Kicker Martin Gramatica (7) needed Brian Kelly to hold the ball for kickoffs due to heavy winds Sunday afternoon
'Some things never change.'
Does apply: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' intense focus on improving their kickoff return game in Training Camp 2000.
Does not apply: The weather in Tampa.
If, at any point during the offseason, you doubted Head Coach Tony Dungy's insistence that the Bucs would strive to improve their kickoff return game, you can no longer ignore the facts. Since Tampa Bay opened training camp on July 24, the Bucs have devoted no less than four practices solely to the art of returning and covering kickoffs. The fourth came on Sunday afternoon, after a morning practice that focused on the two-minute drill.
The Bucs got their morning session in under normal August heat in Tampa, but by the afternoon workout at 3:30 p.m., clouds were rolling in. By 3:45, a stiff and cold rain was falling.
That has not been an unusual sight during Training Camp 2000, but today's weather system was accompanied by heavier winds then the team had encountered yet. As it turned out, that was a fortuitous event. As Special Teams Coach Joe Marciano pointed out after the one-hour practice had ended, the winds and rain gave the Bucs a chance to practice kickoffs in the type of adverse conditions they might encounter in an actual game.
The Bucs practiced in shorts on Sunday afternoon, and with tackling not included, there was no obvious standout among the return or cover men. The most interesting event occurred when the winds became too strong for the ball to stay on the tee for kickoff man Martin Gramatica. That required one of the cover men to come to the middle of the field and hold the ball for Gramatica's kicks, an example of the type of situation that might be created by poor weather.
"That's a minor thing," said Special Teams Coach Joe Marciano. "You've got to make a little bit of a coverage adjustment when a guy holds the ball on your backside. You've got four guys on one (side), five on the other. Our adjustment would be to kick it to the four-man side. The same thing with the return team. They've got to count who's up there, who's holding the ball. There's little, subtle things that need to be covered."
And Marciano, a coach who is wed to the importance of the smallest details, made sure they were covered. Though the rain stopped after roughly 20 minutes, the winds only grew heavier, forcing the team's videographers to abandon their lifts, which were swaying precariously. Marciano's bunch stayed on the field until the end of practice at 4:30, though, sprinting into the locker room as lightning began to close in.
Monday morning, the team will hold it's only full-pads practice of the week, beginning at 8:30 a.m. The Bucs travel to Miami on Thursday to take on the Dolphins in the second game of the preseason.