The Bucs had to run a set of wind sprints before leaving the practice field on Sunday
Unless you were in the huddle of players and coaches at the middle of Practice Field #1 Sunday morning, you couldn't hear what Head Coach Jon Gruden was saying to his Tampa Bay Buccaneers players at the end of practice.
From context, however, you could probably paraphrase what Gruden told the team: "Vacation is over."
The Bucs had finished the 12th of 12 practice periods on Sunday — all of them under a blazing sun undiluted by clouds — when Gruden brought the team up. Usually, the only thing left on the morning schedule is a 13th "post-practice" period that keeps about half the roster around for special teams work.
On this day, Gruden had added one more bit of work to the agenda. After breaking the huddle, the entire roster of players headed to the west sideline and lined up on the painted grass. When Gruden gave the signal, the players sprinted across the field and back, running what are not-so-affectionately known as "gassers." Two draining sets of gassers later, Gruden finally let his men head inside.
The surprise sprints weren't a punishment, per se, and truth be told they were probably on the coaches' schedule all along. However, they also doubled as a response to a practice that wasn't quite up to the standards set by the team during most of the first week of training camp.
Most of all, Gruden was bothered by a rash of thoughtless penalties during game-situation drills on Sunday. He explained that nearly 60% of all penalties in the NFL fall into three categories: offsides, illegal procedure and personal fouls.
"To me, those are three penalties that you can control as a football team and as a football player," said Gruden. "We jumped offsides on our own one-foot line. [The gassers] were just a couple reminders, I think. After the Family Day and they got to sleep in, we did a little conditioning."
The Bucs had put together a very good practice on Saturday morning, but that was after Gruden had called off Friday's first practice and given the players some extra rest. After the Saturday workout, the players enjoyed the rest of the afternoon and evening off as part of the annual Family Day at camp, but this break didn't translate into another boost in performance. In fact, the Bucs may have lost a bit of focus while stepping out of their football crucible for a few hours. That was evident in the too-high percentage of passes that hit the ground.
"We had some dropped passes early. We're looking for guys that catch it. There were some good things, don't get me wrong, but we've got to catch the ball."
That doesn't mean Gruden rejects keeping the Family Day tradition alive. In fact, he considered this year's version of the event to be as good as any the team has had in the past.
"It was great to see the players [with their families]," he said. "The turnout that we had was probably our best one. We had a lot of people show up, families and kids, and I think it's great for our players to have an opportunity to center and get back to family."
And now it's time to get back to football. Gruden said that loud and clear Sunday with his extra treat at the end of practice.
Garcia, Haye on the Mend
Early in Sunday's morning practice, as the linebackers and defensive backs ran individual-position drills on the far field, defensive tackle Jovan Haye faced the field and shuffled back and forth down the sideline between a set of cones.
The Buccaneers would have rather had Haye between the lines, but his field work on Sunday was nevertheless encouraging. If Gruden wanted some good news on Sunday morning, he got it when both Haye and quarterback Jeff Garcia woke up feeling quite a bit better than the day before.
Garcia and Haye went down with calf and groin strains, respectively, on Thursday. The Bucs' immediate prognosis on both players was that the injuries weren't severe and they wouldn't miss a significant amount of time. Still, when they would return to the field remained somewhat indeterminate, depending on how quickly each player began to recover.
Now the Bucs have seen Garcia and Haye make some noticeable strides, and Gruden's optimism is even stronger.
"We're really pleased with, number one, they're not serious injuries and, number two, the progress that they've made," said the coach. "Their return will probably be in the next few days to a week. We'll let you know on that, but we do like the progress that's being made. They're much better today."
Until they're back in pads, Garcia and Haye will continue to work on the field adjacent to what the rest of the team is doing.
"That's basically what they do most of the time now, rehab and do all that they can to get back out on the field," said Gruden. "We need them."
More from Coach Gruden
On Antonio Bryant's injury: "He has a little swelling on the knee. He's going to be day-to-day. We expect him back if not tomorrow, the next day."
On Joey Galloway: "I'll get my six-page report on Joey here at lunch and we'll update you when we know more. He does feel a lot better. That's all I can say. It's very close to him returning and we're excited about it."
On rotation on the defensive line: "Well, we're trying to find the front four, the starters. We're trying to see who can play inside, who can play outside, what our best nickel rush combination is. We're trying to give these guys as many opportunities to rush as possible. It's a work in progress right now. We've got some competition, and with that being said we're going to continue to see who fits where the best. We've got a lot of answers to get."
On how Brian Griese has been playing: "I really like him. He did a heck of a job today. He came in in the blitz period and he understands protections, he understands where to go with the ball and when to get rid of him. I've been pleased with his progress and where he is right now. I really like the things that he's doing."