe Jurevicius had an amazing practice on Thursday morning. He used his size to his advantage on two occasions, hauling in jump balls. The first occurred on a deep crossing route when his long, outstretched arms reached over the head of cornerback Corey Ivy to snag a pass in stride for a big gain downfield.
Jurevicius' other jump ball situation in camp today came towards the end of practice when he bailed out Johnson, who was under a heavy pass rush. Johnson was about to get sacked but threw the ball up when he saw big 83 flash across the middle. He heaved the ball up and allowed Jurevicius to leap up and grab the high pass in a crowd to get the first down.
Out of all the receivers in camp, I haven't seen Jurevicius drop a pass yet. I'm sure he has, but every time I look for him in drills he always catches the ball.
Cornerback Brian Kelly had a strong day of practice. He doesn't have much in the way of ball skills, but he was physical at the line of scrimmage jamming receivers and impeding their release. He had good coverage against Keyshawn Johnson and manhandled Karl Williams.
Free safety Dexter Jackson also brushed up on his coverage skills, lining up in man coverage against Johnson and Eddie Hardaway. He was extremely physical with both receivers and seems to be playing with a great deal of confidence. He banged heads with Hardaway, charging head-first into him, which drew the ire of the coaching staff for being too physical.
Jackson was fired up during the morning workout and was throwing elbows and shoulders and delivering hits all morning long. I spoke with him about that after practice.
"We're about to start a little contact with the Dolphins this weekend," Jackson said. "I'm trying to work on my tackling. Coach Gruden has pretty much held out the safeties on the 9-on-7 drills -- the free hitters. I'm just working on dropping my hips and working on my hitting and tackling. Work on wrapping up. That was one of my weaknesses last year, not following through on my tackling."
When I mentioned to Jackson that I thought he looked more comfortable in his second season as a starter, he said," It takes a year to get comfortable (starting) and knowing what teams do and how they are looking to attack you."
He also said that he looks forward to getting his sticky fingers on more passes this year. He was third on the team last season with four interceptions.
"I feel like I have one or two of the best sets of hands on the team," Jackson said. "I'm a free safety. If they overthrow the ball or throw a bad pass, it's my job to make them pay. Donnie Abraham had six picks last year and Ronde Barber had 10. This year they're saying where are they going to come from? Hopefully from me."
Jackson will be a free agent next spring and wants to make an impact this season in order to stay in Tampa Bay or land a lucrative deal elsewhere. Leading the secondary in INTs would be a great place to start.
But Jackson wasn't the only player who was lighting it up at practice. Linebacker Shelton Quarles nailed wide receiver Frank Murphy on a crossing route in the middle of the field. He also jarred the ball loose when he popped Michael Pittman, who was attempting to haul in an underneath pass from Johnson. Pittman went to the ground and the ball went into the waiting arms of Singleton, whose heads-up play turned into an interception.
Defensive end Marcus Jones was back at the starting left end position on defense. After reading about all of the accolades surrounding new defensive end Greg Spires, that was a smart move for Jones. He needs to play through the pain of an ailing shoulder to stay in the starting lineup.
In the afternoon practice, the Bucs unveiled some new practice jerseys with a brighter shade of red.
Wide receiver Frank Murphy made a great sideline catch dragging his toes. Murphy didn't have the knowledge and the fundamental base to pull off such a move. Some of the local beat writers are coming to the realization that Pewter Report has been saying all offseason -- Murphy is wrapping up the fourth wide receiver spot.
Speaking of wide receivers, rookie Marquise Walker was getting yelled at again for not running the right routes and understanding the plays. Both wide receivers coach Richard Mann and head coach Jon Gruden have been on Walker's case during training camp. Walker needs to shine in the preseason games.
Tampa Bay also worked on short kickoffs and the hurry-up offense during the afternoon workout.
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