QB Byron Leftwich and the Bucs' offense had reason to feel good on Wednesday
A good practice for the offense on Wednesday morning tells the Buccaneers' coaching staff that the lessons of the first three weeks of organized team activity days (OTAs) are starting to stick
Pat Carter momentarily double-clutched the hard seam pass from Byron Leftwich before securing it for good as he fell to the end zone grass. Almost before Carter was back on his feet, Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Raheem Morris was barking out an order for the ball to be placed on the 10-yard line for the next set of plays.
Carter's "touchdown" catch had come near the end of a reasonably successful move-the-ball drill by the offense in the final full-team period of Wednesday's OTA practice. All of the white-shirted players on the sideline had begun to cheer when the pass hit the receiver's hand, bit the cheers back when it looked like the ball might pop out, then let them loose again when Carter held on. General Manager Mark Dominik, standing just beyond the end zone with a perfect sightline on the play, signaled a touchdown.
Morris didn't notice the cheering at first, eager as he was to keep the practice moving on to the next snap. Then he grinned, and rephrased: "Okay, celebrate for a minute, then put the ball on the 10."
As upbeat as Morris is, he's not going to insert a touchdown-celebration drill into the practice schedule. Still, on this day the Buccaneers' offense was feeling good about itself, maybe as good as it had all spring, and Morris gave them a moment to enjoy it. A very short moment.
Wide receiver Antonio Bryant said the offense was still feeling pretty good — if far from satisfied — after the practice concluded.
"Today it just felt like we took another step and made some more progress," he said. "But guys have got to understand that when we're competing and putting these helmets and we go over there across from One Buc that it's about eight notches faster and the hitting is real. That's what we're trying to establish."
Indeed, as safety Jermaine Phillips pointed out on Tuesday neither the offense nor the defense is ready to suit up for a game just yet. But an efficiently run practice on Day 10 of the 14 allotted OTAs, complete with some unscripted periods to add to the pressure and potential confusion, is a sign that the teachings of the last month have begun to stick.
"You've built up to this point," said Morris. "One week you dealt with team issues, one week you dealt with how to become a team, the next week you talked about breaking a situation down into specifics. Now you're starting to put it together. So the last couple of weeks did what they were supposed to do and now it's just a matter of refining it, getting it better and getting your team ready for training camp."
During most full-team periods of practice, which are run either from the perspective of the first-team offense or first-team defense, offensive reserves and coaches stand in semi-circle behind the huddle. Defensive coaches move out of the way at the snap but quickly hustle back on the field.
A move-the-ball period, on the other hand, is designed to more closely resemble a game. Everyone besides the 22 players in action has to stand on the sideline, and plays are communicated in by the coaches using helmet radio, signals or substitutes. With a referee's help, the success of each play is determined and the offense either advances or it doesn't. The coaches may have an idea in advance of the plays that will be used but for the players it's just like a game, in which they await to hear what's next while the play clock is ticking.
The players handled all of that quite well on Wednesday, and afterward Morris told them that they needed to have more practices of that ilk.
"It was just about getting the guys lined up, communication and going out there and actually doing it by yourself," said Morris. "It was the first time they had some success with a non-scripted practice. The calls were coming in from the sideline as the players went through game-like situations, having to go through the motions, having to think about all of the situations. They had some positive plays. When you see something like that happen it means your team is starting to grow and develop."
Much of the early portion of Wednesday's practice was similar to the nine OTAs that have become before, with individual-position periods stressing fundamentals and some full-team sessions focusing on specific situations. But the move-the-ball drill was the critical step that Morris wanted his team to take this week.
"That's probably the single most important thing during this offseason for both the offense and the defense," he said. "Just getting the communication from the sideline, getting the guys in and out that you want, getting the calls communicated, the calls to the secondary, the calls to the linebackers, the calls to the D-line. Same thing on offense, getting our stuff communicated as one unit and getting them to go out and run it. We're starting to see the execution come alive on both sides of the ball. I'm very pleased with where we are right now."