I had the opportunity to watch the Buccaneers practice today at their facility and here's my report.
The first thing I want to talk about is tempo. Or rather the lack thereof. Now this was admittedly my first time visiting the Bucs' training camp since I played here but the tempo, in my opinion, wasn't up to par today. I know it was hot, very hot. And I know it was the 3rd day in pads. But the one thing we prided ourselves on back in the day, especially on defense, was how hard we practiced every single day.
I was reminded today of a situation back when I was playing where we signed a veteran linebacker one offseason to back up the starters. Well during training camp we run what's called a "pursuit" drill where the whole defense has to sprint 40 or so yards down the field through the goalline. If one person in your group doesn't bust his tail all the way through the whole group has to do it again.
Well this guy happened to be in a group that had to go back twice. And I BS you not, this guy was so gassed that he retired pretty much on the spot. That's the kind of effort that used to be asked of us no matter what the conditions and I just didn't see that today.
Now its just one day, and again maybe this is the norm now. Still it just didn't sit right with me.
On the defensive line there were some guys who were going balls to the wall, most notably in my opinion was Roy Miller, but as a group they just looked like they were going at about 3/4 ths speed. Or at least 3/4s the speed I'm used to seeing.
Another thing I noticed was the lack of position specific drill work for the D Line. Again it was just one day, and I wasn't there for the two preceding days of practice. But they didn't do the bags today and the drills they did do were more akin to linebacker drills.
Why does that matter?
Well we have two second year guys and two rookies who are going to play a LOT for us this season on the defensive line. And those guys need to get as much drill work as possible so the team work comes easier for them.
The thing about Rod Marinelli is that he put us through 15 to 20 minutes of hell to start off every practice. Along with going through the bags, we had to do a bunch of change of direction drills, get offs, and quick hands work. This had a kind of Mr Meyaggi effect where you did it over and over and over again and then when you got to team work you reacted basically off instinct. You didn't have to think to turn your hips on a pass rush you just did it. You didn't have to concentrate to knock an offensive lineman's hands down, it was just second nature.
Now I am not about to make a judgement after seeing just one practice, I'm just making some observations.
One guy who could definitely benefit from change of direction drills everyday is Gerald McCoy. I had heard that he had been up and down so far in the first two days of practice and I immediately could see why. Two things I noticed about him today. One his stance is kind of elongated instead of compact which makes it a little harder to get off. It would help if he had his feet under him a little more and he bent his legs more. That would give him a more spring loaded action out of his stance.
The second thing I noticed was he was taking too long of a step on the snap. When that happens guys lose their gaps because they aren't able to react to the guard's block while their foot is out of the ground. By the time he got his step down he was playing catch up whether it was a reach block (outside) or a slip block (inside). He did ok when it was a pass but even then he got caught a couple of times with a punch before his foot came down and that made it easier to get him off balance.
Roy Miller, in addition to being a ball of energy today, also was solid when I saw him. He is good keeping his ground at the point of attack on a double team. And he is slippery with his pass rush.
I had heard reports that Brian Price was tearing it up in camp so I was looking forward to watching him work. Its true that he is dominant against our second team offensive line. Unfortunately that's not saying much. He is very quick off the ball but at times it appeared that he wasn't sure where he was supposed to go and at other times his effort wasn't consistent. He does use his hands well and when he understands the effort level needed play in and play out he looks like he will be more than ready to handle his own. Still I didn't exactly see the "beast" that everybody else described.
The first team defensive line today consisted of Kyle Moore, Gerald McCoy, Roy Miller, and Stylez G. White. They held their own most of practice today but neither Moore nor White made a whole lot of plays. Some of that is because of the plays run against them but you would like to see your starting ends show up a little more, even in practice.
Something that caught my eye was on the second team D Line however where Michael Bennett was backing up Moore on the left side and Tim Crowder was backing up White on the right. Now I don't know if this has been consistent all camp but it was still curious to me. I mean I like Bennett's potential and everything, but Crowder in my opinion has a better chance of pushing Moore for that starting left end spot. If they have really moved Crowder to the right side backing up White for all of camp then to me its a sign that the Bucs have handed Moore the starting spot on a silver platter.
Don't get me wrong, I predicted this after the season was over. But still I thought there would at least be a competition. I think Crowder pushing Moore for that spot would only make both guys better and whomever ended up on top would be better for having gone through the competition. I don't necessarily think Moore won't give it his all if that's not the case, but its hard to understand the move if only because Crowder showed that he could play well there last season.
I also noticed that they have Sims running as the undertackle with the second team. I'm sure that's mostly to make sure Price gets enough reps at nose tackle to develop, but to put it bluntly Sims just isn't an undertackle. I don't know what that says about his future with the team but it will be interesting to see how he performs there during the preseason games.
I thought the linebackers practiced well today. Quincy Black had an outstanding pass breakup sliding underneath what appeared to be an out route to knock the ball down. Barrett Ruud and Geno Hayes were both physical against the run and really flew to the ball when it was thrown to the short routes. Hayes had a good PBU himself being physical with a guy to get the ball out.
The backups were ok but nobody particularly stood out. I did see Rico McCoy make a couple of plays and Dekoda Watson looked good in blitz period.
It was hard to focus on the secondary and the front seven at the same time but everyone seemed to hold their own. The offense scored on a few red zone passes but for most of the day the secondary kept everything in front of them.
I will say that a lot was made of a catch Mike Williams made on Ronde Barber in 1 on 1s. I should say first off that the drill is one of the most unrealistic in all of football practice. The receiver has the ability to run any route they want with the knowledge that there is no rush to make the quarterback hurry the throw and there is no underneath coverage to impede their progress down the field. Williams put a double move on Ronde and admittedly made him look bad. But the thing about double moves is that they usually take a long time to develop. That's why you don't see a lot of successful double moves in the actual games. So in my opinion it was much ado about not a lot. But too Ronde's credit he came back and made a beautiful interception right along the side lines and kept both feet in.
I thought our offensive line did well today. Keydrick Vincent ran with the starters today and I didn't personally see a lot of Jeremy Zuttah. Vincent is a powerful blocker and he is really good on double teams. Donald Penn looked as good as I have seen him both in pass and run blocking. The right side of the line with Jeremy Trueblood, Davin Joseph looked solid all day. There were refs at practice today and although there were a few jumps during blitz period, for the most part the guys held their water during the later team periods.
As for the backups....
All I can say is that we all should be praying that our starters on the offensive line stay healthy. Like I said before Price showed flashes of dominance against the second team offensive line but I think my old behind could get out there and give those guys fits. They just don't seem to be very physical nor athletic.
One of the things I noticed about the offense was that they ran a lot more split bellys and counter plays today. Translated that means a lot of down hill runs which is what I think fits our personnel best. Cadillac Williams sat out at running back but Derrick Ward and the rest of the guys took up the slack. Kareem Huggins looks just as explosive as advertised both as a runner and as a receiver. I really like the kid and I think he has an excellent chance of making the final roster if he stays healthy and keeps it up. His primary competition for a roster spot, Clifton "Peanut" Smith, is quick but he doesn't seem to possess the power Huggins has and that will make a difference when either guy actually has to break a tackle. Of course Smith is also a former Pro Bowler on special teams so its wayyyy too early to count him out.
Kellen Winslow sat out practice this morning and I didn't see a lot out of the other tight ends, but Jerramy Stevens did catch a touchdown on a rollout from Josh Freeman that was pretty impressive. I still didn't see the physicality out of them as a group that I think we need to run the ball effectively.
At quarterback I had seen reports where Josh Freeman had been off the first two days of practice. Well he seemed to practice well today. He didn't throw a lot of deep balls but he was sharp taking what the defense gave him and hitting the underneath routes.
The one thing he has to realize is that he now has some guys who can make things happen after the catch. Arrelious Benn, Mike Williams, Sammie Stroughter, Kellen Winslow and plenty of other guys can turn a short pass into a pretty good gain. So every pass doesn't have to be past the first down marker. Sometimes you just have to deliver it to those guys in space and let them work and Freeman seems to be starting to understand that concept.
I didn't get to see all of his throws but by my count he was 5 out of 7 or 8 during 7 on 7 and as I referenced before he had a really nice touchdown throw to Stevens on a bootleg play.
Josh Johnson was ok but not great. He throws a somewhat flat ball without a lot of air underneath it but it seemed to get where it needed to more often than not. He also had what appeared to be a touchdown on a quarterback draw during the redzone portion of practice.
Rudy Carpenter fumbled the snap and didn't look great overall, but he did have a nice touchdown throw on a slant to Benn.
Overall I would say it was a good practice and the stands were full even in the heat.