In the day-to-day, red-on-white battle that is training camp, the defense got the upper hand on the offense on Sunday
Raheem Morris saw hints of the problem early on, but he let it go. Morris waited for it to be corrected by the players, waited for someone to take charge, and when it didn't happen he began to quietly stew.
Finally, with six plays to go on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' practice schedule for Sunday afternoon, the second day of Training Camp 2009, Morris had seen enough.
The Buccaneers' first-year head coach gathered the entire team around him and said this: "Strap it up, we're going live."
The problem? Tampa Bay's offense was having a very difficult third practice of camp. After performing notably well during a night session at Raymond James Stadium on Saturday, the offense had come out on Sunday flat, lacking in tempo, intensity and execution. Morris figured some live tackling – a feature that coaches only break out a handful of times during training camp – would open some eyes before the practice came to an end.
"Our offensive tempo I thought was just not up to par," said Morris later. "I didn't like it all. I didn't like it coming out of the huddle, I didn't like it coming off the ball up front. I didn't like the procedure from quarterback to their team – nothing.
"I let it go for awhile because you'd like to know if somebody can pick them up and bring them out of it. Peyton Manning notices it sometimes at Indy and he brings them out of it. You want to see if you've got that. You're trying to find out, so you let it go for a little bit. You sit over there and just brew until you get to the point where you say, 'It's live.'"
Of course, Morris wasn't thrilled when the first live play was a fumbled snap. Running back Clifton Smith did turn a short pass into a fairly long gain on the next snap, and there were three other complete passes – albeit short ones – over the next half-dozen plays, but that didn't erase two hours of struggling that Morris hopes not to see again.
No one player or unit took the brunt of the blame, as it seemed to be a widespread issue.
"Actually I didn't like the tempo at all up front from the O-line," said Morris, who has made it clear that he won't hesitate to point out problems. "And it starts up front, which we always say. I know it's kind of a coach's cliché, but it does. If those up-front people aren't doing it right then and the tempo is not being set by the quarterbacks, it's not going to look good. The defense had it going pretty good. They were humming around, they were making plays, they were knocking down balls. I just wanted to prove a point to the offense. It's easy to run around in shorts and it's easy to run around in the stadium and catch passes when you know you're not going to get hit. These guys didn't want to set the tempo, so I'll do it. At the end of the day I'm being held responsible for it anyway."
It's an ebb and flow, of course. After the offense hit some big plays on Saturday night, the defense came out with something to prove on Sunday and clearly held the edge when it came to intensity. Morris recognizes that it's going to be difficult to feel good about both the offensive and defensive performances at any given practice. Still, he felt that a message had to be delivered to the offense on Sunday.
"Up front yesterday on defense, it wasn't good," said Morris. "Today we responded. That had something to do with it as well. Those guys came out and the defensive front responded. They played hard and they hustled and they came at them every snap. You like to see that response, but you'd like to see the consistency on offense at the same time."
First Roster Moves of Camp
It took the Buccaneers only one day to tweak their 80-man training camp roster, making a move on Sunday after opening practice the day before. It was a simple swap of young players on the offensive line.
The Buccaneers signed rookie guard Ryan Schmidt, who would have been on familiar ground on Saturday night had he been on the roster a bit earlier. Schmidt is a former starter for the University of South Florida team, which plays its games at Raymond James Stadium.
To make room for Schmidt on the roster, the Bucs released rookie guard Maurice Miller, a Mississippi product.
Schmidt played two seasons at USF after transferring from Kansas State. While he never got in a game for the Wildcats, he played in 26 contests for the Bulls and started 25 of them, opening contests at both tackle and guard. He was signed as an undrafted free agent in the spring by the Tennessee Titans but released before the start of training camp.
The Boca Raton native returns to his home state once again to get his pro career started again, and he also finds himself playing for a head coach who knows his backstory well. Morris was the defensive coordinator at Kansas State in 2006, just after Schmidt transferred to USF.
"We kind of ran him out of Kansas State, I guess," said Morris with a laugh. "And he ended up at South Florida and became a pro prospect. We were really good coaches up at Kansas State, I guess, and lost a pro prospect. We could have had somebody else blocking for Josh [Freeman] and all the other guys we had there. Now I have to make it up and pick him up at Tampa."
More from Coach Morris
Third-year linebacker Quincy Black has been joining the offensive and defensive lines for a handful of reps during the one-on-one drills that those two groups run against each other at every practice. The 6-2, 240-pound Black has the size and speed to rush the quarterback off the edge and could be used in that capacity in 2009.
"Quincy Black is one of those hybrid guys," said Morris. "We've got him at a little bit of rush-end. He does that in certain situations. He's big enough, fast enough and he creates a problem for certain tackles and he creates a problem for people trying to block him. We've got him coming through on some linebacker stuff. When he comes, he's a big, violent, physical human being, the kind of guys that you like. He kind of is one of those 3-4 hybrid guys, and you can use him any system. You always hear people say, 'He doesn't fit the system.' Well make the system fit that guy. And that's what we're doing"
Morris touched on several other topics after Sunday's single practice:
On CB Elbert Mack's fast start to camp: "He had to be the Camper of the Day, so to speak. Any time you walk away from the first day of camp and you've got two interceptions…like I told him this morning, he's got to be Eddie Johnson. He's got to be The Microwave. He's got to go in the game on third downs and stand up. Everybody's looking at him. Here's the sub, throw it at the sub. And it's always going to be that way, whatever team you're on. Ronde Barber's inside, there's your sub, throw at him. And you've got to stand up and make a play. That's usually how it works. Last year it was Aqib [Talib]. It will be no different for Elbert Mack. You're going to be as good as that guy can be. As long as he keeps practicing like he is right now, who knows? Who knows what he can be?"
On the play of the quarterbacks on Sunday: "As a group, I didn't think they were very good today. They did not do a good job of getting the call from Jags [Offensive Coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski], taking it to the huddle, controlling the offense and leading the way. Any time your offense struggles, it probably starts right there, and that's just the way it is."
On tracking the quarterback competition: "It's going to be throughout the process of camp, so it's not open scoring, daily scores, who finishes last. It's more of the guy who puts it all together and goes out, and when he's the quarterback we'll all know it."
On Cadillac Williams: "I'm looking at him to make that dynamic move and run through the hole and make some yards. I respect him, to be honest with you. I'm not looking to break Cadillac down. Cadillac knows his body. Cadillac is a great communicator with me. I trust [Head Trainer] Todd [Toriscelli] to the fullest. Todd's a great communicator with me."