Give both head coaches, John Gruden for the Bucs and Dave Wannstedt of the Fish, a lot of credit because they saw this coming. They realized that both teams were raring to go at someone in a different color jersey so they reigned in the troops. The morning practice was in full gear but the hitting was toned down considerably. Neither coach wanted to risk a major injury so the hitting was toned down considerably. On the Pewter Pirates side, linebacker Nate Webster as well as safeties John Howell along with Dexter Jackson had offensive players lined up in the crosshairs and pulled up. It was no different for the guys in aquamarine as linebacker Zack Thomas and safety Brock Marion both had the opportunity to put vicious licks but backed off.
All three quarterbacks had an excellent morning practice. In the 7-on-7 and team drills the three Bucs quarterbacks were a collective 29-for-38 and that translates to just over 76 percent completion rate. Reserve signal caller Shaun King had a credible first practice going 6-for-8 with one interception. Quarterback Rob Johnson was 8-of-12 and showed great athleticism. Starter Brad Johnson had the best stats posting a 15-for-18 session with a long touchdown pass to Michael Pittman streaking down the sidelines behind Dolphins linebacker Derrick Rogers after wide receiver had cleared the area by taking the cornerback and the safety with him on a hard post pattern. No. 14 felt that the Bucs offense was productive but there's a long way to go.
"I think we did some good things," Johnson stated. "We rarely turned the ball over. We really took care of the football. We ran a few plays that worked especially when we hit them with a couple big pass plays. We were pretty consistent but we have to get much more effective with our shifts and motions. We have to disguise things better. We also have to get the plays communicated faster so we can get out of the huddle fast. That will happen in time. We did some good things today but we have a lot of room for improvement."
The running backs excelled more in the receiving area than in rushing the football. This was due to the fact that the offensive linemen were limited in their blocking techniques. The Pewter Hogs could only block above the waist so the Miami defensive line did not have to concern themselves with the any blockers at their legs. Michael Pittman and Aaron Stecker did have moments in the running game. Pittman showed good vision and acceleration running stretch plays and Stecker went about 10 yards untouched on a counter left. Head coach Jon Gruden, for the most part, liked what he saw but he knows that there's a 16-game regular season to face.
"It's too early to tell," Gruden stated. "We've got a long way to go. We're not just going to throw out a playbook and say, ‘Here are all the answers to all our problems.' We've got a lot of errors in our game to clean up. We missed an easy pickup in a blitz drill today and that was costly. It could end a game. Those kinds of things can't happen. I don't care where you're practicing or what stage of the season you're in. We have to be intolerable in terms of error. Physical errors are going to happen, you're going to get beat, but you can't have any mental breakdowns. We still have too many to feel great about but that's why we're here at training camp."
One group who benefited from seeing different people across from them was the offensive line. Coach Bill Muir was ecstatic to have his charges go against guys in another color jersey.
"We got a lot out of today," Muir stated. "This is the first time that we worked against a different opponent other than our defense. It's a different look so it requires that our guys make some adjustments and that's an excellent thing for training camp."
The wide receivers continued to, plain and simple, catch the football. Frank Murphy was the most impressive of all the wide outs and is making great strides as he, basically, learns the position on the fly. The two-year veteran from Kansas State University gives the Bucs the speed receiver they are so desperately need. Wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson knows of the improvement of Murphy and that working against one of the better defensive backfields in the National Football League could only make the Pewter Pirates pass catchers better as well.
"It's really good for us to work against the Dolphins secondary," Johnson expressed. "It's a really good secondary. They have two really good corners that are Pro Bowl caliber guys. The have a really good defensive line as well. They're a pretty solid defense and what see a better defense in our division other than ourselves. Other than that the Dolphins are right where they need to be."
Defensively, the Tampa Bay had a very Buc-like performance. The Buccaneers were not the dominating defense last year that they were in previous seasons but with all their core players back and healthy the legends of defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin are looking to turn back the clock. Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Brooks know that it all starts at the line of scrimmage and stopping the ground attack of the opposition.
"We have to go out there and stop the run, period," Brooks stressed. "That sets up everything and you make a team one dimensional. That means that we can dictate some things and that lets our big guns go. Monte can make calls and mix up his blitzes. That will make us a more dangerous defense once we stop the run. Our attitude this year is to basically shut down the run so we can go out there and take over the ball game."
Brooks also feels that it will be a better defensive group because two rookie coaches, defensive back coach Mike Tomlin and linebacker coach Joe Barry, are now going into their second year with the Bucs. Those two will now feel more comfortable with the defensive schemes of Monte Kiffin who, according to Brooks, is still as passionate as ever.
"Monte is the same," Brooks said. "He is trying to drink less coffee to calm him down some. Hey, Kif is going to be Kif. He is going to express his emotions if something is wrong. I think our younger coaches, Coach Tomlin and Coach Barry, my coach; they are more comfortable in the defense now, with teaching, relating to players and working on our strengths and lessening our weaknesses. I think this is why the coaches seem more vocal. I know Coach Barry and Coach Tomlin are just a year into the system and they are a lot better. Plus, Monte wants to get this defense back to championship form and it all starts with him. He just wants to keep us challenged."
In watching the defensive schemes of the Bucs, they are doing a lot more packages with a spy. That's when a specific player is assigned to the quarterback and with the Buccaneers facing the likes of Donovan McNabb in Philadelphia and Brett Favre in Green Bay along with Michael Vick and Aaron Brooks twice in the NFC South. Strong safety John Lynch sees the running quarterback as the rule and not the exception in the NFL.
"I think the league is making a move that way," Lynch expressed. "Just look in our division. We face Vick and Aaron Brooks twice. We still play against Culpepper and you have guys all over the league. You have Cordell Stewart in Pittsburgh. You have guys that can move around and we have to adjust to them. We struggled a little with it last year and it's a fine line. You want to cut your guys loose up front but you have to do some smart rushing."
Overall, not a bad day for the Bucs. A dominating showing by the defense and the offense is starting to grasp the concepts of the Gulf Shore attack. Still, Gruden see room for improvement.
"Some of it, I was very pleased," Gruden said. "Yeah, I was fairly pleased but never fully satisfied."
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