Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Raheem Morris admitted Tuesday evening that his team's impromptu trip to the movie theater in the morning really wasn't all that impromptu.
Though he kept it secret from his players until moments before it happened, he'd had it on his own schedule since the beginning camp. It was part of a four-day combination of practices, weight-room sessions and time off that would allow the team to go extra hard on Saturday and then recuperate over the next three days while still preparing for the Miami Dolphins.
So the cancellation of Tuesday's first practice wasn't really a reward, even though he compared himself to Santa Claus when making the announcement to his team in the morning. However, that didn't stop his players from returning the gift later that day.
Having practiced just once over the previous two-and-a-half days, Buccaneer players took the practice field with a hop in their collective step on Tuesday evening. Much of practice was devoted to scout-team work on the Dolphins, which meant one side in every drill was trying to emulate the opposing team. That didn't stop them from running the plays at full speed.
"Tempo was phenomenal today," gushed Morris, repeating what he had told his players directly in his practice-ending huddle. "That's what you want. You want those guys to come out. It was a 'look squad' day. You've got these guys really banging pads, you've got these guys playing downhill, playing fast and it was a great chance for a leader to step up today."
A leader did in fact step up for Morris, and perhaps not the expected one. Third-year quarterback Josh Johnson, who took a lion's share of the reps on Tuesday, was partly responsible for establishing that good tempo early.
"We had that first period and Josh Johnson was at quarterback and we had a rookie out there playing receiver, Arrelious [Benn]," said Morris. "And he let him know, 'Hey, this is not a walk-through. It's a full-speed drill.' It took one time for him to say it and those guys were flying around after that. It was great that a coach didn't have to say it. It was how you want your team to develop and Josh Johnson is just as much a leader on this team as anybody. That was a great deal for me to be able to stand back and let him talk to his teammates."
The heavy dose of reps for the young players and second and third-stringers on Tuesday gave some veterans a little more time to recuperate. A few others, such as cornerback Aqib Talib and linebacker Barrett Ruud, were held out of practice altogether due to minor injuries. Talib and Ruud are both working through minor groin strains and are likely to get a little more time off in the coming days. Morris hasn't ruled anybody out for Saturday's game yet, but starters play only sparingly in the preseason opener anyway, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see a few of them in street clothes.
"I'll rely on Todd [Toriscelli] the trainer and once we get closer to the game we'll find out what we'll need to do, how long those guys play and all that stuff," said Morris. "We'll have an opportunity to get together on that soon. I believe in what Todd does and his staff and how they're able to get people back. I'm going to listen and we're going to follow right to a tee what he says."
Morris also said that Brian Price has not yet been ruled out for Saturday's game though the rookie defensive tackle has sat out several days of practice in a row. He also wasn't too worried about the amount of time that Price has missed to this point, though he seemed a bit more concerned about the extended absence of fellow rookie Myron Lewis, a serious candidate for the nickel back job.
"He has two games coming up, those first two games where he'll get a lot of reps," said Morris of Price. "If he's able to play this week he'll play a lot. If he's able to play the next week he'll play a lot there too. That third game is where you've really got to develop who's the starter, who's in the mix, who's going to play for you. If he's not able to capture it by after that second game he'll have an opportunity to take it during the season. The starters will be out there by that time, pretty much the opening-day guys will be ready to go and he's got a lot of catching up to do. He's missed a lot of time. He's been here but he's not been able to practice. I'm a little more concerned there than about Price. But he's day-to-day and hopefully we can get him out there and get him caught up fast."
Checking the Depth
With the Buccaneers first preseason game approaching this weekend, the team has put together its first depth chart of the year. As always, the most important qualifiers attached to this document are "unofficial" and "subject to change."
That's not to say the depth chart fails to reflect a potential starting lineup. If health allows, the 22 players listed as the starters on offense and defense will likely take those spots to start the game in Miami on Saturday night. Rather, it's important to note that more than a month remains before the start of the regular season, and competition will continue for every spot on the chart.
Also, of course, the current depth chart contains 80 names. Before the Bucs take on the Cleveland Browns on September 12, it will have to be pared down to 53.
For now, however, there are some interesting impressions one can draw from the Bucs' first depth chart of the year. Click here if you would like to give it a long look yourself. You may notice:
· Rookie Mike Williams wasn't just making a cameo with the starting offense during the first week of camp. As of now, he is listed as the starter at the first receiver position, often called "X" or split end. Reggie Brown is listed next behind Williams. At the other receiver position, often called flanker, fifth-year man Maurice Stovall has taken the lead, with 2009 rookie sensation Sammie Stroughter listed second. Stroughter was commonly the third man in when the Bucs went to three-receiver packages last year, and he appears to be in position to assume that role again in 2010.
· Jeremy Zuttah and Keydrick Vincent, who have been battling to start at left guard, are listed one and two in that order.
· Earnest Graham has indeed been moved to the fullback position, though he is likely to get carries again in 2010. He is listed as the starter at that spot, with Cadillac Williams still holding the #1 spot at running back.
· Second-year man Kyle Moore is currently first in line to take over as the new starter at left defensive end. Tim Crowder, who started a handful of games at both end positions in 2009, is next behind Moore.
· Though the Bucs generally consider the two safety positions almost interchangeable, rookie Cody Grimm has been listed with the free safeties. He is behind starter Tanard Jackson, with the strong safety position reportedly up for grabs between Sabby Piscitelli and Sean Jones.
· Rookie first-rounder Gerald McCoy and last year's third-round pick, Roy Miller, are listed as the starters at the two defensive tackle positions, which does reflect the way the first-team front has been lining up for much of camp. Rookie second-rounder Brian Price is listed second behind Miller at what is marked as "DT" but is considered the nose tackle position.
· The Bucs may consider using rookie wide receiver Arrelious Benn in the return game. Clifton Smith and Micheal Spurlock are listed one-two at both punt and kickoff returner, but while the third punt returner is Sammie Stroughter, it's Benn who shows up third at kickoff return.
Again, this is the first depth chart of the year, produced at a time when some coaches are reluctant to put a ranking on paper at all. There are still some positions that will take some serious sorting out, such as wide receiver, and Morris is waiting for the players to take care of that in the preseason games just ahead.
"I really don't want to define anyone's role when you're talking about those guys," said the coach. "You want to let those guys go out there and take it in these next preseason games. Right now, you have Mo and Mike Williams, they're running with the starters. And Reggie's coming out there and he's playing that second-team 'X' and he's also playing a little 'Z' in Zebra and doing those things for us. Rejus [Benn] is getting better. I really want these guys to define it for themselves and hopefully these two preseason games will sort it out for us."
Bucs Add Tight End and Safety
That depth chart also includes a pair of new names, as the Buccaneers have tweaked their roster for just the second time since camp began.
On Tuesday, the team signed first-year safety Vince Anderson and claimed second-year tight end Martin Rucker off waivers from the Philadelphia Eagles. To make room on the 80-man camp roster, the Buccaneers released defensive end George Johnson and wide receiver Mario Urrutia.
Rucker was drafted in the fourth round by the Cleveland Browns in 2008 after a standout college career at the University of Missouri. He played in five games as a rookie with the Browns, then was waived in September of 2009 and signed to the Eagles' practice squad. Rucker spent the majority of the '09 campaign on that unit before being promoted to the active roster on December 15.
A first-team All-America selection in 2007, Rucker finished his college career with 200 receptions for 2,175 yards and 18 touchdowns. He is the brother of former Carolina Panthers defensive end Mike Rucker.
Anderson first entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the New York Giants in 2009 and spent his rookie season on the Giants' practice squad. He was released by New York this past June.
The 6-2, 205-pound Anderson played cornerback at Webber International, an NAIA school but was converted to safety after joining the Giants. He is the first player from Webber, a school of about 600 students, ever to sign with an NFL team. Anderson joined the Buccaneers in time to take part in their early-evening practice on Tuesday, while Rucker was flying in after his waiver claim and should join the team on the field on Wednesday.
Morris said the Buccaneers weren't particularly thin at either the tight end or safety position, but the team had been aware of those two players for some time. The Bucs considered snatching Anderson off the Giants' practice squad last year.
"I don't know if either one of those guys was necessarily a 'need,'" said Morris. "I think more or less it was about us liking those players coming out. I know Martin Rucker. We played against him when I was at K-State. He diced us that day. It was a sad day. And the other kid, the safety, we liked him on preseason tape last year and he was one of those guys you potentially think about claiming, actually stealing last year. He became available from the Giants and we had a chance to add him to our roster and look at some bodies. At the end of the day, it's the top physical 53. You want to give those guys opportunities, give them some looks and see what's out there."
Johnson signed with the Buccaneers on May 3 after participating in the team's post-draft rookie mini-camp on a tryout contract. He had practiced only sparingly through the first week of training camp due to injury. Urrutia spent most of the 2009 season on the Buccaneers' practice squad.