Damonte McKenzie (76) and the rest of the Bucs came back to work on Monday with a renewed vigor
As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers began another week of training camp practices on Monday morning, the lingering images of the weekend in Orlando were of a dominant defense balanced by a sometimes faltering offense. However, Head Coach Tony Dungy indicated on Saturday that his offense had improved over the course of four joint practices with the Miami Dolphins.
On Monday morning, the Bucs backed him up on the field, turning in one of their sharper offensive outings of camp. That can probably be attributed to eight intense hours of practices on Friday and Saturday, the much-needed day off given to the team on Sunday and, according to Dungy, merely the point the Bucs are on in their training camp schedule.
"They were (sharper)," said Dungy. "They were much sharper. Again, we're going back and reviewing some things, we're working against a defense that we're familiar with, and that gave us a chance to be sharper."
Over the weekend, the Bucs offense had to adjust to the Dolphins' aggressive bump-and-run coverage and other Dolphin idiosyncrasies, and it took much of the two days before they could do that. That was partially because, during certain sessions, the Bucs were actually installing parts of the offense for the first time. Monday's review session was bound to be better the second time around, as long as the team had recovered well, physically, on Sunday.
"I thought it was good to get back in the groove," said Dungy. "They had four really tough, physical practices this weekend, and to get back into it this morning, in pads, and have a lively practice, I thought that was good. We obviously had some corrections we had to make from the weekend, and also work on some things that we have to get ready for in game situations."
That will be necessary sooner rather than later as, suddenly, the Buccaneers are in a game week. The team's preseason schedule kicks off on Friday when the Washington Redskins come to town, meaning the Bucs have another club to study for the first time in 2000. However, Dungy indicated that Monday's work was purely focused on Tampa Bay's own progress.
"The first part of the week is still fundamentals, and we're still approaching it as training camp," he said. "We had a day off, so it was just coming back and getting in the groove. I thought our tempo was good today. It will actually be Tuesday before we start working on Washington."
The running game, which excelled at times in Orlando even when the passing game was stalling against the Dolphins, looked strong again Monday morning, with running backs finding some reasonable holes to pound through. The starting backfield of Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott, each of which missed practice time in Orlando due to very minor injuries (Dunn's back and Alstott's hamstring), was back in action on Monday and running without discomfort. The rest of the team's stable of runners also looked to be in fine shape.
"That was encouraging, the way we ran the ball over in Orlando," said Dungy. "To have Aaron (Stecker) come in and do the things that he's doing is nice. Rabih (Abdullah) has always run well for us in the pre-season when he's had an opportunity. Ketric Sanford made some great runs and did some things on special teams. Jerry Ellison is back with us now, so we've got a lot of guys there."
That was part of another encouraging aspect of Monday morning's workout: the high percentage of players that were involved. While S Damien Robinson (hamstring) and T Jason Odom (lower back) were still relegated to the sidelines, TE Patrick Hape (foot) made his first practice appearance of camp and TE James Whalen (hamstring) concluded a week of sitting out. Neither participated in the entire session, but their field work was heartening, as was the return of linebacker Derrick Brooks, one of the defense's emotional leaders.
Brooks had not practiced since Wednesday, when he suffered a laceration between his right pinky and ring fingers which required six stitches. It was clearly difficult for Brooks to stay off the field in Orlando, and he remained involved as much as was possible with the first-team defense. He was basically unlimited on Monday, though he was told not to grab with that hand.
A pair of defensive linemen who suffered groin strains on Saturday, Marcus Jones and Tyoka Jackson, were also back on the field on Monday after a Sunday of attention from the team's training staff. Rookie DE Mawuko Tugbenyoh, on the other hand, took the day off to a left ankle sprain.
After a weekend in which competitive action saw the downing of several prominent players around the NFL, including New Orleans' Cam Cleeland and Baltimore's Jamal Lewis, the Bucs are relieved to be discussing their injury report in terms of days and not weeks or months.
We had a few guys back and a few other guys who got banged up over the weekend," said Dungy. "But, really, from our vantage point, nothing really serious. You read about the six-week, eight-week injuries that are happening some other places, and we've just been blessed not to have that."
While somehow refraining from knocking on wood, Dungy went on to preview the next few days of practice, when the Bucs will move from one game situation to the next to get ready for the onset of competition.
"We got some more work on our blitz (on Monday)," said Dungy. "We'll work tomorrow on short-yardage and goal-line, and we'll work the next day on two-minute and red zone…game situations that you have to get ready for the season that we weren't able to cover the first week."
Of course, there is a three-hour game situation looming in just four days and the Bucs would like to be ready, even if the result won't count in the final ledger. Last year, Tampa Bay stormed through the preseason with a 4-0 record and went on to its best regular season mark ever, 11-5. Whether they can do the same this August may depend on the quality of work in the next four days.