T Jeremy Trueblood and his fellow offensive rookies have yet to see a pro defense other than the Bucs' 4-3
The second Monday of training camp has arrived for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which in the "Groundhog Day" like atmosphere of camp doesn't feel much different than the second Sunday or the third Friday.
This particular Monday, however, is the exact halfway point of the Bucs' 21-day schedule in Lake Buena Vista, and it's also the start of the work week that will end in Tampa Bay's first game of the season. The Buccaneers play host to the New York Jets at Raymond James Stadium on Friday, August 11; there are only three more two-a-days before that opening contest (including Monday) and as few as three more two-a-days after the game, depending upon specific coaching decisions.
Certain position battles have come to the forefront during the first half of camp (example: right guard) and certain players have emerged as outstanding performers (example: Anthony Bryant). Nowhere has the competition been more fierce or more loaded with camp standouts than wide receiver, a position Head Coach Jon Gruden used to illustrate what's at stake for every player during these three weeks.
"I'll just make this point here: Nothing's in stone," said Gruden. "Everybody says we have competition for the number-three spot. Hell, we've got competition for numbers one, two, three, four and five, and six and seven and eight and nine and 10 and 11 and 12. We're competing to see who plays, and we've got some competition. You guys have brought up three or four guys every day, and Paris Warren is another guy who has quietly made a lot of noise here, done some really good things."
Monday's fresh example was diminutive wideout Mark Jones, who has already made his mark in the NFL as a punt returner but seems intent on proving he can do even more for the Buccaneers. Jones may lock up a job simply due to his return prowess – he led the NFL in punt return yards last season – but Gruden says he can use these days at Disney to expand his role.
"I think he's earned a right to see some playing time at wide receiver," said the coach, who will be making rotation decisions about that opening Jets game this week. "He's going to be active for us as our punt returner. He helped us beat the Falcons in Week 15; he set up our game-winning drive in overtime. He was one of the top returners in football last season. I don't think people know that. But he has really worked hard to improve himself as a receiver and he's a great kid. He's a guy who has done well here in Orlando."
The 12 receivers the Buccaneers have in training camp this year have worked hard for 11 days, jockeying for position on a depth chart that, as Gruden said, has not been set in stone yet. It hasn't even been particularly obvious how that depth chart is arranged at that moment, but the players will get a better feel for it on Friday when playing time is doled out.
Of course, a projected starter like Joey Galloway may not end up with much to do on Friday as the team takes a look at its younger players.
"Some of the front-line guys may not play very much, if at all," said Gruden. "Obviously, when those guys come out of the game there's a little bit of a strategy change. We're going to try to win the football game, don't get me wrong, but we're going to do what we feel our players can do and try to evaluate them in the process."
The Bucs will spend Monday afternoon working on special teams, but the second practices on Tuesday and Wednesday will include a few periods devoted to scouting the Jets. That's about the extent of the game-planning most clubs do for an early-preseason game, as the need to evaluate internally remains paramount.
"We're going to do everything we can do to put these guys in a position where they can get ready to play in a regular-season game," said Gruden. "That's all you can do at training camp. It's hard to do because we're not seeing a 34 defense. We're seeing a 43 defense, a 4-3 every day. So there are a lot of things a player like Jeremy Trueblood hasn't seen that he's going to see, and it's going to start Friday night against the Jets."
Knowing the younger players will see the bulk of the action in the opener, and knowing that they are inherently less prepared for such action than the team's experienced veterans, the Bucs have tried to give the newcomers a little trial by fire on the practice field.
"We've targeted a few guys on defense that we want to go after with the script," said Gruden. "We want to see [Alan] Zemaitis against [David] Boston. We want to see Torrie Cox against Galloway. Repeatedly. Because that's what they're going to see in prime time."
More from Coach Gruden
The Bucs' head coach touched on a few additional topics after Monday's first practice.
On how he feels when the offense or defense dominates a period during practice: "Well, you're the head coach. You're on the team. If you're an offensive player, you feel good about seven-on-seven, but you [as a coach] don't feel so good about how we covered. I have a lot more expectations from our defense than that. [Chris] Simms was red-hot today in that period again. Simms is throwing the ball tremendously right now and hopefully we'll continue to do things that will allow him to excel."
On if he has any update on injured players: "I really don't. We have some guys who are day-to-day. Will Allen, hopefully, will be back in a couple of days. [Kenyatta Walker] didn't go today. Maybe he'll go tomorrow. He's getting better, but he's not ready to go."
On taking Sunday afternoon's practice indoors: "It was good. You have to simulate crowd noise somehow. There were certain things we wanted to do behind closed doors that we were able to get done. Plus, there are five or six guys that aren't taking reps full speed, but were able to take 60 or 70 turns. We benefited from it."
On if the practice tempo picks up on the week before a game: "The tempo's been good here. We've had nine straight days of pads."
On how much farther along Cadillac Williams is at this point in camp than he was a year ago: "Well, he can't be much stronger and quicker than he was last year, the way he started the regular season as a rookie. No one's ever done it in the history of football. We hope he's stronger, we hope he's quicker, we hope he's more in tune with what we're doing. We think he is. He's a strength of our football team on offense, certainly. It's a credit to him – he's had a great offseason and he's had a very good training camp here."