The footballs were dropping out of a clear, blue and very hot sky on Saturday morning
About 90 minutes into the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' training camp practice on Saturday morning, John Wade started sending back some shaky snaps to quarterbacks Chris Simms and Tim Rattay. However, it's hard to blame the veteran center, who is usually automatic on that essential task, for his sudden mishaps. See, it's hard to snap properly when you can barely even move.
After an opening day marked by a cooling cloud cover and some surprisingly livable temperatures on Friday, the Central Florida sun came back with a vengeance on Saturday morning. That led to some cramping problems on the practice field, which was what beset Wade, the hard-working 299-pound linemen.
"He had some cramping," said Head Coach Jon Gruden after the practice, quieting concerns about Wade, who could be seen bending over the trainers' cart in pain. "That had a little bit to do with our fumbled exchanges there at the end. I think he just cramped out, locked out, but he's going to be okay."
The heat and humidity of Lake Buena Vista is simply a fact of life in the Bucs' annual training camp, and overall it is a benefit. The team believes it comes out of camp hardened to the conditions, giving it an advantage over teams visiting Florida in the first half of the season. Still, one can see the effects of those trying conditions manifest in dozens of ways, including periodic bouts of cramps for many players. The higher temperatures on Saturday might have also contributed to a morning practice that, while still essentially pleasing to Gruden, was not quite as crisp as Friday's work.
"We dropped some footballs, but I thought the quarterbacks were sharp," said Gruden. "In our seven-on-seven period we didn't handle the ball particularly well. But our blitz period, our third-and-three segment was pretty good; it got a little sloppy at the end with the center-quarterback exchange."
The most significant reason that the team isn't yet running on all cylinders, of course, is that this is only day two of three weeks, and only practice three of 35.
"We've got a long way to go," said Gruden. "This isn't the Dream Team right now."
It will get better, but it won't get easier. The Buccaneers will put on the pads for the first time on Sunday after running in shorts and helmets for the first two days. That's the team's usual pattern, instituted to give the players a few days to get their legs beneath them before the heavy lifting begins.
It also gives the rookie players a chance to absorb the flow of camp and the etiquette of practice. It's an eye-opening experience for them, because coaches who spent May and June tolerating mistakes as part of the learning process are now coming down hard on any miscues. The 2006 draftees have mostly avoided such moments by performing well through the first day and a half.
"They all [impress me]," said Gruden of the rookie class. "We're rotating liberally right now. Maurice Stovall's doing some good thing. Davin Joseph and [Jeremy] Trueblood are doing some good things. [Bruce] Gradkowski's doing some good things. I got irritated with him a little bit today; some formations ran together on him. But he's doing some really good things out here. I think [Alan] Zemaitis is getting better, he's getting more comfortable. But none of them are ready for Canton. We've got a long, long way to go."
The first two days without pads also keeps the injury list short at the outset. Rookie tight end Tim Massaquoi was the only player who participated on Friday and suffered an injury that kept him out of Saturday morning's practice. Massaquoi has a lower-back strain, but it isn't serious; he did some exercises on the sidelines while the team practiced and could be back as soon as Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning. There's a good chance Wade will sit out the afternoon session after his bouts with cramps, and wide receiver Joey Galloway will be held during the second practice after participating in the morning. Second-year running back, as expected, returned to the field on Saturday morning and ran without issue after missing most of Friday's work due to back spasms.