Shaun King, as well as fellow Buc QBs Eric Zeier and Joe Hamilton, has looked sharp during summer workouts
Despite its many new components, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offense, model 2000, has run relatively smoothly in the early days of a four-week summer workout program. It even appears as the Bucs have begun testing its speed already, but Head Coach Tony Dungy and his players insist they are taking it slow.
In April, on the weekend following the NFL Draft, the Bucs held a three-day mini-camp in which they 'installed' the system brought in by new offensive coordinator Les Steckel. The coaching staff laid the entire playbook on the approximately 80 players in camp and asked them to hit the ground running. Now, with an extended period to translate that plan into actual on-field results, they have slowed to a trot. It just doesn't appear that way on the field.
Onlookers on both Tuesday and Wednesday commented on the apparent pace and intensity of the workouts, but Dungy indicates that is probably a by-product of a quicker session. "Practices now are shorter (than in previous seasons)," said Dungy. "We run a limited number of plays and guys have to think and work through it quickly. We get a lot of work done in one hour, and guys appreciate that. It makes us work sharply."
"Les has brought discipline," added Quarterbacks Coach Clyde Christensen. "Plus, any time you get some fresh blood, it injects new energy in your people."
Christensen has the smallest group to oversee of any of the position coaches, but most likely the one under the most scrutiny. Second-year signal-caller Shaun King is in a new situation this spring, as the designated starter and therefore the player getting the most snaps with the first team offense. King was outstanding as a rookie in 1999, starting the team's last seven games, but he remains a bit of an unknown factor in some eyes. It has thus been encouraging to see King perform well in May.
"Shaun's doing fine," said Dungy, though he then broadened the subject to include the other two QBs in attendance, backup Eric Zeier and rookie Joe Hamilton (a fourth, Scott Milanovich, is playing the NFL Europe League). "They're all learning things that are a little bit new. It's the first time through with some of the terminology and the routes that we're running, but they're making progress and throwing the ball pretty well."
So, while the pace in practice is kept high, the rate of installation of Steckel's plays has been scaled back. King estimated on Wednesday that the offense has put on its good show while running basically eight plays. They'll add a few more plays every couple of days, building towards a training camp in which they can open it up a little.
"Nobody's watching right now, so we can make our mistakes, get the little kinks out," said King. "When we hit (training camp at) the University of Tampa, we're going to know what we're doing. Then we can start working on what you do against different looks and other things that will help us during the season.
"Right now, we're just trying to get a feel for the offense. When you learn a new offense, there's nothing like just getting out and running the actual plays. We're going to mix it up, but right now we only have about four pass plays and four run plays in, so we're taking it a little slower now than we did in mini-camp. It's a progression and we'll get to the other stuff."
In addition to learning the new plays, King and his offensive mates have had to learn about each other. "We made some acquisitions on offense," he said, "but that also means that we have new faces that we haven't played with. So it's real good for us to get out and get accustomed to what the guys like to do, where they like the ball, what Coach Steckel expects from us in this offense. "We need to make sure we're comfortable with each other. I think this camp goes along way towards getting us comfortable with each other, Christy gets comfortable with my cadence and I get comfortable with where he likes to snap the ball and where he and McDaniel want me back there in the pocket."
Buccaneer fans hope that King gets very comfortable with Keyshawn Johnson, the prolific Pro Bowl receiver Tampa Bay acquired from the New York Jets in April. Johnson, always considered a model practice player by former Jets coach Bill Parcells, sees the value in these four weeks of voluntary workouts but knows there is a lot of room for offensive improvement.
"Offenses are always going to be slower than defenses, that's the nature of it," said Johnson. "Whether you've been in the offensive system for several years or not, the changing of the guard is going to slow down the timing. It's all about timing, unlike defense. Defense, they just run around. Offense, you've got to have timing down, you've got to be able to hit the routes at certain points, hit the holes at certain times."
Johnson does not expect to have any trouble learning Steckel's attack, however. "It reminds so much of what I've already done," said Johnson. "A lot of the positions that I'm being put in and a lot of the routes that I'm running are the same things that I ran in New York. All the concept is down, and I kind of know what they're looking for and what they want. Once I learn what everybody on the field is doing, then I'll be able to contribute, as far as if somebody lines up wrong, or if I line up wrong, I'll be able to recognize it."
At this point, with just two of 14 summer workout sessions in the books and an entire training camp looming in July and August, Dungy isn't expecting perfection. He is expecting hard work, and he's getting it.
"The effort is the most important thing," he said. "When you get guys working hard, you're going to get things taken care of. I like our attitude right now…it's been fantastic. The guys have to have the desire to learn it and to try to do what the coaches want. When you get that, you feel like you're going to accomplish some things."