Teammates mobbed DE Kevin Carter after he stymied a running back in the Oklahoma Drill Wednesday
The giant speakers that usually add crowd noise to certain drills was suddenly pumping the theme from Monday Night Football. That was first clue that something new was about to take place.
Actually, the drill that freshened up the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' training camp practice on Wednesday morning is itself quite old. College and pro teams have been running the 'Oklahoma Drill' since before some of the current Buccaneers were born. But what it brought to the field on Wednesday morning was something a bit novel for training camp: excitement.
Repetition and soul-searing heat combine to give camp a monotonous quality, so the Bucs' coaching staff occasionally looks for ways to liven things up. One way is this annual tradition, series of one-on-one challenges between the offense and the defense, with the entire team gathered around, and usually with something on the line.
So, out of nowhere on Wednesday morning, the speakers were suddenly blaring the irresistible Monday night theme and, yes, everybody was ready for some football.
The players gathered in a circle near the north end zone of Field #1 and Head Coach Jon Gruden called out a series of one-on-one matchups. Usually, that's the entire structure of the drill, but this time around Gruden pulled out the old Oklahoma Drill concept in honor of Buccaneers Hall of Famer Lee Roy Selmon. Selmon, an OU grad and the first draft pick in franchise history, was on hand to watch practice Wednesday morning. Gruden said the former star defensive end requested the drill.
Though the drill is a yearly custom, the players don't know when the coaches are going to put it on the schedule.
"I think when they see Lee Roy Selmon they should have an idea," said Gruden. "That's kind of been our history around here, to jazz it up when our Hall of Famer shows up, and that's the way it should be."
The Oklahoma Drill adds a quarterback and a running back to the one-on-one scenario. The quarterback executes a handoff to the back, who tries to get across the designated line of scrimmage between two tackling dummies. Two players are engaged in a one-on-one blocking session at the line, the blocker trying to keep the back's path clear and the defender trying to stop the ballcarrier. Whether or not that happens determines who wins the drill. It favors the offense — five of the six snaps on Wednesday resulted in the back getting over the line — but it's a blast for both sides.
"It's always fun," said defensive end Kevin Carter. "Those kind of things in the middle of camp kind of break the monotony. They build camaraderie. Guys come out here and do the same thing and you knock heads, sometimes you go through the motions. But you need something to liven it up a little bit every now and then."
Carter, matched up against third-year offensive tackle Donald Penn, got the one big win for the defense, sliding off Penn's block and stopping running back Clifton Smith at the line. He was mobbed by his defensive teammates after the play, and lauded by his coach after practice. Gruden didn't reveal which side was the official winner or what was at stake (it's often an extra hour before curfew), but he did pick his top performer in the drill. He also believed that the drill served to raise the team's intensity level, which showed in a live goal-line drill that immediately followed the one-on-ones.
"I thought Kevin Carter made the play of the day," said Gruden. "There were some good things on both sides, some good physical plays. I was pleased with the offense. We ran the ball six times in the goal-line situation, scored four touchdowns and came off the ball; I was pleased with that.
"We have to step it up every day. That's the name of the game of football. You're either getting better or you're getting worse. I know it sounds clichÃ©, but in order for us to be a better defense than we were last year, we've got to be better. Being the No. 2 defense in the league or whatever we were ranked, all those things are history. They're all in the record books. So the thing we have to do is get better to help our team."
The Oklahoma Drill got the offense and defense chattering at each other, and the goal-line drill kept the talk going. Wide receiver Ike Hilliard signaled for a touchdown after almost every offensive snap, which sent Defensive Backs Coach Raheem Morris into loud histrionics (tongue firmly in cheek). Carter believes those types of exchanges, both during the play and after, help define a team.
"You have to develop a personality, a toughness, an edge to your team and those kind of things, although they're getting us rowdy and poking fun, it brings us together and it gets us hyped," he said. "In the middle of everything we're doing and the monotony of camp, it's something different, a sudden change that we didn't expect. It's cool."
FB Stewart Fills Roster Spot
The Buccaneers' utilized the roster spot opened by the injury to cornerback Torrie Cox, but not to sign another player for the secondary. Instead, the team re-signed fullback Carl Stewart, one of five rookie free agents the team had signed immediately after the 2008 draft. Stewart was released on June 20 when the Bucs needed a roster spot after signing draftee Dre Moore.
Cox was officially placed on injured reserve after sustaining a knee injury in practice on the opening day of training camp.
The 6-1, 230-pound Stewart mostly played fullback at Auburn and will get a look at that spot with the Buccaneers, but he is an experienced ballcarrier as well. In 47 games (12 starts) in four college seasons, he carried 128 times for 482 yards and nine touchdowns. Stewart was a threat around the goal line and also a valuable lead blocker for Auburn's strong running game. He has fine hands and run-after-the-catch ability, too, snaring 39 career passes for 612 yards and two touchdowns, with a 15.7-yard per-catch average that is very high for a running back.
Bucs Get Special Visitor
Anthony Best came to training camp Wednesday morning with the simple expectation that he would watch his favorite Buccaneers in action. What he left with was the experience of a lifetime.
Selected by Captain Fear as the Fan of the Day, the 11 year-old — donning a new sword and pirate hat provided by the mascot — was given a chance most kids dream of. After watching the team's morning practice, Anthony got an up-close and personal encounter with some of his favorite Buccaneers. Derrick Brooks, Kevin Carter, and Warrick Dunn were just a few of the many players that stopped to say hello on their way off the field. A replica football - originally void of signatures — was transformed into a keepsake filled with the autographs of some of Tampa Bay's biggest stars.
"My favorite player is Derrick Brooks," Anthony said, "and it was great to meet him."
Having fought cancer his entire life, Anthony has experienced struggles even most professional athletes can't relate to. Yet his upbeat attitude and positive demeanor suggested much the opposite.
Traveling all the way from Nashville, Tennessee to enjoy a week at Disney World, the Best family had jumped at the opportunity to make their vacation's first stop at the Wide World of Sports. They were unprepared for what Anthony would be experiencing.
"Words cannot describe this morning," Anthony's mother, Kimberly, said. "This trip could not have started out on a better note."