As he trudged off the field at One Buccaneer Place on Tuesday afternoon, Rendrick Taylor looked pretty much like every man around him - drenched in sweat and utterly spent.
Still, it was with wide eyes and an appreciative look that the big fullback turned to defensive tackle Carlton Powell and said, "Now, that was a practice."
Both Taylor and Powell are rookies, so their shared NFL experience numbers about 50 practices. Still, they've been around football all their lives, and it doesn't take a professional pedigree to know when your coach has decided to crank the dial up to 11.
That Raheem Morris had just such a plan in place for his players on Tuesday became apparent about 35 minutes into the two-hour workout, when the team finished individual-position drills and began the often rugged 9-on-7 period. This drill focuses primarily on the run and usually features a little more banging than the other periods, even when the players are just in shoulder pads and shorts as they were on Tuesday.
In this case, Morris wasn't as concerned about the quality of the hitting as he was the pace of the action during each snap, and just as importantly between each snap. As the 9-on-7 period began, the Bucs' head coach became as loud and animated as he has at any point during the three weeks of training camp, pushing his players to run hard through each play and then to immediately hustle back into position for the next snap. Each group of players - first-teamers, second-teamers, etc. - was on the field for just a few snaps at a time, but Morris wanted them to max out while it was their turn.
Morris also eliminated a planned no-huddle period from the day's morning practice and scheduled a slower-tempo workout for the day's second practice, later in the afternoon. Those concessions balanced out his hair-on-fire approach to the 9-on-7 period and two later full-team drills in the morning. This was another effort to address the seven penalties and handful of mental mistakes that occurred during an otherwise promising preseason debut in Miami on Saturday.
"We're a hungry, talented team out there competing, and today I wanted to up the tempo in order for us to think when we get a little tired," said Morris. "They came into the game playing smart like you have to do, but once you get tired you start to do silly things. So I upped the tempo a little bit today with these guys, and they did a great job doing that, putting them into a game and making them have to think. We really coached a lot about tempo today."
The increased tempo could have been particularly tough on the receivers, who were running three men down on Tuesday morning. Starters Maurice Stovall and Mike Williams were out due to an ankle injury and illness, respectively, and camp standout Micheal Spurlock was also sidelined with a minor ailment. However, Morris singled out wide receivers Sammie Stroughter and Reggie Brown as two players who adapted to the higher-tempo work very well.
Stroughter, in fact, thrived under Morris' added pressure, showing once again that he could emerge as a leader on a team filled with young players. On one play, Stroughter caught a pass over the middle and was immediately leveled by linebacker Niko Koutouvides. It wasn't a live-tackling drill and Koutouvides wasn't trying to knock his teammate to the ground. The defender gave the proper shoulder pad "thud," and the timing and angle of the meeting turned it into a tackle.
Rather than expressing any displeasure, Stroughter hopped up, finished his route to the end zone and ran back to the huddle. As he came back upfield, Stroughter yelled, "Hey Niko, that's just football baby!" Morris wants all of his young players to understand that both game days and practice are essential parts of football.
"When you coach a young football team, they have to dictate the tempo," said Morris. "You've got young guys and your coaches have to come out every day and let them know how they should practice. They want to come out here and a lot of times they're just trying to get through this thing. They're just trying to get to the game. But it doesn't happen for you when you get to the game."
The Bucs' next game was still four days away when Morris turned up the heat on Tuesday morning. But there was important ground to cover in the meantime, especially if the team intended to cut down on the errors that held them back in Miami. Tuesday's opening practice - the first half of the final two-a-day of summer - may prove to be one of the most important sessions of training camp.
"It was a high-intensity practice, a lot of running," said Morris. "I told them it was going to be a track meet and those guys went out there and really bought into it. They raised their tempo in order to figure out if they could play smart when they're really tired."
The evolution of Kyle Moore's role is ongoing, as was evident in Miami when the team's new starting left end also played a handful of snaps at defensive tackle in passing situations. Moore himself, however, has clearly evolved quite significantly since his rookie season.
"He's a different guy," said Morris of the 2009 fourth-round pick out of USC. "He shows that in practice every day, his offseason attention to detail, what he was able to do to his body. He's really grown up a lot. We're encouraged by that and we're encouraged to see him go out there and play once we get going here."
Moore essentially watched the first half of his rookie campaign due to some minor injuries and his own halting development. But he began to blossom at the end of the 2009 season and then improved rapidly during his first full offseason in the NFL. In May, Morris began mentioning the second-year player as a possible candidate to replace departed left end Jimmy Wilkerson, and sure enough that's exactly where Moore found himself when training camp began.
While Moore was going through his evolution, the Buccaneers also imported defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price and saw additional improvement from second-year fireplug Roy Miller. Defensive tackle began to look like a new strength, and so Moore spent most of his time focusing on playing the edge. Price has been limited during training camp by a hamstring injury, however, and Moore's versatility came back into play when the Bucs played the Dolphins without their second-round draft pick.
"When we looked at [Moore] in college that was something we saw him do that we really liked about him," said Morris of Moore's interior-line play. "But once he became the starting left end you kind of wanted to leave him out there a little bit. Then Brian Price got a little nicked and you moved him back in there so you could get your four best pass-rushers on the grass, with him being one of them at the time. When Price gets back you'll get to see a little bit more of the package with Price in there and him staying at left end. But I don't want to exclude him from being able to go in there because he does have some special talents in there."
Moore blocked a pass during his one of his downs on the inside Saturday night, and he had several good pass-rushes off the edge. If his evolution continues at this rate, Moore might end up being one of the team's most productive linemen this season.
Injury Updates and More from Coach Morris
There was little change to the Buccaneers' injury situation on Tuesday, which is mostly good news given the team's light presence in the training room.
Maurice Stovall remains day-to-day with the ankle injury he sustained in Miami. Mike Williams was held out of the morning practice on Tuesday after missing Monday's work due to illness but was expected to return for the nightcap. Morris simply took a cautious route with his rising-star receiver, avoiding the possibility of dehydration following Williams' battle with the bug that has been bouncing around One Buc Place.
Brian Price and Myron Lewis, the two highly-regarded rookie defenders, were held out on Tuesday morning after returning from hamstring injuries on Monday. Those were planned absences, however; Morris will ease both players back into practice this week, beginning with the second workout on Tuesday evening.
Morris also touched on several other topics between Tuesday's two practices.
On whether he found it hard to evaluate the defensive line's Saturday performance due to the muddy field:
"No, I don't think so. A few of those guys had a lot of production. We had a bunch of quarterback hits, one on a bootleg, which is rare for a five-technique and that was Kyle Moore down by the end zone. Mike Bennett had the sack that we talked about and he had the other almost tackle-for-loss around the end zone in backed-up situation. The back made a good move to get away from him. They got another quarterback pressure, Dekoda Watson coming through the A-Gap. We had some opportunities to get to the quarterback and that was encouraging. We had a couple batted-balls and caused some bad throws. That was encouraging to see from the pass-rush, some of the pressure we were able to get to cause some errant throws. We had a couple tipped balls by Dre [Moore], I believe. That's something encouraging."
On how DT Gerald McCoy looked in his first NFL game:
"A lot of snaps were in the mud. We've seen him play physical and tough. We didn't get to see his quick explosion in the mud out there like you'd like to, because of that. I'm really looking forward to looking at him on the grass, getting a bunch of snaps on the grass so he can run around and use his quickness, see some of the stuff we see in practice. But he played physical, he played tough, he split some double-teams and he was able to do some good things out there. He had his pad level where you want it, and this week we're looking to see his quickness and explosion and get-off, and his changing of the line of scrimmage. You saw a little bit of that this week; we had a couple of tackles-for-loss and a couple no-gainers and things of that nature. It was an encouraging start."
On if double-teaming will be a fact of life for McCoy in the NFL:
"Yeah, three-technique, they should get doubled. If they don't get doubled, it's almost a sign of disrespect. [Warren] Sapp would say that all the time. You do things to help them. You run 'backers through gaps and things of that nature to get them off quicker and that's when you see guys make big-time plays. The five-technique, Michael Bennett made a big-time play because of that. Roy [Miller] made a big-time play because of Roy this week. A couple of those guys made some nice plays as far as getting off double teams."
On how comfortable he is with Josh Johnson as the team's backup quarterback:
"I'm very comfortable with Josh. Josh made a few mistakes last week. He threw the Sluggo that he shouldn't have thrown, threw it up in the air trying to give the receiver a chance to make the play. He had the opportunity to take a five-yard gain and possibly get a field goal up there on one of those plays and he took a shot down the field. But other than that, his ability to scramble, some of the things he was able to do with his decision making...he was a little all-over-the-place with his reads but that's just a quarterback anxious to go out there and compete. I feel really comfortable with Josh. Josh is a sharp, smart, young individual. He'll come back and he'll play lights-out for us. Some of the throws he threw were very accurate, some of them were very good, and I just look forward to him coming back and getting better and building on it."
On if the depth chart is open behind Cadillac Williams:
"You don't want to give anybody any jobs. That's just not the nature of the beast. I think Cadillac has earned the right around here to be the starting running back for a long time, with what he's been able to do with his production. But this league has turned into a two-back system and these guys can get out there and really compete with each other and really help with each other. But it's always got to be open. [Derrick] Ward, you're talking about a guy that is a resilient pro. He knows he's got to show up this week and he's got to show up the next couple weeks of the preseason. Then you're talking about a hungry young man [Kareem Huggins] who wants an opportunity, who's searching. Clifton [Smith] has been in that situation. He's been a hungry young man looking for an opportunity and searching. We've got backs back there with the mentality to give you great competition and we're looking forward to letting them get out there and play and compete."