Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Countdown

The clock was ticking in practice on Thursday, and not just to the three-day weekend

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When the Bucs' two-minute offense can overcome LB Derrick Brooks and the Bucs' stellar defense, Head Coach Tony Dungy will be happy

Unless you're on the field or intercepting the coaches' handheld greaseboard, it's often difficult to know what the situation is at a Buccaneer practice. Yard lines are not necessarily relative to the situation and the same line of scrimmage is used over and over again, whether it be first-and-ten or third-and-seven.

That is what made Thursday's workout seem so different. Call it a 'practice with a purpose', as the Bucs' first and second-string offenses marched downfield from specific yard lines with the clock ticking. It was the two-minute drill, the most exciting moments during fall Sundays and a hyped-up practice situation as well.

For the second time in the last two weeks, the Bucs devoted most of one practice to moving the ball with the clock as the enemy, and they will run a third two-minute drill on Thursday of next week. Both the first and second teams ran the drill up and the down the field once without opposition before the defense stepped on the field and the drill was repeated. It was a crisp ending to a week, three weeks really, that have been characterized by crisp activity.

"Everything was good today," said Tampa Bay Head Coach Tony Dungy. "We had some two-minute work, which is always competitive and it's a great situation to learn from. Again, for three days, we had some very good hard work and I feel really happy with the progress right now."

K Martin Gramatica finished several of the marches with field goals, but as has been the case throughout these weeks of summer work, the defense generally had the upper hand.

"Well, practice is normally going to be defensive drills," said Dungy, "because it's just hard to get that (offensive) execution. The defense has been together for so long and the drills are kind of slanted…you know, the referees are the defensive guys. It's a little hard for them, but you want to put the offense in tough situations. They get better, and when they can score and move the ball against our defense, we'll know we're in pretty good shape.

"We play more two-deep zone than most teams in the league, so you're not necessarily attacking what you're going to see in the course of a game. That gets a little frustrating for our offense. But, again, the principles are good. I think if you have sound principles in offense, that's what you want."

On the other hand, said Dungy, the professed vanilla flavor of the Bucs' defense can be somewhat helpful for an offense in the making. "It's probably easier in our case, because we don't do a lot of things on defense and they can get a feel of what's going to happen," he said. "We just have a couple basic fronts and coverages we play, so in a way I think it's good. And we're not experimenting on defense at this time, so they're seeing pretty much a steady diet. In that way, I think it helps the offense."

It also didn't help the offense that the projected go-to man in the passing game, WR Keyshawn Johnson, sat out practice for the third straight day. Johnson was hit with a case of back spasms early in Tuesday's workout and has stayed out of drills since for precautionary reasons. Not only has the team insisted that Johnson's situation isn't serious, but the training room reported on Thursday that the receiver had made significant improvement overnight. He is expected to be back in action on Monday when the team begins its fourth and final week of voluntary workouts.

"He's going to be fine," said Dungy, repeating his words from Wednesday. "Again, if it had been a regular season practice, he probably would have been out there today."

When Johnson returns on Monday, he'll recognize the routine, which will mirror what the Bucs have done the past few weeks. The Bucs have utilized 10 of the 14 voluntary, non-contact workouts allotted to it by the NFL and will finish off the rest next week between Monday and Friday.

"Monday, we go back, we hit some blitz drills, we kind of go back to the same routine," Dungy explained. "Monday, I think, is the blitz day, and then we've got red zone, then we've got a third-down day and then we finish up with a two-minute day."

And finish up they will, with the team not scheduled to gather en masse again until July 23, when training camp opens. The Bucs are traditionally one of the last NFL teams to report for camp, and that is largely because the team feels it gets a significant head start with workouts of this sort.

Before that final week of workouts, the 81 Bucs in town (G Ken Blackman joined the team this week, leaving just the six NFL Europe League players not on hand), will enjoy a three-day weekend. That is not, however, why people were watching the clock on Thursday.

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