S John Lynch is one of many blitz options for the Buccaneer defense
Before sending 80 players off on a four-day holiday weekend last Thursday, Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Tony Dungy persuaded his charges to enjoy themselves but be cautious. When they got back to work on Tuesday, though, they got blitzed.
At least the quarterbacks did. The Bucs spent a bulk of their 90-minute Tuesday practice on installing the defense's blitz package. At the same time, the offense worked on how to pick up the extra rushers. That sent a lot of players in motion in many directions but, by all accounts, the practice remained crisp despite the forced anarchy.
"We worked on blitz period today for the offense and defense," said Dungy when the session concluded around noon. "It's always tough because you've got new assignments and a lot of things happening, but we like to get to them and get them on tape so we can make our corrections. It was a good day."
While the drill was meant to improve both sides of the ball, it was hard not to focus on the defense as blitzers kept coming from different angles. The Bucs, and for that matter much of the NFL, has increasingly fleshed out the blitz package in recent seasons, so it is not uncommon to see any of the back seven joining the defensive line in a rush to the backfield. Contact is barred during these NFL-sanctioned summer workouts, so blitzes never actually end in sacks. Nevertheless, it appeared as if several of the Bucs' blitzes hit the mark, including an early rush by strong safety John Lynch.
The Bucs remained among the league's elite teams in terms of defense in 1999, but there are still several facets the team would like to improve on, including sacks and takeaways. The blitz is one way to accomplish that.
"Defensively, I know our guys felt that we got off to a slow start in the turnover department (in 1999)," said Dungy. "By the second half of the year we were getting them, but we want to start off that way (in 2000). We also want to limit some of the big plays we gave up early in the year. We think we can still improve in all facets of our game."
Those who chose to focus on the offense – and the Bucs' reworked attack has certainly been the main focus of these workouts – noticed repeated short passes during today's drills. That was due in part to the efforts of quarterbacks Shaun King, Eric Zeier and Joe Hamilton to counteract the blitz. "That was part of it," said Dungy, "and part of it was an offense working on their quick game these first couple of days. What you see is what they're working on that particular day."
That focus meant several quick slants and seam routes for the receivers during the team workout, but earlier, during the individual drills, the wideouts ran a wide variety of patterns. On one deep crossing route, newly-acquired WR Keyshawn Johnson made a catch near the far sideline but did not immediately return to the huddle afterward. Johnson stayed on the sideline and attended to a back injury, which Head Trainer Todd Toriscelli quickly diagnosed as a muscle spasm.
Buc fans need not worry. "No, he's fine," said Dungy. "In fact, if it was a normal game-week practice, he would have been practicing."
Johnson remained with the team on the field for the rest of the workout and spoke to reporters afterwards with ease. He is likely to return on Wednesday when the Bucs move into the ninth of their 14 allotted summer practices. If the Bucs' three QBs are once again subjected to a blitzing Tampa Bay defense, they would certainly welcome Johnson's help.