The Buccaneers need to determine on whom they will rely in certain situations, such as when they're near the goal line
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers ran a goal line session on Thursday morning during their two hour organized team activity (OTA) practice. They ran a "backed up" drill, where the offense is pressed against its own goal line, with three plays to get out of that dangerous situation. As mentioned earlier on Buccaneers.com, the coaches even inserted a "sudden change" period into the schedule, in which the players were surprised by a quick shift to a two-minute drill.
This is situational work, and this is the next step in the Buccaneers' offseason work.
Since the current string of 14 OTA days began in May – first with just veterans, then with the rookies joining in Week Two – the Bucs have methodically followed a plan designed to get the team ready for training camp. There has been work on fundamentals and basics, and absorption of portions of the new offensive and defensive playbooks. Last week, at least one practice was almost solely geared towards building team unity.
And this week, the team began focusing much more sharply on situational football.
"It was really about team-building last week," said Head Coach Raheem Morris, the man behind the master plan. "You've seen the guys come together as a team. You've seen them go through something, have an incident, and fight through it, still become a team and play like a team.
"Now this week they're starting to learn situations. Everything we do is going to be about situational football, and that's where we kind of grow. That's where we're starting to learn who's going to be our guys in what situations, what we want them to do, what they know we expect them to do. All those things you start to grow."
The offseason ban on contact increases the level of difficulty when it comes to teaching some of the important aspects of situational play. The goal-line drill, for instance, is much more effective when the linemen can actually bang into each other and try to gain ground. But even at less than full speed and with no actual hitting, such drills can lay the groundwork for when the pads do go on this summer at training camp.
"We did a little situational football today, some lessons to be learned, things you've got to teach about football, how to play," said Morris at the end of Thursday's practice. "All these guys have got talent but if you don't put the mental part to it you've got no chance."
The Bucs have two weeks and six practices left in their OTA rotation. Then they have a three-day mini-camp in the third week of June that is mandatory, though contact drills are still not allowed. By the final practice of that mini-camp, the team should be through with the first phase of the plan. When training camp opens, there should be nothing that is completely new to the players.
"We work up to what we've got to do," said Morris. "You've got to add and develop what you want to do in situations. Then when you repeat it you start talking about people first, and who is going to be the lead dog in each situation. That's what we're trying to find out right now, that's what we're trying to develop. With this new staff, we should be able to get done everything we need to get done, to repeat in training camp and to go into the season as one."
To Canada and Back
Kelly Campbell hasn't played a game in the NFL since 2004, in part, he admits, because of a few off-the-field problems he had while with the Minnesota Vikings and Miami Dolphins.
He did sign with the Dolphins in both 2006 and 2007 but was released both times. While he encountered difficulty getting his NFL career back on track, there was another option open to him that he was reluctant to pursue: the Canadian Football League.
"The CFL was after me for a long time and each year I was telling them no because I didn't look at myself as a CFL player," said Campbell. "I think going so far away from my family, across the country, it really humbled me. It showed me that I can go out here and do it and stay out of trouble and do what I'm supposed to do.
"It was kind of tough [watching NFL games] because the NFL's the place where I want to be. Just watching the other receivers, even the young receivers, go out there and show out, I just told myself, 'That should be me.' I was going to do what I needed to do in the CFL and try to get my opportunity back here, to show guys that I can come back here and play."
If Campbell was afraid of burying his NFL dream by heading north, he eventually found the exact opposite to be true. He finally gave in to the CFL's beckoning last summer and signed with the Edmonton Eskimos, for whom he proved to be a star pass-catcher. His 54 receptions for 1,223 yards worked out to a remarkable average of 22.6 yards per catch.
That, in turn, caught the eyes of NFL scouts, who could also look at his work in Minnesota from 2002-04. Campbell's speed and big-play ability was evident then, too, as he averaged 18.6 yards per reception during that three-year span, catching 57 passes and turning eight of them into touchdowns.
Campbell had several NFL suitors early in 2009, but he chose the Buccaneers after speaking with General Manager Mark Dominik and Coordinator of Pro Scouting Doug Williams. Dominik and Williams could point to another receiver on the Buccaneers' roster who resurrected his career – in an enormous way – in Tampa after it was interrupted by non-football issues.
"I'm kind of like in the same position as Antonio Bryant," said Campbell. "He had off-the-field issues and he had to come back and show the guys that he's a good man and he can play ball and on the field is where he's supposed to be. Like I told those guys, I want to go in that direction: Be quiet, do what I'm supposed to do, stay out of trouble and just come in here and work hard and try to be on the 53-man roster."
Campbell signed with the Buccaneers in February amid little fanfare. He didn't draw much attention in the months that followed, just one of 11 receivers, many of them with only brief NFL careers, on Tampa Bay's offseason roster. But Campbell has turned some heads in his direction in recent weeks during the Bucs' string of OTA practices. He was one of five players Morris singled out for praise on Wednesday.
Much of what has impressed Morris about Campbell and a few of his pass-catching teammates has been how hard they have worked on the practice field. Campbell intends to maintain that approach in order to make good use of this new start in Tampa.
"That's how I'm taking this opportunity, as if it's my last chance," he said. "A lot of stuff is going on with guys around the league right now; they're losing their opportunities. I'm thankful to God for opening up another door for me to have this opportunity."
More from Coach Morris
Morris touched on a variety of additional topics after practice on Thursday.
On Josh Johnson: "Josh is the forgotten man. Everybody wants to phase him out. Nobody wants to count him. But he's going to get his snaps in the preseason. The forgotten man will have his opportunity. He'll get the same opportunity that everybody gets, that Luke [McCown] gets that Byron [Leftwich] gets, that Josh [Freeman] gets, the other Josh. I can't wait to see them all perform, get them out there. Of course you don't have the same amount of reps. You get a lot more mental reps than you get physical reps being a young guy. That's just the case across the league. But he takes advantage of all those opportunities. I see him every day in there with Olie [Greg Olson]. I see him every day on the field, watching every single rep. The rep he doesn't get he sees; the rep he gets he listens. I can't wait to tell him to go out there and perform."
On Kellen Winslow looking impressive: "That's really all you can say about the kid right now. He's just an impressive looking guy. When he's here at work, he's working. There's no doubt about that. When he's away, obviously he's working. He's here, we're happy for him to be here. I just can't wait to see him grow within the offense."
On this week versus last week: "You're starting to see the leaders develop. When you have something go down last week and you come in this week and you see the leaders start to take control of that, you love it. The tempo, how you practice, everything that's going on. These guys are developing all those things. As far as coaches giving them situational football aspects and talking about it and learning it and teaching it, that's what it's all about. That's how we have to grow."
On how the team is using Jeremy Zuttah: "Zuttah's been like he's always been. He's that guy that can play almost every position on the O-Line. He played college tackle; he came here and was really primarily playing guard; he can go in there and give you snaps if you need it. He's one of those guys you go into a game with. He's valuable. He's invaluable. He went out there and he started a couple games for us. Let's go see him play. It's just time to compete."