Spirited collisions among the linemen were just one sign that the Bucs were energized for Saturday's practice
On the surface it seemed like a reward, but underneath it was really more of a test.
When Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Jon Gruden "altered" his team's training camp schedule on Friday, calling off a two-hour morning practice in pads, he seemed to be responding to a sudden rash of injuries and an obvious need for some rest.
In fact, Gruden had never intended to hold a practice on Friday morning; he just wanted that information to be a surprise. The Buccaneers' coaching staff went into camp knowing that the roster would be a bit fatigued after four straight days of practicing in pads in the grueling heat of Central Florida.
But when Gruden informed his players on Thursday evening of the break in the schedule, he didn't merely dismiss them to their beds with a wave and a see-ya-later. Instead, he presented it as a challenge: Take this extra time, recharge your batteries and let's be even better in Week Two.
A notably strong Week One won't be easy to top, but the Bucs can do so by cleaning up mistakes and playing with more energy.
"I like [the first week of camp] a lot, I really do," said Gruden on Saturday, eight days into the three-week stay in Orlando. "We haven't had a lot of reloaded plays where we've had busts of assignments. We're a deeper team. I don't know if we're a better team but we've got some competition and depth. We need some guys to continue to perform at a level that they performed the first week. The second week we challenged our team to play faster, play with more execution, eliminate the penalties and I thought for the most part we eliminated most of the today."
There is a long way to go, but the Buccaneers got off to a good start in meeting that challenge on Saturday morning. The practice schedule called for more game-type drills than had been evident in Week One, and the players established a hard-hitting and high-speed tempo early in the workout. The one-on-one sessions between the linemen was intense and the full-team drills were hotly contested between the offense and defense. The only thing that marred the practice was a few more muffed passes than Gruden would have liked.
"We had a move-the-ball period at the end of the day, a simulated game, working on our substitutions and getting the coaches off the field," said Gruden. "It's that time of year. We also had a two-minute drill, we worked the final three plays of the game in desperation. [We did] some good things today. Obviously we dropped a lot of balls; we dropped too many passes today.
"But the effort's good. I thought they responded and came out with good energy. Their assignments were solid; we just didn't make enough plays, especially on the offensive side of the ball. When plays are there to be made, you've got to make them."
A Sight for Sore Eyes
The all-out effort evident on the field Saturday may have had something to do with the day's schedule, as well. As usual, the second Saturday of camp is set aside as Family Day for the players and coaches, meaning they had the rest of the day off after the morning workout.
The players might also have been eager to play well in front of some of their most important fans. The VIP area between the two practice fields was bursting with wives, children and significant others in town to see the hard-working men who had been away from home for eight days.
"It's Family Day and it's a little over a week now that we've been here," explained Gruden. "I try to keep things in perspective. Family comes first. It's a great opportunity to reunite with the wives of the players and to meet some of the new girlfriends that we have here [with] some of our single bachelors. It's a family atmosphere here and we'd like to keep it that way. I think it's important that a man gets his space at some point and gets back to his family, and that's what we're doing this afternoon."
After practice, dozens of players headed to the family tent instead of the locker room to hug their wives and pick up their kids. Later, many of the families will head off to one of the many nearby theme parks.
"It's not a bad place to have Family Day. You can just drive across the street. You can go to Epcot, you can go ride on the Rock 'N Roll Rollercoaster, which I recommend. I like the Buzz Lightyear ride over at the Disney park. There's a lot to do here for kids."
Galloway Nears Return, and More from Coach Gruden
The doors at the Celebration Hotel, the Buccaneers home away from home for three weeks, are not marked with name tags, so one needs a room chart to know which players are housed where. However, it's rather easy to find Joey Galloway.
Taped to the door of Galloway's room is a sign that says, "The Buccaneers' White Tiger inside." The paper is a joking reference to a comparison Gruden made a few days ago when predicting when the veteran receiver will make his practice-field debut at camp. Gruden compared Galloway to a rare white tiger at Busch Gardens – it may take a while for the tiger to come out into the open, but it's worth the wait to see him when he does.
The white tiger just may emerge at the beginning of the work week.
"We expect Galloway on Monday," said Gruden. "You may not see it [but] he's working his guts off. He's running fast. We're very close to liftoff. Around the league there are some really good receivers that aren't practicing here the first week of training camp. I think we did the right thing. Our white tiger is about to come out of the cage. There's a good chance Monday Buc fans will see him."
Gruden touched on a few other topics on Saturday morning.
On if there are changes in the injury situation: "No, I don't have any updates other than guys are getting treatment. I just think it's great that when a player goes down the guy that steps in for him has to pick up the slack and play as good or better. We got a good look at our second, third and fourth quarterbacks today; Byron Storer is filling in for B.J. Askew, obviously; and our young centers in Jeff Faine's absence get an opportunity to make the calls and run the show. At the wide receiver position with [Joey] Galloway, Dexter [Jackson] and Chad Lucas down some other guys get an opportunity, so I really like that part of it."
On Jeff Garcia: "He feels a lot better today. He was walking around putting weight on it, which is a great sign. Knowing him, it won't be long. What a great opportunity to get the other quarterbacks reps, and it will pay off for us."
On if Garcia will play in the preseason opener: "Oh, I don't know. Last year he played three plays in the first game. Obviously, we'll work on the rotations and what the injury front says to do when we get there."
On the rookie class: "They're doing good. Aqib [Talib] is doing really well, a lot of life and energy in his legs. He's a playmaker, he helps us. Dexter Jackson is a little bit like Joey – most flights are canceled every day. For a head coach…we wanted speed, and Galloway and Dexter Jackson have speed. We haven't seen it yet. It's frustrating, I think, from that standpoint. But Dexter's doing fine, he's learning the offense. I can't be more pleased with Jeremy Zuttah, can not be more pleased. He's unflappable. He's doing an excellent job. For the rest of the class we've got a long way to go but they're working hard and we're seeing improvement."
On if Dre Moore is thinking a lot on the field: "Thinking. You know, this is not a game where you want to do too much thinking at that position. You've got to get off the ball, you've got to be disruptive, and he is getting better. I think he's getting in better shape. The tempo and the speed of this game is probably a little bit foreign to him but he does have talent."