Head Coach Tony Dungy says the Bucs are right on target through the first two weeks of voluntary workouts
James Whalen made a key contribution during the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' voluntary practice Wednesday morning.
Buccaneer fans who remember training camp 2000 may be surprised to hear that, considering the Whalen they know, the team's fifth-round draft pick last April, is currently on the Dallas Cowboys' roster and playing overseas in the NFL Europe League.
But the Bucs happened to be flush with James Whalens last summer, and the one that remains with the team just happened to be in the right place at the right time when wide receiver Frank Murphy ran off the field in pain on Wednesday.
Whalen – he actually prefers Jim, by the way – is the Bucs' director of rehabilitation, and he was the closest trainer to Murphy when the first-year wideout dislocated a finger and headed to the sideline cradling his right hand. In one swift motion, Whalen expertly popped the joint back into place and Murphy headed back onto the field without missing a snap (no pun intended).
That was just a very minor glitch in what has developed into two very smooth weeks of voluntary practices for the Buccaneers. The team will convene again on Thursday to finish up the first half of the sessions, then report back each of the following two weeks for eight more workouts. With 100% of the non-NFLEL players on hand, the voluntary work has proven very useful for the Buccaneers this spring.
"So far, we're right on target," said Head Coach Dungy. "We're making very good progress. We're learning things as we go, and that's the important thing."
And the mishap suffered by Murphy, who has been an eye-opener this spring, won't put a pall over the good feelings. Since it was the knuckle closest to the tip of the finger, Murphy won't need to miss any practice time; the knuckle by the palm would have been a more series injury. Murphy was treated with ice and had the hand wrapped after practice.
Murphy hustled back onto the field as soon as his finger was in place because, with so many players on hand, including 11 receivers, every rep is precious. After running a route, the young wideouts generally head directly to position coach Charlie Williams to find out what they have done right and wrong. Every day, there's a bit more to learn.
"You put in a little bit more each day and just try to add slowly," said Dungy. "Each day, you build on what you tried to do the day before. You don't try to put it all in, but you try to learn the concepts. Then we start all over again in training camp, but it's not the first time they've heard it. It usually works out better that way."
That is particularly true where young players are concerned, and the rookie most Buccaneer fans are concerned with is first-round offensive tackle Kenyatta Walker. Walker has been inserted into the first-team line at left tackle, and in addition to the seven-on-seven and team drills, he's been given a baptism of fire by premier pass-rushers like Simeon during one-on-one drills. In just the month since the Buccaneers traded up in the first round to nab him, Walker has made noticeable improvement.
"Kenyatta's been doing a great job and we're very pleased with his progress," said Offensive Line Coach Chris Foerster. "He's been competing, and he's got a lot to learn. Right now, a lot of things are going through his mind, as far as learning the system, what to do and how to do it. But, even early on, you can see that it's all coming together.
"Day by day, he puts another piece in the puzzle. As long as we don't mess him up and change the pieces, he should have it all figured out by the time the season starts."
Actually, the Bucs would like to be able to say that of all their players by the September 9 opening day in Dallas. Heavily attended and efficiently run practices like the ones taking place now at One Buccaneer Place should help the team achieve that goal.