WR Keyshawn Johnson attacked the pads in a drill that delighted the crowd of 2,000
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers hit the field at 8:30 Monday morning for their first practice of Training Camp 2000. The rains hit at 9:20.
In what Head Coach Tony Dungy calls the heaviest first-day showers since his 1996 arrival in Tampa, the Bucs concluded their first workout at 10:30 without altering their practice plan. The rains did slow the team down a notch, but it did not affect Dungy's positive assessment of the morning.
"I liked our effort, our hustle," said Dungy. "I thought our tempo was good. The tempo slowed down a bit when it rained, and we had some dropped balls, but overall our effort was good. It's good for us to get practice in different situations, because we're going to see those situations in games. We're looking for players who don't lose their focus in bad conditions. You want to find the players who actually focus more in those conditions, because that's what it's going to take to succeed."
Approximately 2,000 Buccaneer fans watched from the grandstands at the University of Tampa's Pepin-Rood Stadium, and the crowd was not thinned by the intermittent rains. Neither was its enthusiasm, which bubbled up most loudly whenever wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, touched the ball, which was often.
In fact, the loudest cheers early in practice came when the Buc receivers went immediately from stretching into an interesting 'circle' drill. With Johnson standing in the middle, the other receivers formed a circle of about 15 feet in diameter, holding six pads upright. At the urging of coaches Les Steckel and Charlie Williams, Johnson ran at one pad and dove to take it out with his shoulder. The coaches then encouraged Johnson to immediately roll to his feet and attack another pad in the same way, and so on.
After Johnson had hustled his way through the drill, the other receivers took turns. The crowd's response to this new sight was overwhelming, particularly when Johnson and second-year player Yo Murphy attacked the exercise with gusto.
After the different positions completed their individual drills, the offense worked together on the main field while the defense headed to the backfield. Less than an hour into practice, the team suffered its first significant injury when starting free safety Damien Robinson suffered a left hamstring strain and was carted off. Robinson said later that he expected to miss about a week.
Robinson's injury swept second-year man Dexter Jackson into the starting lineup, and he responded with a near-interception on the first passing play of team drills. WR Jacquez Green was able to break up the interception, but Jackson landed rather solidly on his back and displayed a bit of a limp heading back to the huddle. He was not significantly injured on the play, however.
On the more positive side of the health front, T Jason Odom, who underwent back surgery last fall and has spent months working back into shape, fared well in his first full-contact drills of 2000. "I thought I was in good shape," said Odom, "but you really can't tell until you get into drills like these. I felt good. It looks like I'll be taking a little bit of a beating while I make the transition from right to left (tackle), but my back feels good."
QB Shaun King noted that, with some players like Odom, G Frank Middleton, TE Dave Moore and Johnson nursing minor injuries at various points of the offseason, today's training-camp opener was basically his first chance to take a snap with the entire starting offense.
"Today was the first time, really, that all 11 have lined up, and we pretty much knew what we were doing," said King. "It's going to be interesting. It will be interesting when Washington comes here to see how we play, and I think we're going to get a good chance in the preseason to get a lot of snaps, because it is a new offense. Hopefully we can start developing some cohesiveness and consistency. When we get up to New England, hopefully we'll be full throttle."
Odom and King combined on another play that drew thunderous approval from the stands. One snap after Jackson's near-interception, King dropped back to pass again. When the play broke down, Odom came across the field to block DE Steve White, who was closing in on King, freeing the quarterback to scramble down the left side right to the first down marker.
The applause probably indicated the crowd's desire to see King in motion. As a somewhat unproven second year player at the helm of a team that is considered a serious Super Bowl contender, King can expect this type of intense scrutiny to continue. The poise that he showed as a rookie, however, seems fully intact in year two.
"I put enough pressure on myself to go out and be good regardless of the situation, regardless of what everyone thinks the team is going to do," said King. "That's just how I am. I don't really constitute it as pressure. A lot of guys aren't blessed enough to be in this position, and we are. As competitors, we're going to go out and play hard."
King and the Bucs return to the practice field on Monday at 3:30 p.m., and may have to deal with the rains again, which continued into the afternoon all across Tampa. As soggy as the field might end up on Monday, however, the Buccaneers' spirits won't be dampened on the first day of Training Camp 2000.