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Harmonious Ending

Posted Aug 18, 2010

The Buccaneers conducted their final practice of Training Camp 2010 on Wednesday afternoon, and the crisp workout was a fitting end to a very satisfying three weeks


With black clouds massing to the east and south of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' practice field on Wednesday afternoon, Head Coach Raheem Morris made an executive decision regarding the last three periods on the day's schedule.

Not wanting to miss the two-minute drill featuring all second and third-stringers - the players likely to be on the field in such a situation in Saturday's preseason game against Kansas City - Morris jumped ahead two periods on his sheet, skipping right to the end.

As it turned out, the Bucs executed that entire 10-minute drill without the anticipated storm ever rolling in, which gave them time to go back and hit the two periods they had skipped.

Things just worked out like that for this team during its three-week training camp at One Buccaneer Place, which came to an end with Wednesday's practice. There were many rainstorms, but almost no missed practice time. There was a good amount of full-speed, full-tackling work but almost none of the nagging injuries that can sometimes go along with that type of practice.

There were a few practice-field scuffles but no locker-room dissension. There were no holdouts, thanks to some 11th-hour work by General Manager Mark Dominik and his crew three weeks ago. There was no controversy, no pessimism, no regrets.

It was simply three weeks of...harmony.

That's the decidedly un-football-like term Morris used to wrap up his team's 2010 training camp, his second at the helm and the second in a row held at team headquarters.

"Overall, the first thing on camp you always talk about, for a head coach, is health," said Morris. "We had a healthy, harmonious camp, so that's always a plus. Our ability to increase our physical play, our ability to go out there and tackle, play behind our pads, was awesome. And to come out as healthy as we were able to, that's just very encouraging."

The Buccaneers held 23 practices during their three weeks of camp, generally alternating between one-a-day and two-a-day schedules. Veterans like Ronde Barber credited that Morris innovation as a big part of the team's health and, yes, harmony. Players enjoyed the alternating approach rather than a solid block of two-a-days and Morris knew it was working when he got particularly good effort on the single-practice days. Some practices were grueling - the almost constant 95-degree heat and dense humidity ratcheting up the difficulty level - but the players were given enough time to recover before the next time out.

The result was a camp-ending practice on Wednesday in which the players were just as engaged as they were three weeks earlier when it all began.

"Today was a nice, crisp practice," said an obviously-pleased Morris. "We had a healthy and harmonious chemistry, a confidence. Position groups - wide receivers and DBs, they really competed well today. They do all the time, but when you get the live practice, live legs, those guys really fly around and stand out. That's always great."

Obviously, breaking camp doesn't mean the end of practice for the Buccaneers. In fact, they have another one scheduled for Thursday afternoon, their last non-walk-through field session before they take on the Chiefs on Saturday. But camp is a different beast, with the players shuttling almost exclusively between meetings, practice and the nearby hotel that is their home for three weeks. A training camp can take on a personality of its own, and if there are significant injuries, unhappy players or obvious team shortcomings, the atmosphere can be tense.

But here at One Buc this summer? Harmony.

**

More Bucs Ready for Preseason Debut

Seventy-four Buccaneer players got their first taste of live football action in 2010 last Saturday night in Miami. That only a half-dozen of their teammates were held out of the game due to minor injuries was obviously a positive development for the team.

However, some of those six players who stayed behind in Tampa last weekend are expected to be key contributors for the Buccaneers this season. Thus, the coaching staff is excited this week to see the slightly-delayed 2010 debuts of cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Myron Lewis, defensive tackle Brian Price, running back Clifton Smith and tight end Kellen Winslow.

All five are expected to play, with Talib and Winslow assuming their usual starting roles. Those two will see the limited playing time usually afforded to starters in the first two preseason games, but of even more interest is the first live work of Price and Lewis, two of the team's top four draft picks this past spring.

Price was the first of two second-round picks the Bucs made, the 36th player selected overall. Lewis was chosen high in the third round. Both players have been limited by hamstring injuries during camp but both were on the practice field on Wednesday. In fact, Morris specifically referred to the two rookies as standouts in the team's camp-closing workout.

Price missed a good portion of the offseason, too, due to UCLA's class schedule and that hamstring issue. He was on the field to start training camp and was one of the obvious standouts in the first few days of practice. Morris isn't particularly worried about the time he has missed since.

"He knows how to deal with playing with pain," said the coach. "That's what we liked him when he was at school. That's what we like about him now. He's coming out there every day and he's working. He's finding ways to get it done. We just want him to go out there and do what he's been doing when he's practiced here. If I can get him to Sundays or Saturdays, how he's been able to do when he's going full-speed here, I'm excited about it."

Lewis turned in one of the best moments for the Bucs' defense during Wednesday's practice. On the first play of the first two-minute drill, he alertly snatched a ball near the ground after it had been tipped by cornerback Elbert Mack and had gone through the hands of wide receiver Terrence Nunn. Lewis followed his athletic interception with a return to the opposite end zone. Morris is looking forward to seeing what the rookie corner can do against the Chiefs on Saturday.

"Myron's going to be able to get out there and give us some reps. E.J. Biggers went out there and had a big-time game [in Miami], and now Myron's hungry. He wants to go play. He watched that game. It's his turn this week. He'll have a chance to go out there and play with those twos, play with those threes a little bit. You let him go out there until you feel comfortable with his evaluation, and then get him out of there and get ready to see where he is."

Lewis' goals for his first NFL game are simple: Play hard, play fast and make plays. He says he's kept himself in position to hit the ground running by staying alert on the practice field even when he couldn't join in.

"It's always frustrating when you're standing back and watching it," said Lewis. "But that's a big part of the game, too, getting mental reps, because if you're not the starter you need to be getting those. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to practice but I was out there getting mental reps and I was in film room getting more mental reps and bringing them out to the field. When I got an opportunity to play, I was able to come out here and take it from the classroom to the field."

**

A Shot with the Ones?

First-year running back Kareem Huggins has been one of the most pleasant surprises of training camp and he backed up his strong work on the practice field with a standout game in Miami last weekend. Huggins led all players with 55 rushing yards, averaging 6.9 yards per carry, and also caught two passes for 16 yards.

Huggins got all of his work in the second half, after the starters on both sides had put on baseball caps. He obviously played very well, but it's hard to know exactly how much stock to put in his performance given the uncertainty of the competition.

That's why Morris might mix up the running back rotation a little bit on Saturday. As a defensive backs coach three summers ago, he did the same thing when a young cornerback named Carlos Hendricks caught his eye. Hendricks wasn't Barber's primary backup at right cornerback, but on game day Morris let the young defensive back take the field a little earlier than the depth chart would have suggested.

Huggins could get the same treatment on Saturday.

"You want to see your two backs play, you want to see [Derrick] Ward and Cadillac [Williams]," said Morris. "But you also want to see, how good is this Kareem Huggins? How good would he be behind the first line? What would it look like if he has an opportunity. You know me - I'm always big into giving guys an opportunity. You just want to get a look at some people under the fire, under the gun. He's one of those guys that you want to try to get out there a little bit earlier to see if he can do it."

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