Some observers (including yours truly) came to the Jacksonville Jaguars' training camp fields on Wednesday morning expecting some testy moments in a joint practice between the home team and the visiting Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Instead, a disciplined and productive practice broke out.
Buccaneers Head Coach Dirk Koetter, who spent the entire two-plus hours of practice watching his offense against the Jacksonville defense, was pleased that both sides adhered to the type of practice etiquette that promotes player safety and avoids skirmishes.
"Yeah, I didn't see everything but I thought both coaching staffs did a good job," said Koetter. "I thought as far as Jacksonville's defense on the field I was on, they did a good job of pulling off the quarterbacks multiple times. I thought it was a pretty good job."
Coaches from both sides repeatedly shouted at players to stay on their feet. Quarterback 'sacks' were left largely theoretical, and potential tackles were mostly just pops of shoulder pads against each other. A couple of deep passes on both sides ended with players on the ground due to unintentional contact, but there were no apparent hard feelings.
"We talked about the attitude, the approach to this, and then poise," said Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley of his communication with his team before Wednesday's practice. "Poise was a big word the last couple of days with our players. I thought there were some things we'll have to clean up. I know there were some hits that maybe were a little bit after the whistle, but for the most part I thought it was real professional. The guys handled it like pros and it really worked out well."
The Bucs and Jaguars will practice again on Thursday – though without pads – so there is still time for some hard feelings to emerge. Given the approach on Wednesday, however, it seems more likely that the two teams will remain civil and get in as much good work as possible. After all, they get 60 minutes of live game action against each other on Saturday, and then the hitting will begin for real.
"Today was pretty good," said Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin. "We took care of each other. It didn't get too edgy. I have been in more intense practices, but it's just something we're doing to keep each other safe for the game."
Noah Spence, the Buccaneers' rookie defensive end, was experiencing an NFL joint practice for the first time. He was also playing in the trenches, where contact is most prevalent and skirmishes are more likely to break out. He saw no indication of that on Wednesday, however.
"I think we did well with these guys," said Spence. "Everybody was just trying to come out here and get better. I didn't feel like anybody was out here trying to fight each other or had any attitudes. It was a lot of 'good jobs,' and 'good plays' and stuff like that. It felt good out here."
- As mentioned, Koetter only got to see the Bucs' offense on Wednesday morning (tape review will fill him in on the other side), and he was not particularly impressed by what he saw. He declined to make excuses for the offense's slow day, but it clearly was not up to the standard set during the first two weeks of training camp back at One Buccaneer Place.
"I thought offensively we were a little bit sluggish, but maybe that's due to Jacksonville playing good on defense," said Koetter. "I'll know when I watch the tape. I just didn't think we had much juice today on offense. It happens.
"The bottom line is, I just didn't think we were on crisp on offense as we have been in our own practices. But, again, it's a different environment so it was a good experience for us."
Even some of the plays that looked particularly successful to the crowd on hand didn't necessarily get positive marks on Koetter's chart. For instance, wide receiver Kenny Bell made an impressive leaping catch over two Jaguar defenders on a deep ball, but Koetter said it would have gone down differently in a live game.
"Yeah, that play would have been a sack," he said. "I couldn't really see the catch but that play was doomed because they would have sacked us on that play, so I kind of quit watching after that. In real football, that wouldn't have even been a play."
That "sack" came during a full-team period that was designed to test blitz pick-ups. This type of work was particularly useful for the two teams involved as both were subjected to different looks and blitzes than they were used to seeing from their own defenses.
"That was great," said Koetter. "That was really good work. They gave us some looks we haven't seen; especially [when] we had a little third-down period there, they gave us some tricky looks. We'll go back and look at them on tape this afternoon and that's always good learning."Added Martin: "On offense, it's just good to go against another team and see how it works against another D, in this case the Jaguars. I thought they did a good job today. We see our defensive blitzes all the time, so it was good to see another defense blitzing. We did a good job of picking it up and I can't wait for the game."
Those unfamiliar looks from the opposing defense may have been one of the main factors in the struggles of the Bucs' offense, because Bradley saw the same thing on his side of the field.
Pictures of the Buccaneers leaving for the Jacksonville on Tuesday.
"Offensively, we struggled right away," said the Jaguars' coach. "I think the first 9-on-7 plays we had three penalties so there are some signs right there that we were not quite locked in to what we needed to be, so that is the lesson we'll learn."
"And we have a blitz period and normally when you throw a blitz against another team you have a chance to kind of study them and prepare your guys, but they were really thrown in the fire on both sides. So you're going to see some wins maybe more on the defensive side, especially in that period."
- Buccaneers linebacker Daryl Smith was held out of practice due to a minor injury that Koetter said was not serious. That kept Smith from going up against the team for which he played the first nine seasons of his 13-year career. Koetter joked that Smith wasn't allowed on the field because, as the Jaguars' all-time leading tackler, he had already had his 'tackle card' fully punched.
Smith was far from the only player or coach with a connection to the other team on Wednesday. He wasn't even the Buccaneers' only 'Smith' to be making a homecoming of sorts. Buccaneers Defensive Coordinator Mike Smith held the same position with the Jaguars from 2003-07 before getting the head coaching position in Atlanta in 2008.
Koetter began his own five-year run as the Jaguars' offensive coordinator in 2007, the first of three teams with which he has collaborated with Smith.
"We had quite a year that year in 2007," said Koetter. "I was in the press box with Mike that year and I saw the best defensive coordinator that I'd seen. Now, it was my first year in the NFL, so all I had seen was college guys. But I saw a defensive coordinator who was a great teacher and an extremely hard worker and always had his guys ready to play."
Among the other current Buccaneers with ties to the Jaguars are Linebackers Coach Mark Duffner, Defensive Backs Coach Brett Maxie, Assistant Defensive Line Coach Paul Spicer (as a Jaguars player), running back Storm Johnson, punter Bryan Anger and linebacker Jeremiah George.
On the other side, Bradley got his start in the NFL with the Buccaneers as a linebackers coach before heading to Seattle to be the Seahawks' defensive coordinator. His staff includes a handful of former Buccaneer coaches, including Offensive Coordinator Greg Olson, Defensive Coordinator Todd Wash, Quarterbacks Coach Nathaniel Hackett, Tight Ends Coach Ron Middleton and Defensive Quality Control Coach Dan Shamash. Even Monte Kiffin, the Buccaneers' legendary and long-running defensive coordinator, is in Jacksonville as a defensive assistant.
Buccaneer offensive linemen shared between-drill hugs with two of their former members who are now in Jaguar uniforms: Patrick Omameh and Kadeem Edwards. Other former Tampa Bay players on the Jacksonville roster include wide receiver Arrelious Benn and defensive tackle Roy Miller.