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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers donned pads for the first time in training camp Sunday morning, and the hitting began

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Head Coach Jon Gruden expected his team to have some first-day difficulties with the pads on but wants to see rapid improvement

As practices go, it wasn't the sharpest, but what Sunday morning's session lacked in execution, it made up for in intensity, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers donned pads for the first time this year.

Blitzes came a little harder, backs ran a little faster, and blocking was more physical. In short, the overall intensity level was ratcheted up a notch everywhere on the field.

It was almost impossible not to notice the sound of pads cracking as linemen collided with each other while working on pass-protection and pass-rushing drills, prompting Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line Coach Bill Muir to yell, ""Now we're working here, baby!"

Still, the morning practice was far from ideal for Head Coach Jon Gruden who said he understands the transition to pads is always an acclimation process for players but that he expects better play soon.

"Usually the first couple of days, you're a little bit sluggish, a little bit apprehensive because you want to make sure you are playing at the tempo everyone else is," explained Gruden in a raspy voice, which he had nearly lost by the end of practice. "It'll improve, I will assure you that."

For now, the perfectionist coach isn't boiling, but he made it clear that he wants to see improvement soon.

"I'm not being overly critical of anyone," Gruden emphasized. "I'm just saying the first day of pads is an adjustment, and I expect us to be much crisper and much better tomorrow morning.

"It was a good practice in some ways. There were some good plays and good execution. I'm not saying I was down on practice; I'm saying we've got to get better, a lot better indeed, and that goes for this time every year."

Part of the cause for Gruden's agitation were dropped balls, something he admitted was disappointing and not acceptable. He said any leeway extended to his players as they acclimated themselves to practicing in pads ended after Sunday morning's session.

"I realize you're wearing shoulder pads, and it's a little bit different getting your arms up or catching the ball away from your body, but some balls got in on us," he said. "We dropped five or six passes that really shut down what would have been one hell of a 7-on-7 team period. Again, it's an adjustment, but it won't be tolerated for very long, I can promise you that.

"We've got to let our players get acclimated to being in pads, certainly, but that in a lot of ways can be a big excuse. We've got to catch the football to be a good passing team, and we've got to make great catches to be a great passing team. It wasn't good enough today."

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Sunday Dispatches

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