The 2010 Tampa Bay Buccaneers got their first taste of no-holds-barred football Wednesday when Head Coach Raheem Morris scheduled a live, full-tackling goal line drill in the middle of the morning practice. It was only seven or eight plays but it was intense and exuberant and clearly the highlight of the first week of training camp.
The Bucs got another taste on Thursday afternoon, this one unscheduled, when Morris suddenly halted a full-team drill and informed his players that they were about to "go live." For another 10 or 12 plays the pads were banging and players were hitting each other, and the ground, at full-speed. They enjoyed it so much they implored Morris to let them go live in the next period as well.
That's a good thing, right?
Well, yes and no. Call it a good problem to have, as the coach described it later on Thursday. Morris has a very young team and it is certainly exciting to see the players craving real football action, even if it means a few bumps and bruises. The problem, as Morris explains, is that in order for the team to prepare properly for when the real thing actually arrives the players have to approach all types of practice drills with the same enthusiasm and speed.
It is, as Morris preached during the offseason when pads and contact were not allowed, a matter of tempo.
"We've got to understand consistency in our tempo," he said. "We've got a young football team and it's hard for these guys to go out there and really get it going unless they're going live, it seems like. I make them go live and then they want to keep going live. But you can't practice like that and I've got to get that point across. You've got to come out and be able to play at a high tempo without taking each other to the ground."
Nothing prepares a player for full-contact games like full-contact practices, of course, but it's impractical to run too much of your field work with that kind of hitting. The increase in injury risk is too great, and while injuries are a part of the game teams are obviously loathe to hurt themselves if they don't have to.
"We're keeping each other healthy so we can make it to the season," said Morris. "These cats just went live yesterday and they want to do it again today. They want more tomorrow. I guess it's a good thing that you've got to say slow down to them, but I would like them to come out with a better tempo right off the bat to keep that thing going and to keep those guys motivated."
Morris used the tactic of a sudden conversion to live football several times early in last year's training camp in order to install the sort of practice atmosphere he wanted. Earlier this week, he had pointed out that he hadn't had to go to that strategy this summer because of how hard his team had been going day after day. On Day Six of camp, however, he found the need for some extra motivation. The good news is that the players responded well; even though they weren't allowed to stay live for the rest of Thursday's practice, they maintained the tempo and intensity that had come out of that one full-tackling drill. Some of the team's more outspoken players helped make sure that was true.
"A guy like Aqib Talib, once you go to a live period you can pretty much cancel that side goodbye because he's going to get it going and stand up," said Morris. "That's part of what got him going today, the live period. After that he was one of those individual players that really stood up, along with that defensive back group. Once the O-Line had their live period and they had some pads on pads and hit some guys they really got going. We've got to increase the consistency of the tempo and [be] self-motivated through the team."
Headed to the Hall
No rookie wants to miss an entire day of Bucs training camp, especially a two-a-day that includes the team's first visit to Raymond James Stadium. Safety Cody Grimm, has a pretty good reason to be elsewhere this Saturday, however; his father, former Washington Redskins offensive lineman Russ Grimm, will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on that afternoon.
Still, the younger Grimm might have been hesitant to approach his head coach about this issue. Fortunately, that was never an issue.
Realizing the importance of Saturday's event to the entire Grimm family, Morris placed a call to Russ, who is currently the Arizona Cardinals' Assistant Head Coach/Run Game Coordinator/Offensive Line Coach. He let the soon-to-be-enshrined pro know that his son would be excused from camp on Saturday in order to fly to Canton and join the rest of the Grimm family for the celebration.
"There's going to be some special things that weekend and it was my pleasure to be able to call him and let him know his son's going to be able to attend," said Morris.
Cody Grimm considered that move by Morris to be "pretty cool," and he acknowledged that it's exciting that his father will be going into the Hall of Fame at the same time that he is fighting to win his first job in the NFL.
"That's the way things work, I guess," said the younger Grimm. "It's a good year."
Cody was with Russ in February when the final ballot for the Hall was announced and he knows how much the honor means to his father. He doesn't think that the former Redskin "Hog" will fall victim to his emotions during his induction, however.
"I don't know how emotional my dad will be," said Cody. "He's kind of been that even-keeled kind of guy his whole life. But I haven't seen my grandparents in a long time and we haven't had everyone on my dad's side of the family together for quite some time. My brother and sisters are all in college and it's tough to get everyone together but I think everyone's going to be up there together. It will be good to have the whole family together."
When Gene Deckerhoff, his eyes twinkling, says that Gerald McCoy has the kind of nimble feet he hasn't seen on a Buccaneers' defensive tackle since, "oh, the late '90s," you know exactly what he means. You also understand that Deckerhoff knows what he's talking about.
Deckerhoff is the play-by-play man on the Buccaneers' Radio Network, and has been for more then decades. Beloved by Tampa Bay fans of all ages, he is known simply as "The Voice of the Buccaneers." He has seen it all - including the incredible run of former Buccaneers' defensive tackle Warren Sapp - since the days of Ray Perkins.
On Thursday, Deckerhoff got his first up-close look at the 22nd Buccaneers team for which he will provide the seasonal soundtrack. Making his annual pilgrimage to Tampa Bay's training camp in order to get his scouting of the team in order, Deckerhoff took in Thursday's spirited practice and came away impressed in many ways, but particularly with Gerald McCoy and the young defensive line.
"I don't think teams like Carolina and Atlanta that have run the ball down the Bucs' throat are going to be able to do that anymore," said Deckerhoff. "I think the front office addressed what we needed and they were fortunate enough to get two just huge tackles. We got other young tackles in there from the last few years and we've got the nucleus of a great rotation. As you can tell in the 100-degree heat out here, if you've got four or five defensive tackles you can interchange, you're going to have an advantage in the fourth quarter, especially at home."
Like many Buccaneer fans, Deckerhoff witnessed the entire Tampa Two defensive era that went on a very brief hiatus before being resurrected by Morris late last season. Tampa Bay finished out of the NFL's defensive top-10 rankings last year for just the second time in the last 13 years but Deckerhoff believes they'll be returning to their usual environs very soon.
"Defensively we're going to be better," he said. "The Tampa Two is back. Raheem's got them buying into what he wants them to do and it's a beautiful thing. You know how good defense has been to the Bucs over the years, and I think the defense is definitely back."
Deckerhoff actually arrived in Tampa on Wednesday in time to catch the second half of that day's second practice. Unfortunately, that workout was cut short by lightning less than 15 minutes after his arrival. Deckerhoff joked that he had never seen a team move as collectively fast as the Bucs did in fleeing the field after a particularly close strike, but he found on Thursday that Wednesday's sprint wasn't a fluke.
"The one thing I noticed then and I noticed even more today at practice is, this is a quick football team," he said. "It wasn't just a figment of my imagination. I've never seen big guys this fast, collectively...at least what you can tell from practice. You see some God-given natural speed on some very big fellas."