Punter John Shay sends a kickoff downfield
On Friday morning, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers head off to Orlando for a series of four joint practices with the Miami Dolphins. For one final workout on Thursday afternoon, the enemy was still each other.
After a tiring two-hour workout on Thursday morning that took the place of a rained-out Wednesday night session, the Bucs returned at 3:30 p.m. for an hour of work on kickoff returns. As they did on Tuesday, the coaching staff turned the proceedings over to Special Teams Coach Joe Marciano, who meticulously went over every detail of that phase of the game. It was basically the final thing Head Coach Tony Dungy wanted to accomplish before meeting up with the Dolphins.
"We just worked this afternoon on some kickoff coverages, kickoff returns," he said, "really the last phases of our special teams to come in."
Though the semi-serious level of contact and ban on tackling made it difficult to tell which returners were excelling, it wasn't hard to see improvement in kicker Martin Gramatica's work. Gramatica hit most of his kickoffs high and long on Thursday, and Dungy confirmed after the practice that the second-year standout had hit the ball well.
While the usual two-a-day training camp practices require full attendance, those players not on any special teams units did not have to attend the Thursday afternoon session. Still, the majority of the team was there, including many starters. While the Bucs aggressively seek and find places for players whose main purpose is special teams work, they also do not hesitate to use starters on those units.
"Everybody's got a role," said Dungy. "We've got starters on certain special teams. Obviously, you can't be on everything. But Shelton Quarles, Ronde Barber, Donnie Abraham – a lot of those guys, if they have the ability to do something on the special teams that we need, we use them. We use all of the receivers and the backs in the return game. Mike Alstott's on there. So, whatever you can do to help the team, we like to get it done."
There was one other new sight on the sidelines on Thursday afternoon: NFL officials. A crew visited the camp and was scheduled to meet with the team shortly after practice to go over the rules and procedures for the 2000 season. After that meeting, Dungy gave the players the rest of the night off, seeking to provide a little last-minute rest before the practices with Miami, which seem to signal a new phase in training camp.
"It's been a good camp," said Dungy, when asked to wrap up what has occurred so far. "We wish it would have been a little hotter early on, but the heat seems to be picking up, so that's good. I think our attitude's been very good, our work ethics been good, so I've been pleased. We're working hard, and that's what you like to see. So far, it's been pretty uneventful, just business as usual."
There were, of course, a string of injuries during the first week, not uncommon for the opening days of training camp. Even that, however, was not seen as a setback by Dungy.
"We're coming along, actually," he said. "We've got Damien Robinson, James Whalen and Tarig Holman with hamstring injuries that we'll evaluate next week. Jason Odom is doing really well. Patrick Hape, we hope to get back next week from his foot injury. We've got some minor things, but nothing major."
The Buccaneers depart from the University of Tampa at 6:00 a.m. Friday morning for the bus ride to Orlando and the Florida Citrus Bowl. The first practice with Miami is at 9:00 a.m. on Friday.