WR Brian Clark and LB Ryan Nece kept the intensity high on Tuesday morning at training camp
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Jon Gruden has been pleased, for the most part, with his team's hard work, execution and progress through the first 19 days of training camp.
With the last practice of the Bucs' stay in central Florida scheduled for Thursday morning, the team is striving to finish camp on a strong note and get ready for the defending AFC champion New England Patriots on Sunday.
"We zero in on everything in these last few days, really," Gruden said. "We're trying to find out who can step up and help us. We're also trying to get ourselves ready to handle a team that won 18 straight games, one of the more physical, potent football teams that I've seen. We're going to continue to get better.
"We like what we're doing. No penalties, no turnovers, we ran the ball, we threw the ball with pretty good success and didn't allow a touchdown [against Miami]. We want to continue to get better. That's the big thing. We're emphasizing that. It isn't good enough. Nothing's good enough."
The Tuesday morning practice saw some excellent plays in all three phases of the game. The Bucs' wide receiver group continued to make dazzling catches, the defense snagged a few picks of its own and on special teams kicker Matt Bryant and punter Josh Bidwell fired off some booming kicks.
The intensity was at a high level, as well. After safety Jermaine Phillips intercepted a pass in 11-on-11 drills and began returning the pick, linebacker Ryan Nece laid a block on unsuspecting wide receiver Brian Clark. The young wideout was clearly not pleased at being knocked to the turf and immediately jumped to his feet to confront Nece.
Ronde Barber and Maurice Stovall quickly stepped in to keep the peace, but little tiffs such as these can be an offshoot of the high tempo at which the Bucs are practicing.
Gruden has never been a big fan of practice-field fights and doesn't consider them particularly motivational for his team. But for Clark, the fiery display did nothing to dim the strong performance he's put together thus far in camp.
"He's a good player," Gruden said. "He's had a very good camp. He's made a lot of plays here. He's playing a lot of different roles for us as a receiver and as a special teams man. He's competing for a job, there's no question about that. We like what he's done."
Tuesday's morning session marked the fifth-to-last practice the Bucs will hold at Disney's Wide World of Sports. Even with a return home to Tampa in the near future, the team's focus still remains squarely on improving and preparing for the Patriots.
"It's a work in progress," Gruden said. "We came out in Miami and threw the ball repeatedly in the first half, the first three quarters. We got some things done in the running game as the game unfolded. Miami is a 3-4 defense and they're very physical indeed. New England will be really physical as well, so we've got to get better. We've got to continue to make an effort to run the ball and improve in all areas."
Garcia, Galloway Get Some Work In
Veteran quarterback Jeff Garcia made his return to the practice field Monday. Veteran wide receiver Joey Galloway has been unable to do so just yet.
But the two recovering Bucs got in some work together on the side Tuesday morning as Garcia threw some passes to Galloway as he ran routes and tested out his injured groin.
Just like he did Monday, Garcia took some snaps during individual periods but then went off with the trainers to do individual work. His work with Galloway was simply the latest step in trying to get these two key components of the Bucs' offense back to full strength.
"Garcia is under supervision," Gruden said. "We've got him back on the practice field. He took some individual work, which we said he was going to do. After he got done with that we got him some more treatment under careful supervision and we'll do that again this afternoon. Hopefully by the end of the week he's getting close to being full time again."
Gruden also reiterated his comments from Monday about the possibility of Garcia getting some action against New England on Sunday.
"If it doesn't get a lot better than it was today, he won't," Gruden said. "But again, we'll make that decision here in a few days from now. He hasn't practiced in a long time and he's not moving around at 100 percent. The New England Patriots aren't the kind of football team [against which] you want to send out a guy that's half-speed."
As for Galloway, Gruden was still unable to provide much new information.
"He's still coming back from that thing," said the coach. "He's working his tail off. The flights are cancelled and the airport's closed until further notice. That's the best way I can put it."
The First Taste
Rookie quarterback Josh Johnson, taken in the fifth round of the 2008 NFL Draft, played his college ball at a small Football Championship Subdivision school, the University of San Diego.
Thus, when he took the field late in the Bucs' preseason opener in Miami on Saturday, his first NFL action was a bit of an eye-opening experience. Johnson said he tried to take in stride.
"Yeah, it was pretty fun," Johnson said. "I just tried to stay relaxed and tried to make sure we finished the game out. We had the lead already, so my job as a quarterback was to get us in and out of the huddle, not turn the ball over and keep the clock moving. We were successful at that."
With that strategy in mind, Johnson was given only one chance to throw the ball. But he completed that pass for a 15-yard gain and showed considerable poise leading the offense, considering his tender young age.
"I learn something new every day from either the coaches or the quarterbacks ahead of me," Johnson said. "Since I first got here in rookie minicamps I've improved tremendously."
Johnson has also been mentored by former Bucs quarterback Doug Williams, now a personnel executive with the team.
"He's someone I can always go talk to about anything that's going on around here," Johnson said. "If ever I need to ask somebody, I know I can go talk to him and he'll give it to me straight up."
With training camp drawing to a close and the inevitable roster cuts looming, Johnson said Williams has given him some sound advice.
"Just don't worry about that, just go out and play the game the way you know how and let everything else take care of itself," Johnson said.
Faine's First Take
Similar to Johnson, newly acquired center Jeff Faine also took part in his first game as a Buccaneer. Granted, Faine is entering his sixth season in the league, so the preseason opener was nothing new to him. But it was his first chance to work in a game environment with his new linemates.
Things began rather inauspiciously for Faine and the O-line. The Bucs' starting five gave up a big sack on the very first offensive play, but Faine said he was impressed with his group's resiliency the rest of the way.
"Obviously the first play we started off on a rocky beat with the sack, but the thing I loved about it is that we were able to bounce back," Faine said. "We weren't able to get the first down because we lost so many yards on the first play, but we bounced back and made some yards on the second. As a whole, I thought as the game went on we got some depth in there, got some new players in there, and they came in and played well. I think more and more outings and we'll jell a little better."
Much as Gruden stressed, Faine says it's all about focusing on New England now.
"I thought the Miami game went pretty well," Faine said. "We were going against a defense that we really didn't know what to expect, seeing that they had a new head coach down there and it's the first preseason game. So going out there, you're trying to feel your way a little bit in the first preseason game. But this group we're getting ready to go against, the Patriots, they've done that for years, so we know what we're going to get. We're going to get a talented, talented defense, so this is going to be a great test for us to see how much we really are jelling."