There's always a reason to yell at training camp...just some days there's more reason than others
Jon Gruden spoke levelly, his face blank, but there were clearly emotions rolling behind that mask, lingering thoughts from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' just-concluded morning practice.
Happy thoughts, these were not.
Simply put, the Buccaneers offense, which has enjoyed a new level of competitiveness with the defense in this summer's training camp, was not very good on Wednesday morning. With only two days and two practices to go before the team's preseason opener on Friday night, this was not a development that sat well with Gruden.
"We had some lack of concentration today," he said. "We're not good enough today to beat anybody on offense. We had four or five visible mental errors, four or five visible snap-count violations. It was not acceptable and we're not going to be very good team practicing like that."
There were pockets of offensive success during the two-hour workout, such as a string of well-executed plays during a goal-line session that resulted in three quick "touchdowns." But the errors that were made were the kind that drive coaches crazy, those from the neck up. Even a botched snap – a play that can be lethal in a real game – is really a mental lapse disguised as a physical mistake.
Gruden does realize that fatigue may have played a part in the maddening struggles of Wednesday morning, and he adjusted the practice regimen accordingly. The 23rd field session of training camp was run without pads and some of the more physical drills were conducted at half speed. WR Michael Clayton was even given the morning off to rest a minor injury.
"We want to try to use today, taking the pads off – we've had 11 straight days of pads – to try to get these guys a little physically rejuvenated," said Gruden. "But Mike has a mild turf toe; he should be ready to go in the game."
Gruden has noted previously that this year's offense has been well ahead of where it has been in his previous four Buccaneer camps. Starting quarterback Chris Simms has been exceedingly sharp on most days, the receiving corps appears to be far deeper and more dynamic than in years past and the offensive linemen are engaged in a very strong competition for jobs. An overall camp assessment of the offense's work would have to be a positive one, but that clearly was not one of the thoughts running through Coach Gruden's mind after Wednesday's morning affair.
Can the offense rebound quickly from its tough morning? That, says Simms, is what training camp is all about.
"Camp is very monotonous, but at the same time, mentally it gets you ready for a long season that's going to have a lot of ups and downs," he said. "Some weeks you're going to be down and you've just got to find a way to really pull through it. I think our team has done a very good job of that so far."
A Chance to Get In
The Buccaneers' 2006 season is virtually sold out, but fans do still have two more opportunities to grab a seat, beginning with Friday's preseason opener.
The team announced on Tuesday that a limited number of tickets are available for purchase for Tampa Bay's two preseason home games, against the New York Jets on Friday, August 11 and against the Miami Dolphins on Saturday, August 19. Tickets may be purchased by calling Ticketmaster or by visiting ticketmaster.com.
For fans who wish to be placed on the Buccaneers season ticket waiting list or for other ticket information, please call (813) 879-2827.
The Bucs also issued one reminder regarding Friday's game, and all subsequent games at Raymond James Stadium: Gates will open to Buccaneer fans 90 minutes before kickoff for all home games in 2006. For Friday, that means the gates will open at 6:00 p.m. ET.
The Bucs have not announced starting lineups or specific rotation plans for Friday's opener against the Jets, and are perhaps still mulling over the combinations of personnel they want to get into the game, and when. This much is clear, though, the substitutions will be plentiful.
As has been his normal preseason approach, Gruden has kept the rotation plans close to the vest largely because he doesn't want his players obsessing over them.
"We really don't have a concrete playing order because situations sometimes determine what you do," said Gruden on Wednesday. "I don't want to get anybody's hopes up. I don't want anybody going into the game thinking they're playing 10 plays or two plays and counting their plays as they go by. We're going to come up with a starting lineup and, as I said earlier, we're going to substitute at certain positions quicker than others."
Expect the earliest substitutions to come on defense, where the Bucs have a starting lineup mostly intact from 2005 and a lot of young up-and-comers they want to evaluate.
"We're going to substitute quickly on defense," said Gruden, mentioning fourth-year cornerback Torrie Cox as a player he wants to examine closely. "I want to see Alan Zemaitis. Anthony Bryant, the big nose tackle out of Alabama, is going to play a lot of football. We're going to look at a lot of guys. Jamie Winborn is going to play a lot. There are a lot of guys we're looking forward to seeing, [such as] Donte Nicholson. We want to see these guys play and see if they've gotten better from year one to year two."