Tuesday marked the first time that rookie QB Josh Freeman (5) shared a practice field with his three veteran teammates, Byron Leftwich (7), Luke McCown (12) and Josh Johnson (11)
It could have been worse. It could have been gassers again.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Raheem Morris finished the team's recent rookie mini-camp with a long series of those unpopular sprints. On Tuesday, 18 of the approximately 50 rookies who participated in that camp (some on tryout contracts) were back at One Buccaneer Place for a morning practice. This one, too, ended with some extra work for the newcomers.
In this case, however, it was a welcome postscript. The two-hour Tuesday session – the beginning of a week of "organized team activity days," or "OTAs" – marked the first practice involving the entire 2009 squad, veterans and rookies. The 78 men on the practice field ran through nine periods together before Morris gave his usual post-practice speech and then sent the veterans inside.
The remaining rookies and first-year players ran a 10th period, one that repeated all the reps of an earlier period that had been run mostly by more experienced players. Quarterback Josh Freeman, for instance, watched all the snaps during the full-team blitz period as Luke McCown and Byron Leftwich ran the show but got his own crack at the same plays during the 10th period.
Morris said the extra drill was one way to spread the reps around on the bloated roster without slowing down the team's overall progress.
"Now that everybody's here, you're searching for reps for people," he explained. "You've got to develop new ways to get people reps. You've got to find out who's going to be able to help you this year, whether they are a seventh-year player or a rookie. It's good to have everybody on board, everybody in house so you can get a chance to evaluate that and see how it's going to work out."
The Buccaneers added six players in the 2009 NFL Draft over the weekend of April 25-26 and have since signed a dozen other undrafted rookies. Those young players were able to gather at team headquarters the weekend after the draft for the aforementioned camp but were then prohibited from rejoining the team until after May 16. That meant this week's round of OTAs was the first opportunity for all of the candidates for the 2009 regular season roster to take the field together.
Freeman, who was an obvious focal point during the rookie camp, was glad to take the next step, even if it meant a smaller share of the reps.
"At first, it was pretty cool," said the first-round draft pick out of Kansas State. "The coaches talked a lot about it at rookie camp. It was definitely exciting; I'm glad to be with the entire team now and get to work with some of these guys.
"The tempo from rookie mini-camp to OTAs is a lot faster. There's not a whole lot of teaching going on; everybody's expected to know. We just kind of run through the script."
Morris was pleased with the effort put together by the team, finally united and ready to begin the long process of getting ready for the regular season. The practice got off to a slow start, he admitted, but picked up tempo considerably once everyone shook off the weekend rust. The light rain that fell on much of the practice had little effect on the work taking place; if anything, it was a blessing in disguise.
"That's just a little cool breeze," said Morris, remembering the unseasonably warm temperatures of the rookie camp. "Actually, it took off some of the heat and gave the players a bit of a break, to be honest with you. As long as there's no lightning, we're fine. Today was just some sprinkles, a little rain, and that actually can be a good deal. It creates a little adversity for the quarterbacks with the wind, so we like that."
Freeman may face a little more adversity than his fellow passers in the coming month, as the Bucs continue a five-week stretch of OTAs. He's had less exposure to Offensive Coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski's system than McCown, Leftwich or Josh Johnson, fewer practices at One Buc Place and, obviously, very little opportunity to gain "NFL experience."
Still, he doesn't expect to be behind for long. He studied hard during his two weeks away from the team and came back with a better feel for what is expected of him when he gets under center.
"I just shored up on all the stuff we got in our rookie mini-camp," said Freeman. "I came into the rookie mini-camp and kind of hit it all on the fly, a makeshift [approach to] making plays. Having that time off, I was able to take my playbook home, take a lot of notes and really get comfortable with the stuff that they installed."
It showed in the 10th period. Perhaps soon Freeman will be picking up reps earlier in practice.