Three quarterbacks threw passes for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Friday afternoon during the team's first real organized practice of any kind in 2010. None of the three had ever taken a single snap with the Buccaneers before.
In fact, none had even seen the team's playbook before Thursday evening. It wasn't as if Matt Grothe, Bobby Reid and Jevan Snead were behind their teammates, however. Of the 77 young men who put on Tampa Bay helmets on Friday, only four had ever stepped foot on the team's practice field before. Besides 2009 first-year holdovers Emanuel Cook, Maurice Evans, Ryan Purvis and Lee Robinson, this was a true rookie camp in every sense of the word.
And yet, despite the players being greener than the grass itself, the first workout of this weekend's three-day mini-camp was actually pretty sharp, according to Head Coach Raheem Morris.
"That was a good practice, a good start," said Morris. "A lot of new young bodies running around the field. A very exciting practice. The guys came out and got acclimated with some of our Florida heat. It was a lot of fun to see those guys run around for the first time. It was a very impressive day but it was still only one so we've got to get through two more days here."
As Morris mentions, the two-hour afternoon session was hot in a sneaky way, blessed with a cloud cover the entire time but still sticky in a way that previewed the summer months to come. That wasn't the only thing unusual about Friday's opener, as compared to a normal team practice at One Buccaneer Place, though. There were familiar numbers in unfamiliar situations (that #28 chasing down a wide receiver was not Derrick Ward but Arkansas-Pine Bluff safety Kevin Thornton). There were backs and receivers slapping their helmets in frustration after running completely wrong routes. There was a college basketball player (Kent State's Brandon Parks) trying to learn the footwork of an NFL left tackle in the heat of the moment. And there were more than a few instances where coaches referred to their players by number instead of name.
But there was also some very good football from a group of rookies that could make a big impact on the Bucs' fortunes in 2010. It was, for instance, the first practice for the team's two highly-drafted defensive tackles, Gerald McCoy and Brian Price, and the duo did not disappoint, even in a non-contact practice.
"It's always hard to grade those guys in shorts and underwear," said Morris of McCoy and Price, the third and 35th players taken in last week's draft, respectively. "They were out there running around, but they did a great job with what they were asked to do. You see those guys go through the bags. They're just very impressive guys in individual drills. Once you go to team you can grade these guys and give them a lot of credit for what they're doing. The real thing for those guys will be what happens in the trenches when the pads go on. But what we saw today definitely makes you excited about both of those guys down there in the trenches."
Even that trio of quarterbacks had some impressive moments, as difficult as their collective task was. Snead was signed by the Buccaneers as an undrafted rookie out of Ole Miss, while Grothe of USF and Reid of Texas Southern are two of 49 players participating in the camp on tryout contracts. All three spent Thursday night and Friday morning trying to absorb as much of the playbook as possible, as they had been told the
coaches were going to throw a lot at them in the weekend's three practices.
Snead, in particular, put some very nice moments on the practice tape.
"All those quarterbacks did a good job of picking it up last night," said Morris. "Really, your quarterback impressions are in the meeting room, how they pick it up, how they relate to their players, how they're able to spit it out in the huddle and all those instances. [Snead] did a good job of going out there and being able to run the offense. He did a good job of being able to go out there and know exactly what he's supposed to do. Now he's just got to find his rhythm, find his timing and be able to throw to the receivers and all these guys and have some control over all this stuff."
Of course, in this first look, most of the eyes observing Friday's practice were trained on the team's nine 2010 draft picks. McCoy and Price had strong debuts, third-round cornerback Myron Lewis impressed Morris with his footwork and seventh-round safety Cody Grimm looked like a dynamo on special teams. Perhaps the most noticeable standout in the first practice of camp was fourth-round wide receiver Mike Williams, the former Syracuse standout.
"He flashed today, there's no doubt about that," said Morris. "Going across the middle, snatching the ball out of the air, plucking it so to speak. He's big, he's fast, he did a nice job of finishing. He took a couple of little short passes and ran them all the way to the end zone."
The Buccaneers will practice again on Saturday afternoon and then conclude their three-day camp with a Sunday morning workout. Both two-hour affairs will give any of the other 78 players on the mini-camp roster a chance to stand out from the crowd, as Williams did on Friday. That's true of McCoy and of Snead and even of the 49 players whose contracts are good only for the weekend. Linebacker Ryan Reeves, a tryout player from Wayne State, had an impressive interception late in Friday's practice; perhaps Ohio running back Chris Garrett or Morgan State defensive tackle Justin Lawrence or Georgia Southern cornerback Darrell Pasco will be the next rookies to shine.
The Buccaneers believe that every player in this weekend's rookie mini-camp has a chance to make the team this fall.
"It's an opportunity for everybody in this camp," said Morris. "We wouldn't have brought anybody here that didn't have an opportunity. That's what this camp is all about."