How quickly a linebacker can react towards the line of scrimmage on a handoff is dependent in part on how well he sticks his back foot
It's the last month of the offseason training program, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers want to "stick it."
That's one of the exhortations Linebackers Coach Joe Barry commonly throws at his group, specifically when they are working on reacting to the football. The linebackers are instructed to shuffle backward slightly at the snap and then, upon diagnosing where the ballcarrier is going, "stick" the back foot and drive off it in order to get "downhill" to the line of scrimmage as quickly as possible.
A linebacker can't finish that drill properly unless he sticks that foot hard. And, since finishing is one of the primary topics Head Coach Raheem Morris and his staff intend to emphasize this year, the 14-week offseason program won't be a complete success unless Buccaneer players nail these last three weeks.
On Tuesday, the Buccaneers began the fourth of their five weeks of organized team activity days (OTAs) with the usual two-hour morning practice. They will repeat the process on Wednesday and Thursday, run three more OTAs next week and then finish the program with a mandatory mini-camp during the third week of June.
The 2009 Buccaneers have been working together since mid-March, gradually ramping up the intensity and complexity of their workouts. The OTAs, which allow full, structured practices, have helped in that process, though they are limited somewhat by the offseason ban on contact. Still, Tampa Bay's coaching staff has established a high-RPM tempo since OTAs began in May and if Tuesday's workout is any indication, there will be no let-up in June.
The Bucs hit the field Tuesday with essentially the same group of nearly 80 players, with only a handful of rostered men missing out due to minor injuries or other absences. Wide receiver Maurice Stovall, who has missed time during the last two weeks due to a back ailment, was the one notable addition. The team also has one open roster spot since fullback Byron Storer was placed on injured reserve in May; indications are it will be filled soon and the team will have yet another participant in practice.
Neither the eight OTAs that came before June nor the building West Florida heat seemed to have weighed down the Bucs' spirits much. During the slow-speed pat-n-go period that comes before the stretching, the defensive linemen worked on a drill that involved them leaping for tipped balls in the backfield. They were instructed to jump as high as possible, catch the ball with their arms outstretched and then tuck it away before trying to run.
Some of the linemen had better vertical leaps than others, but it was hard not to watch the big men jumping in turn like receivers or DBs. Fullback Jameel Cook, running in a pat-no-go session on the next field, called out, "You guys actually look like athletes." As compliments go, it might have been a bit backhanded.
The receivers certainly looked athletic during a drill in which they had to sprint downfield and catch a high lob of a pass that was coming directly over their helmets. Without turning around, most of them made impressive fingertip grabs. The tight ends joined the receivers in this drill and several others, and it was also impressive to see tight end Kellen Winslow perfectly mirroring the fast footwork of the smaller receivers.
Several position groups joined together during the second round of individual-position drills, or "indies." Most notably, the quarterbacks joined the receivers and tight ends for a route-running session from the 10-yard line into the end zone. In these tight quarters, routes and throws had to be precise, and a group of coaches constantly yelled at the players to perfect their assignments.
The Bucs were due to finish Tuesday's practice at approximately 12:15 p.m. ET. Buccaneers.com will provide a more detailed look at the day's action in the afternoon, including another daily OTA Buccaneers Insider in the video section.