Last Thursday, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers wrapped up their second set of OTA practices, Head Coach Raheem Morris called the week-ending workout a "barrel day" for the defense.
In other words, the Bucs' defense had put the offense in a barrel that day, winning a good number more encounters than it lost. In the long, slow give-and-take of an NFL offseason, there are barrel days for both sides, Morris said, and that's obviously a mixed blessing. How excited can a coach get about an impressive interception, for instance, when it's a Buccaneer quarterback who threw the pass?
In the end, all you want is some kind of balance. If one side or another dominates for months on end, there might be a problem on the other side of the line.
On Tuesday, the Buccaneers continued their third week of OTA practices, and while Morris wasn't available to reveal whether either side ended up in the barrel, it's worth nothing that starting quarterback Josh Freeman felt encouraged at the end of the one hour, 45-minute long session.
"I think it's really coming together," said Freeman. "Today was a good day - we hit a few shot plays, we got guys out of position on defense and had a lot of explosive plays from a lot of different players. It was definitely exciting to see as quarterback."
This week, the Buccaneers have used a good portion of their full-team periods during practice to conduct move-the-ball drills, where the success of the offense helps determine the flow of the play-calling. Some of those possessions have specifically been two-minute drills, as the team has started to emphasize specific game situations as it works into the second half of its OTA schedule. Red zone work has also been plentiful in recent sessions.
Those types of situations are usually covered during each week of practice during the regular season, but there's only so much time in a three-day stretch of field work to get to everything. The expanded offseason schedule allows the team to spend entire days on such areas, and the effort is starting to pay off.
"The other thing we've been able to do right now is, our emphasis has been on situational football," said Offensive Coordinator Greg Olson. "It's difficult, obviously, without pads, to work on the run game as much. So we've kind of emphasized the passing game, we've emphasized red zone work and we've emphasized the two-minute situations. We're getting a ton of work in those areas and it's been beneficial to this point."
In a larger sense, the Bucs are in the install phase for their offense as a whole. It's not exactly the team's first year in the system, as Olson returns after leading the offense during the 2009 campaign, but it definitely is a different situation than a year ago. For one thing, Freeman is firmly entrenched as the starter this time around. And for another, Olson is getting his first full offseason at the offense's helm after taking over just before the start of the 2009 regular season.
"It's going well," said Freeman. "It's not that we're running a complete new offense. They just changed a lot of things to Coach Olson's likings - how things are labeled, how the formations are called. There are different ways of running a lot of different stuff and Coach Olson prefers it a certain way and it's working pretty well so far. We feel like we've got kind of a second-year team, second year in the system so we can start putting a little more in our workload."
Having more to attack the defense with will help the offense get in its own share of barrel days during the offseason and once training camp starts. Freeman says there's a greater volume of calls at his disposal this year, and that includes more opportunities for explosive plays. With Freeman getting increasingly comfortable and some intriguing new weapons in the receiving corps, the Bucs are trying to fashion an offense that can hit the big gainer a little more often.
"I like the fact that we've got a starting quarterback, that we know who is going to be that starter from Day One," said Olson. "That's obviously really important to the success and the continuity of our offense right now. We've added some playmakers. We're excited about Mike Williams and we're excited about Rejus Benn. We've added two solid receivers and we've got a real nucleus of players returning so we feel comfortable with the players we have.
"To me, it's a version of the West Coast. I've taken a couple principles of the coaches that I've worked for in the past, primarily West Coast offenses, but we've also sprinkled in some of the Mike Martz St. Louis Rams vertical stretch. You'll see a little bit of both. Hopefully we'll be a very aggressive offense. Certainly, we're going to run the football. Running the football is important to this team and we understand that, and it's going to be an explosive offense.