The offense and defense worked on a non-contact blitz drill early in practice on Tuesday
Mid-June practices in the NFL are somewhat like games during the last week of baseball's spring training. There's still a lot of fundamental work going on, and far more players than will eventually play in the games that count, but the action on the field is gradually beginning to look more like the real thing.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers opened their fifth and final week of "organized team activity" days, or OTAs, on Tuesday with a two-hour morning practice. In structure, the session was much like the 11 OTA practices the team had held between May 12 and June 5, but the situations within each period continue to become more specific.
For instance, the Buccaneers' group install period had a slightly different look on Tuesday. Group install is a drill common to most teams (it may go by different names in different sites) that focuses on helping the offensive players absorb the playbook. In Tampa, it is generally held right after the individual-position periods, with the offense taking over one field and the defense continuing to work in small groups on the next field. It is commonly a passing drill, with receivers and quarterbacks going at three-quarters speed and trash cans standing in for the offensive line.
On Tuesday, however, the entire team headed to Field One when group install was announced. The coaching staff wanted to work specifically on dealing with the blitz, so the defense joined the offense for this drill and both sides worked on their schemes at that three-quarters pace. There is no contact allowed in practices at this time of the year, by NFL rules, but this drill is even less oriented on competition. Completions, for instance, are not contested, even if the defender is in the right spot to break up the pass.
Other minor changes differentiated Tuesday's practice from those of a week ago, or the week before that. For example, all three kickers – punter Josh Bidwell and placekickers Matt Bryant and Mike Nugent – were on hand for the first time in weeks. Those three worked on Field Three early in practice while the offense was on One and the defense was on Two.
Also, running back Derrick Ward, expected to be a key cog in the Bucs' offensive machine this year, was back on the field after missing the last two weeks while attending to a family matter. Rookie wide receiver Sammie Stroughter, on the other hand, was out of commission to start the week, working instead with trainer Todd Toriscelli on a minor leg ailment. Stroughter, a seventh-round pick out of Oregon State, may miss a little bit of work this week but he has reportedly had a very strong offseason so far.
Some fundamental work remains the same, of course, and will in fact still be part of practice next week, during training camp and in December. The defensive backs will open most practices as they did on Tuesday, with footwork drills that drive home the importance of every step in implementing the Bucs' schemes. Defensive linemen will become very familiar with the line of tackling dummies that is set up for them nearly every day, and they will always be instructed to "rake" the arm of the final dummy in their chase, the one representing the quarterback.
On the other hand, not many Buccaneer practices will have a visitor of the profile of the guest who attended Tuesday's workout. Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio was on hand to shoot her monthly television show, doing some work in the team auditorium at One Buc Place in mid-morning while the players began practice. At the end of the two-hour field session, Iorio was scheduled to head out to the field to conduct interviews with players and coaches.
Buccaneers.com will have more in-depth coverage of Iorio's visit as well as the rest of Tuesday's work later in the afternoon. As always, the site will also provide a video peek at the action through the daily Buccaneers Insider, OTA edition.