Head Coach Jon Gruden knows he has worked his team hard in the intense heat for the last nine days
Despite what might best be described as an uneven practice by his team on Saturday morning, Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Jon Gruden was not especially disgruntled or disgusted in the minutes that followed.
After all, if every player and ever play were already perfect, what would be the point of training camp?
Nine days into the on-field work at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista – many of those days marked by a pair of two-hour practices in the liquid heat – the Buccaneers are still capable of following one very sharp practice with another that is more ragged around the edges. Sometimes, the level of efficiency goes down from one period to the next. Any sideline observer wondering which drills are going well and which aren't can simply watch the reactions of Gruden and his coaching staff. Players who make mistakes on the field are generally informed of this in no uncertain terms.
Afterward, with the heat of the moment faded, Gruden concedes that some errors are to be expected, if not necessarily appreciated. With camp heading full-steam into its second week, Gruden is not overly disappointed at the mental errors that do creep in. There is, after all, a lot to learn.
"No, not necessarily," he said. "We're putting a lot of plays in, a lot of certain segments of football, every night because that's how the regular season is. If we just stay out here every day and practice the same two or three concepts, it's a little bit unrealistic. We're seeing who can learn, who can function in the heat, and it was an informative day for me that way."
Fatigue is obviously a factor, especially as camp drags on and there is no break from the heat, so the need for breaks in the schedule becomes more pressing. That is why Gruden changed Friday afternoon's regular practice to a walk-through and gave the entire team the rest of Saturday off after the morning session.
The weekend starts with the team's traditional "Family Day," and many of the players were met by wives and children as they trudged off the field in the morning. Gruden knows his players will appreciate a chance to reconnect with their families, but he also hopes the break will lead to a sharper comeback on Sunday morning.
"We've been here over a week," he said. "We've had about seven or eight straight days of pads. We've pushed these guys hard. We've met with them until 10 o'clock every night. I think it's time for them to get a night off and see someone they love and keep things in perspective. We'll resume training camp tomorrow morning and we expect these guys to be ready to roll."
Gruden even took the opportunity to throw in an affectionate dig at his favorite camp whipping post, rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski.
"The coaches [get time off], too," he said. "You get a chance to maybe have dinner with your family and have a meal with somebody else. See some different faces, you know what I mean? You can only see so much of Bruce Gradkowski in a week. This is just to break the grind a little bit. Hopefully guys get mentally rejuvenated and we all come back ready to roll."
Roster Move and Injuries
The Buccaneers went nine days into practices – an exceedingly long time –before making their first roster move of this year's training camp. In contrast, the team made six changes to the roster by this point in last year's camp, though that was prompted largely by a rash of injuries on the offensive line.
The first roster move came on Saturday morning, as the Bucs released rookie cornerback Reuben Houston and re-signed first-year cornerback Dwight Ellick. First signed by the Buccaneers in January, Ellick had been released just before the start of camp as the Bucs got their last few 2006 draft picks under contract.
The 5-10, 185-pound Ellick is in his second NFL camp after being signed by New Orleans out of Notre Dame as an undrafted free agent in the spring of 2005. He was waived at the end of the preseason and later had a brief stint on the Washington Redskins' practice squad.
Houston played at Georgia Tech and was signed by the Buccaneers on May 8 after he participated in Tampa Bay's post-draft rookie camp as a tryout player.
The Bucs had most of their team on the field Saturday morning but remained without the services of offensive tackles Kenyatta Walker and Torrin Tucker, both of whom have missed much of the week's work with minor ailments. Walker is the starter at right tackle and Tucker has been working behind starter Anthony Davis at left tackle.
With those two out, the Bucs are in a two-man rotation on both ends of the line. On the right side, rookie Jeremy Trueblood, a second-round draft pick, has moved up to the starting line and has seen a significant jump in his number of practice reps.
That's helpful for Trueblood in terms of gaining experience, particularly on the first-team line, but it comes with a price.
"It's also very physically tackling," said Gruden. "You get a little sloppy, you get a little worn out, when you take the amount of snaps that he's taking. It's the same with the guys on the left side with Torrin Tucker out. He's doing a good job. He's getting a lot of reps like you said and he's also got his hands full because we're pretty good over there at defensive end."
The team was already being cautious with Walker as a matter of practice, limiting him to one practice on most days. Recently he has sat out additional workouts due to his sore knee. Gruden doesn't expect Walker's absence to continue much longer.
"There's a good chance he'll be back tomorrow or the next day," said the coach. "We held him out for a couple days last year [in camp]. We want him to be ready for the regular season but there's a good chance he'll be back tomorrow."
Gruden also expects starting free safety Will Allen back on the field soon. Allen was on the sideline Saturday morning, sporting a cast to protect his injured thumb.
"He'll get his cast off in a day or so and we'll fit him with something that will allow him to practice and he'll be back soon," said Gruden.
More from Coach Gruden
The Bucs' coach touched on several additional topics after Saturday's morning session.
On the receivers: "They're doing well. They're doing very well. [Joey] Galloway's had a great week. [David] Boston is picking it up and making big plays for us. We're getting better. We've got a deep group of receivers. We like what they've done so far."
On if practice will change next week with the first preseason game coming up: "Well, in the mornings it won't. We'll have very similar practices to the ones we're having now, try to get some physical work done early and some situational work done late in practice. Then in the afternoon we'll have a couple periods where we take a look at the Jets – they're obviously a lot different than they were last year – and familiarize our football team with not only their personnel but what we predict them to do."
On comparing this team to last year's team at this point in camp: "I forgot all about last year's team. When you get into the grind like this, all you worry about is where you are now. We have a lot of returning starters from a year ago, and we do have, I think, some key additions who are making things quite interesting. I just look at this year's team. I like the work ethic that we have. I think we do have some talent, but I also know that we have a long way to go."
On the importance of receivers gaining yards after the catch: "It's really important. Sixty percent, on some teams 50 to 60 percent, of what you get is effort. A lot of these 80-yard touchdown passes that guys throw are quick screens where a guy stretches it, breaks a tackle and runs. Yards after the catch is a big part of winning football, yards after contact, hidden yardage is a big part of pro football. We're always looking for guys who have a knack to do that."
On if he has thought about a quarterback rotation for the first game: "Yeah, we have thought about that, but we won't make any finalization on that until the next few days. We've got to see who's up and who's out and we'll go from there."
On what he likes about Gessner: "I don't know, he's just a good guy. He's a good player. He makes plays. He's a functional guy in different positions. He plays pretty good special teams. He's practiced well; we'll see how he plays in a game. He's done a good job. You've got to give him credit. He's worked hard. He's a bit of an obscure guy coming in here and he's gone wire-to-wire here with a lot of good players. He's doing well."