FB Mike Alstott runs a shallow pattern during the Bucs' red zone drill on Wednesday
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have spent significant parts of two of the past four practices on 'red zone' offense, but they have yet to do so with a full complement of personnel. Last Wednesday, the Bucs practiced inside the 20s without Head Coach Tony Dungy and Offensive Coordinator Les Steckel, who were attending the NFL Spring Meeting in Baltimore. This Wednesday, Dungy was at the helm again and Steckel was back to teach his new offense, but the Bucs were without WR Keyshawn Johnson.
When Johnson was acquired in an April trade with the New York Jets, it seemed almost certain that the Pro Bowl receiver would help the Bucs get from the red zone into the end zone in 2000. A tall, tough and quick receiver with outstanding hands, Johnson is a potent weapon near the goal line. On Wednesday, however, he sat out practice due to the back spasms that also sidelined him on Tuesday.
"He's doing fine," said Dungy of Johnson's condition. "We're not sure if it's attributed to practice or to the Lakers losing last night."
Obviously, Dungy's lighthearted take is a clear indication that Johnson's situation is not serious. He is expected to return to practice shortly and a precautionary MRI revealed no muscle damage. Unconcerned, Dungy and the Bucs moved on without Johnson and had a semi-successful red zone outing.
"We think (Johnson) will be very good with some of the things we're doing down there (in the red zone)," said Dungy, "but today was our red zone emphasis and we had some things in offensively to look at and defensively to work on. We'll come back and hit it one more time next week."
When you devote three of your allotted 14 summer workouts to the topic, it is obvious that success in the red zone – or as Steckel refers to it, the 'Green Zone' – is a high-priority goal in 2000. "It is something that we're always concerned about," said Dungy. "Defensively, if you do a good job down there and hold people to field goals, it makes a big difference. Offensively, we've been kind of off and on. Two years ago, we were good down there. Last year, we ended up having to kick a lot of field goals. Martin (Gramatica) did a great job on that, but we'd like to score more touchdowns."
The Bucs were similarly off-and-on Wednesday during the red zone emphasis. The defense was also working on its red zone plans and did a fine job of disrupting the offense, particularly with a variety of blitzes. Those blitzes were installed in part on Tuesday, when the Bucs made that the focus of the 90-minute workout. The offense responded with several successful plays but were not yet up to the level that Dungy and Steckel plan to achieve. "We've got some good stuff in, but it's all so new for our offense that we're going to have some growing pains. But it will come.
"It's always kind of a new experience when you're blitzing. The (defensive guys) have to figure out what gaps to go in, the offense has to pick it up, so it's always interesting the first day down there."
Though Johnson missed his second practice, Dungy was pleased with his team's overall health. Several players who have missed most of the work so far during this four-week voluntary summer session are on the verge of getting back into the action.
"Overall, we're doing well," said Dungy. "Shevin Smith (knee) was doing better; he may be in position to come back next week. Al Singleton (ankle) is coming along fine. Patrick Hape (foot) may be in a position to do some things next week. All those guys we feel are going to be fine for training camp."
Tampa Bay will thus have a nearly full complement for its final workout of the week on Thursday, when the Bucs will shift focus once again. "We're going to do a little more two-minute work and just finish up the week that way," said Dungy. "Basically, it's going to be very much like the rest of the days have been, just having a special emphasis for that day and trying to get the guys accustomed to how we do things."