Head Coach Jon Gruden expects a core of special teams players to emerge, including such contributors as LB Adam Hayward (57)
The weather in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' training camp home of Central Florida was a bit dreary Friday afternoon, more suitable for a nice nap or a relaxing day indoors.
But the steady rainfall didn't prevent the team from getting in a solid special teams practice. Head Coach Jon Gruden called off the Bucs' morning practice and the extra rest afforded the roster showed as the team put together a sharp, energetic afternoon session.
Special teams have always been a point of emphasis in Tampa, so a crisp practice in that phase of the game comes as no surprise. Gruden said the roster is full of players the team expects big things from in the return and coverage games.
"We're still putting together our core," Gruden said. "That's where it all starts. There will be seven or eight guys who are on every phase of special teams. We're expecting guys like Quincy Black, Adam Hayward, those two guys for sure, to be major contributors. John Gilmore and Ben Troupe, we're hoping these two tight ends can come in and give us a lift in special teams. We're hoping Sabby Piscitelli can be a force on special teams. But there are a lot of guys that have been very good, productive football players, like Ryan Nece, that we need a lot of because special teams is a hard down to play."
Some new Bucs are also making their marks in special teams, such as defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson. Wilkerson joined the Bucs as a free agent after spending the first five seasons of his career in Kansas City.
A versatile player with the skills to play multiple spots along the defensive line, Wilkerson's flexibility also extends to special teams. He has been working as one of the men in the "wedge," the group of four players clearing the path for the kickoff returner, and has also been running with the punt coverage team.
The ability to contribute in so many ways is a valuable asset, Gruden said, especially for players fighting to earn a roster spot.
"Wilkerson is very important," Gruden said. "Whoever the seventh defensive lineman is on game day, they'll be a key contributor on special teams much like Patrick Chukwurah was a guy we targeted last year. [Former Bucs defensive end] Dewayne White was a very good special teams player when he was a young player. Jimmy Wilkerson is a guy that has that versatility. Greg Peterson is another guy – they're competing. Special teams will be a deciding factor on a lot of guys that make it or don't."
Garcia, Haye Injury Update
After practice, Gruden delivered an update on the status of starting quarterback Jeff Garcia and starting under tackle Jovan Haye, two players who were not required to be at the special teams session. Both were injured during Thursday's morning practice, as Garcia strained his right calf and Haye sustained a groin strain.
Gruden's assessment hadn't changed much in 24 hours, which was a good thing.
"It's pretty much the same as yesterday," Gruden said of Garcia's ailment. "It's not a serious injury. He'll be day-to-day and it's the same really with Jovan Haye. He's got a groin strain. Fortunately, neither injury is serious, but they'll both be out for a few days and we'll keep you updated as time goes on."
With the team's first preseason game just over a week away, Garcia's injury could potentially alter the team's quarterback rotation in that contest. However, Gruden and his staff haven't begun to make that determination yet.
"We haven't made any decisions on that," Gruden said. "Luke McCown is a guy we want to take a lot of reps and it's a great opportunity for him to do that. Brian Griese is the same way. It'll be exciting. We're really looking forward to getting back on the practice field tomorrow morning.
"I have no idea [how long Garcia will be out]. Last year he had a groin strain and missed seven or eight days. It depends on how well he recovers, how quick he is to respond to the treatment. It might be three or four days, it might be a week. But fortunately it's not a serious injury and that's really good news."
Gruden said he also expects Haye back on the practice field in the near future.
"We're going to evaluate him," Gruden said. "He'll be out for sure, I would imagine, this week, and hopefully we'll be looking at getting him back shortly after that."
Gruden also reiterated his overall assessment of the Bucs' injury situation from the day before. Despite the injuries to Garcia and Haye and the still-pending debut of wide receiver Joey Galloway (groin strain), the Bucs' coach still feels his team has been fortunate during the first week of camp.
"We're doing well. We don't have any serious injuries," Gruden said. "We didn't call off practice today because we an epic [amount] of injuries here. We're confident Joey will be back next week, hopefully Monday, and Jeff Faine is doing better. Sabby, there's a good chance he'll be back tomorrow. There's a chance to see B.J. [Askew] tomorrow. But there's a lot of other guys that we wanted to give a break to and I think this morning was a really good reward for players that earned it."
More from Coach Gruden
The cancellation of Friday's morning practice may have come as a pleasant surprise to his players, but the Bucs head coach said he had planned to reward them with a morning off all along.
"It was on the schedule, I just didn't tell anybody," Gruden said. "With four days in a row of pads, we knew we were going to have some real heavy contact days back-to-back. I really like the effort and I felt giving the players a morning off and giving them a chance to get some sleep and extra treatment and have a team meeting last night [to] challenge them to get better, get faster and get more detailed here in the second week of camp."
Here are a few of the other topics Gruden discussed after Friday's practice:
On Art Monk and Emmitt Thomas' Hall of Fame induction: "It was awesome. You know why he's in the Hall of Fame. The defensive coordinator in Philadelphia when I was there was Emmitt Thomas and I'll be watching their introductions into the Hall of Fame carefully. Art Monk was a great receiver – durable, complete, clutch. He did it for years, was a world champion and was a big reason why the Redskins enjoyed so much success. I'm really happy for him. He's a class act and there's not a better guy to work with than Emmitt Thomas. I just wish he wasn't with the Falcons."
On being relieved that Garcia and Haye don't have serious injuries: "We're very pleased. We had a pretty good idea yesterday after we walked off the field after hearing from our trainers. But that's good news. I like good news, hopefully we can get a lot more of that."
On if Ike Hilliard is the team's version of Art Monk, a clutch third-down guy: "Third-and-two, third-and-eight, players used to call it third-and-Ike. He's a clutch receiver also. I don't compare people to Hall of Famers, but Ike Hilliard is a hell of a football player and is important to us."
on who will get some extra looks while Haye is out: "If you've been out here, Ryan Sims is the real deal, a top-ten pick. We've talked about how much we've like him for a while. He's made a lot of big plays out here, so he's going to get a lot of great looks at the under tackle position and Greg Peterson will kick inside and our fourth-round draft choice [Dre] Moore will get some turns in there. We're looking at several different guys and we'll see what we have. It'll be a bigger body and a different style, but it'll be fun to evaluate. We miss Jovan and we hope he gets back soon because he's a leader on this football team."