LB Barrett Ruud got back up to speed quickly upon rejoining the team on Tuesday
Things didn't go they were planned at One Buccaneer Place on Tuesday, and that was just fine with Raheem Morris.
An early-morning alteration to the schedule pushed the start times for the team's two mini-camp practices back by about 45 minutes, which meant the afternoon session was set to begin a little before 4:00 p.m. ET. That proved to be an important bit of timing, because a rash of lightning sprang up around One Buc Place at about the same time, driving the team back indoors. As it turned out, nothing much developed after a few strikes close to home, but by the time the sky was clear Morris had canceled the afternoon practice.
A missed opportunity? More like an opportunity created.
Morris knows that dealing with fast-moving afternoon showers is one of the difficulties of trying to hold two-a-days during training camp in July and August. The cancellation of Tuesday's afternoon practice forced the coaching staff to modify the rest of the mini-camp schedule, and that will turn Wednesday into something of a dry run (perhaps a poor choice of words) for those rainy days in camp.
"The plan [for training camp] is what we're going to practice tomorrow," said Morris. "That's why I thought this was a great opportunity. We're going to come in tomorrow at eight o'clock; have a team meeting; be on the field at 8:15; start practice; come back in and have a brunch; go back out as quickly as we can, probably around 12:00-ish; practice from 12:00 to 2:00; get it all in before 3:00, get two practices in that day and come back in and meet when it's raining."
At Disney's Wide World of Sports complex, where the Bucs have been camping since 2002, the team usually responded to afternoon showers by either cancelling practice or finding an indoor site to move it to. Last year, the team used a bubble next to the field on many afternoons, even dry ones, in order to give the team a break from the heat.
This year, the Bucs will hold training camp at their own state-of-the-art headquarters, and they plan to follow an alternating schedule of one-a-days and two-a-days. If a two-a-day is threatened by rain, they'll simply work around the bad weather without losing much valuable field time.
"That gives us an opportunity to have more live practices without being in the bubble and having to go through walk-throughs," said Morris. "It's just a different way of going about it. If something were to happen of course obviously we'll have to go to some form of a gym, in that nature, which we've done in the past, go to a walk-through format. We've always been a team that values reps and nothing's going to change as far as that matters."
The cancellation of Tuesday's second session affects Wednesday's schedule in another way, too. Morris had intended to split each of the mini-camp two-a-days into a morning workout aimed at fundamentals and an afternoon session more like a typical camp practice, with specific playbook details and game-oriented drills. Now the team will lose its morning fundamental period on Wednesday and hold two camp-like practices.
Morris had already run a pair of the fundamentals-oriented practice earlier in the spring, one at each of the two previous mini-camps. He had wanted to add two more in this final mini-camp for a total of four, one for each game the Bucs lost at the end of last season to miss the playoffs. Even though that number was eventually shaved to three, Morris made a point of stressing fundamental football to his players on Tuesday morning before sending them out to the field.
"Right before everybody's about to go on vacation, you want to just hit the core beliefs," he said. "Now why do you want to hit that? You want to hit that because now those guys can go home, they can lock in on the fundamental techniques that we need to develop down the stretch, the things that are going to help us finish strong. The thing that slipped last year, and we talked about it right from the beginning, was our fundamental core beliefs down the stretch — the tackling, the blocking, the running, the ball awareness. All those things slipped at the end of the year and that's why we had a falloff. So right now we've got an opportunity to really hit those things."
Morris knows that one lost practice in mid-June won't derail his team's progress; in fact, he considers the team a bit ahead of schedule in its preparation for training camp. For now, he wanted to stress some of the central messages, letting his players know that the really difficult work will begin on August 1.
"We'll get back, we'll get back together, we'll work on scheme and we'll get the toughness back in training camp," he said. "That's what we talked about today, that was the message for today and that's what we went out and accomplished."
Ruud Attends Camp
Morris was pleased to have Barrett Ruud back on the practice field after the standout middle linebacker had chosen not to attend the 14 voluntary OTA practices in May and June.
"Oh, it's exciting," said Morris. "Any time you see a guy who's as talented and means as much as Barrett Ruud does, it's always exciting to see him. To get the general feeling from him, he's excited about it as well. He's the leader of our defense, there's no doubt about it. He is the statue, the backbone, the signal-caller, the quarterback. The guys that have been filling his shoes did a great job and they're happy to see him back, their leader. Everybody's excited about it."
Morris has seen Ruud excel in the middle of the Bucs' defense as the starter the last two seasons, but new Defensive Coordinator Jim Bates is getting his first opportunity to work with the former Nebraska star. Bates did have Ruud in the middle of his defense for the team's first mini-camp spanning the end of March and the beginning of April and he saw a player on Tuesday that hadn't lost much ground.
"Barrett came back, he's in good shape and he picked up right where he left off," said Bates. "Of course he missed all the OTAs and we missed him not being there, but he's very intelligent, he stayed up with what the installation's been and he did a good job for the first day. Joe Barry's been in touch with him, keeping him abreast of what's going in on a daily basis, because we have put a lot of defense in during these OTA sessions."
Ruud acknowledged after the morning practice that he was a bit behind the linebackers who had participated in the OTAs but said he would be able to catch up without trouble. Morris agrees and says getting Ruud back to speed is an important task.
"He is behind, obviously, not having the ability to go through what his teammates went through, do all the movements, do all the calls on the field," said the coach. "There's no doubt about. His coach, however, has been in contact with him. His coaches have been trying to send him stuff, giving him as much as they can. He's been calling to inquire. So Barrett Ruud's been a part of the team; he just hasn't been here in the physical form. We've got to catch him up and that's why we've got great coaches here in the building. Training camp, mandatory mini-camp, people will have the ability to catch Barrett Ruud up. He's got to be a priority and we've talked about doing that."
More from Coach Morris
Morris touched on a variety of topics in the afternoon after the cancellation of the second practice, including Donald Penn's return, the workouts given to free agent receivers Drew Bennett and D.J. Hackett and Josh Freeman's goals for the season.
On Donald Penn's development: "Donald's a real good athlete. We don't know what Donald's top end is. He's probably never reached it yet. We're trying to push him to that level. That's why you want him to be here for all the voluntary stuff. But what he's done when he was away obviously wasn't as bad as people may think because he looked good, he practiced well. So we're just looking forward getting him into these two practices, getting him into training camp and getting ready to go."
On bringing in several veteran receivers to try out: "You've got to prepare yourself for everything that can happen. We get into a preseason game and we get a wideout hurt, you've got to be ready to go to your next option. You want to see what these guys look like while you've got time. You've got time to evaluate them, you've got time to get them out there and let them run around. You never know what's going to happen these next couple of days. You get an injury in training camp or mini-camp, you've got to bring a guy in. You've got to fill him in quickly, get ready to play the season, get ready to move on, get ready to play. Just keep evaluating talent; that's what we did today."
On Josh Freeman: "I think he told you guys the first day, he wants to be the very best. Obviously Josh Freeman in his mind he's going to go out and compete and be the very best and try to win this job. And we're not going to hold him back. If that's what he's going to do, that's what he's going to do, and the only guy that's going to determine that is Josh Freeman. He's got to go out and compete. It's not where I want him, it's where he is right now. It's not what I'm going to do for him, it's what he's going to do for himself. He's going out and doing it every day and he's competing his butt off. I'm proud of him."
On Keenan McCardell coming to practice: "Man, it's awesome. You bring back those guys kinds of guys, those kinds of winning attitudes, those kinds of people that come around and…when Keenan talks, my wide receivers listen. He's caught a lot of balls in this league. You're talking about a free agent guy that's made different teams, made himself a franchise guy. Those guys listen, and when you get a chance to bring a guy back like that and help him possibly develop into a coach one day when he's thinking about wanting to do it or kind of got a little bit of interest and you can just put that bug in him a little bit, that fires me up. That's part of the giving back that I talked about that helped me through the internship programs and everything like that. Maybe we can talk about Keenan in a couple years being a great coach."
On developing a third defensive tackle: "We drafted Roy Miller and he's been doing really well. He's been really stout. Again, you never want to put a D-Lineman in shorts in a position. You just can't do it. Those guys got to have on pads. You've got to see those guys play with pad level. You've got to see it. Dre Moore's stepped up his game, like we talked about early on. You're talking about an athlete. You're talking about a big body who kind of let us down a little bit last year who we're kind of getting high on right now. You talk about a guy like [Rashaad] Duncan walking in here and getting ready to play. Petey [Greg Peterson] was coming on, too; he had a little injury. We've got to get ready to see who's going to go out there and perform, see who's going to be ready to do it when we get to the pads. We'll find out at training camp. But right now, those guys have been doing exactly what we ask them to do and we're fired up."