CB Blue Adams' attempt to knock this pass away from WR David Boston ended with Boston sprawled on the ground
Late in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Monday morning training camp practice, during a pass-only drill called "7-on-7," wide receiver David Boston got behind the cornerback deep down the left side. When quarterback Bruce Gradkowski arced a well-targeted football in Boston's direction, second-year defender Blue Adams, playing safety on this particular play, began to bear down on Boston's position.
A little history: A year ago, young defensive back Kalvin Pearson angered Head Coach Jon Gruden and some of the team's offensive players by delivering some particularly hard hits during training camp, including one that flattened diminutive running back Ian Smart in the end zone. That's called "bad practice etiquette" in a Jon Gruden camp; even the donning of pads doesn't excuse plays that may injure one's teammates.
In the end, the lesson of etiquette was reinforced, the play was forgotten and Pearson made the team. He even started one game and is back in camp this year with a very good shot of earning a roster spot once again.
Back to Monday. Adams' intent as he changed directions to arrive at Boston's apparent destination was to get to the ball before the receiver did. Instead, he arrived at virtually the same time as the ball and ended up knocking Boston violently to the ground as his right arm came across the receiver's head. Boston jumped right up and Adams' defensive coaches even yelled out praise for his quick reaction. After practice, however, Adams took some good-natured ribbing from a group of receivers about the hit, mock warnings not to come after one of theirs again.
No harm, no foul on this occasion, and Adams play would have been considered an outstanding one in a game. But getting a correct balance between aggressiveness and care for a teammate's well-being is just one of the adjustments that must be made once the pads go on a few days into camp.
The first day of pads for the Buccaneers was on Sunday, after the players spent two days getting their legs under them in shorts and helmets. That first practice in extra gear, on Sunday morning, was predictably uneven, with a few more drops and fumbled exchanges than usual. Adjusting to certain movements, such as extending one's arms upward to catch a high pass, is another lesson for the first day in pads.
Not surprisingly, that was one of the points of emphasis of Monday's work. Early in the two-hour session, Gruden himself took the field in a drill for skill-position players, standing in as a linebacker and using a big red pad to smack pass-catchers and ball-carriers across the arms as they ran by. This wasn't just about ball security; it was also about bouncing off and blasting through hits from defenders.
In short, it was about using those pads, and one's own power, to gain more yards.
"In the NFL, no matter whose offense you're talking about, 40 to 60 percent of pass offense comes after the catch," said Gruden. "The first couple days in pads you want to try to simulate some drills where you're emphasizing that. Splitting people against a zone, working on the sideline with your pads down, delivering a blow. Those are the kinds of things that make [Michael] Clayton and Boston really good runners after the catch and we want to try to make that stressed here early in training camp."
Gruden admits that he enjoys those interludes where he's on the field participating in drills. He has been known to stand in as a cornerback during "routes against air," and he famously imitated Oakland Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon during a seminal practice leading up to Super Bowl XXXVII.
He thinks the players enjoy his presence on the field, too, at least in drills like the one he ran Monday morning.
"It's the only shot they get at me, too," he said. "We try to have a little fun in the drills. At the same time, we isolate one or two things in each five or six or eight-minute segment, and hopefully these guys remember it the next day and the next day. What you emphasize generally is what you get good at."
Of course, some of the lessons that come with putting on the pads swing the other way. Gruden has to warn some of his men not to be overly reliant on the pure power aspect of the game, on the adrenaline that comes with bashing shoulderpads with an opponent. Gruden delivered such a message on Monday morning to 350-pound offensive guard Toniu Fonoti.
"There are going to be times where the subtleties become more important than just coming off with sheer power," said Gruden of his on-field sidebar with Fonoti. "There are some fine points of his game that he's got to pick up on. I think he understands that and I just want him to take it on a play-by-play basis and not let one play, whether it was good or bad, affect the next one."
Just one lesson on a morning full of them.
QB Updates: Fiedler Close to Return, Gradkowski Earning Praise
After finishing practice on the far field Monday morning, players and coaches had a long walk across the primary field and into the locker room. It took Gruden a particularly long time to get across to the gathered media because he stopped to watch a two-person workout taking place on the otherwise unoccupied close field.
With rookie tight end Tim Massaquoi running all the routes, quarterback Jay Fiedler threw seven dozen passes under the close supervision of the team's medical staff. Gruden was intensely interested in the workout, the most extensive one Fiedler has attempted since he signed with the Buccaneers in late June and reported to camp last week.
Gruden was also quite pleased with the workout. He now expects the veteran quarterback, who is currently on the active/physically unable to perform list, to be back in action sooner rather than later.
"Jay Fiedler's doing better," said Gruden. "I'm really encouraged with this workout. He's learning our offense, he's working hard at it. I'm really pleased with what I'm seeing now. He's obviously getting closer to making his debut as a Buc." Fiedler was the Miami Dolphins' starter for most of the 2001-04 seasons before signing with the New York Jets last season. He almost fell into the Jets' starting role early in that campaign when quarterback Chad Pennington suffered a shoulder injury in Week Three. However, six plays after relieving Pennington against Jacksonville, Fiedler sustained his own shoulder injury and, like his teammate, was lost for the season. He has since had surgery on the shoulder and has nearly completed his rehabilitation.
The Bucs, however, want to make sure Fiedler can make all of the throws before putting him into practice. His workout on Monday left the Bucs encouraged that day would be soon.
Until Fiedler returns to work, the Bucs will continue splitting reps between starter Chris Simms, veteran reserve Tim Rattay and rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski. Gruden has delivered words of praise to all three during the first four days of training camp, but he's also been known to raise his voice in the rookie's direction a few times. The coach joked on Sunday that his fading voice was the result of too much yelling at Gradkowski.
As the newest of the three to Gruden's system, not to mention the NFL as a whole, Gradkowski is obviously the most likely to struggle with the nuances of the Bucs' offense and its tricky terminology. However, the rookie passer has also thrown the ball very well and shown the type of leadership and creativity that drew the Bucs to him in the sixth round of April's draft.
"He's really doing a good job," said Gruden. "Obviously with Luke McCown going down and Jay Fiedler not practicing, he's taking a lot of reps for a rookie, particularly coming in here against the number-one defense statistically in football. I'm really pleased with what he's done not only as a passer but in managing our running game, creating plays with his legs and getting better. He does need a kick in the butt once in a while because there's an urgency right now for him to get ready to play."
Gradkowski had a strong session during the 7-on-7 passing drill late in Monday morning's practice. He was on the money on three difficult back-to-back throws in that period, one on a deep out to a well-covered Michael Clayton and then two consecutive deep balls to Boston (described above) and Maurice Stovall.
"He has shown a lot of promise and I think it's obvious for everybody who's been out here watching."
Gradkowski didn't mind the yelling and he doesn't plan to get too caught up in the praise, either. The Bucs play their first game in 11 days, which means the rookie passer is less than two weeks away from his first live NFL action. With that looming, Gradkowski isn't wasting any time worrying about heat from the coaches, the shape of the depth chart or the end-of-preseason cuts.
"I'm just going to focus in on being the best I can be, worry about myself and let everything fall into place. It's in God's hands. I'm in the right situation right now with a great coaching staff around me. I'm very fortunate to work under Coach Gruden, so I'm just going to take advantage of it and see what happens."
More from Coach Gruden
Gruden conceded after Monday morning's practice that the team had tinkered with using Stovall, the rookie receiver drafted in the third round, at tight end. The 6-4, 229-pound wideout might just have the size to handle the position, though there are no immediate plans to act on the idea.
"We put him over there and taught him a three-point stance and some basic fundamentals of a couple plays, yes. He is a big guy who has a tenacity about him. We haven't put him in there in any plays yet. But I think that's what you do as a coach: You get in the laboratory a little bit. You come up with an idea or two. Some of them aren't worth saving, but this one here in a couple weeks or a couple months or a couple years might pay dividends. I don't know."
Gruden also touched on a variety of other topics on Monday.
On Charles Bennett's injury and other practice absences: "We held Charles Bennett. He's going to be out for awhile with a hamstring [injury]. It could be a week, could be a couple of weeks. Those hamstrings are obviously different for everybody. We held Derrick Brooks, Joey Galloway and Shelton Quarles today just to give them a breather here. They're not real happy about it but they'll be back tomorrow. I thought we had a good practice today. I was very pleased with some aspects, yet we have a long way to go."
On if Davin Joseph is showing physical play since the pads went on: "Yeah, he is. He and [Jeremy] Trueblood on the right side have worked hard and made tremendous improvements. Once again, they're going against a great defensive team. They've had their moments where it hasn't been where we wanted, but they are getting better. They're working hard at it and they are two big guys who are gaining confidence, I think, in what they're doing."
On if it amazes him that somebody like Joey Galloway can stay in such good shape at age 34: "Well, not anymore. These guys, some of them are just so gifted to start from that they have their own army of people to help them. They're so relentless at their off-the-field work. Joey Galloway, when the calendar strikes a certain date, begins a training regimen that not a lot of guys could do, human beings, that's for sure. It's a credit to him. It really is a credit to him and we're trying to do everything we can to make sure we maintain what we have here, which is a great receiver with blinding speed."
On what he has learned about Simeon Rice over the last five years: "He's like Galloway from the standpoint that not many defensive ends have maintained that first-step quickness and tremendous conditioning. I don't know what he does or what he eats, but I know he also has a program that is his own. It's unique to him and he follows it. Every year he comes back in here in this heat and has a tremendous motor. He makes a couple plays on the practice field on the far side of the hash mark, chasing guys down. He's a rare athlete and what can I say? He's his own man, for sure."
On how Alex Smith is different this year: "Not a lot has changed with him. He's a businessman. I'm really proud to have him here. He's what a Buccaneer football player is all about. The guy takes it very seriously. He's got talent, that goes without saying. But he's just much more confident, comfortable with how we're going to do business here and what we're asking him to do. He's going to make a lot of plays for us, I believe that."