DT Anthony McFarland tries a wide route during pass-rush drills.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offense would have been a crowd-pleaser on Tuesday morning, if there had been a crowd to please. The training camp stands at the University of Tampa's Pepin-Rood Stadium were empty as the Bucs' practiced in front of relatives and friends on Family Day.
That meant a little quality time for the families of staff, coaches and players on the sidelines; the players, meanwhile, made good use of their two hours on the field, as well. Special emphasis was paid to two-minute, goal-line and short-yardage situations, and the Bucs' offense was sharper on Tuesday than it has been at times during camp.
"Goal-line was actually good," said Head Coach Tony Dungy. "The first time through the goal-line and short-yardage, the offense did an excellent job."
Looks were definitely deceiving on this drill, as each drive appeared to stall and resort to a Martin Gramatica field goal attempt (all of them successful, by the way). However, this was by design, as it was less a real two-minute drill and more a list of situations. Each drive was made to end before the goal line, forcing Gramatica to kick under more game-like conditions.
"It wasn't a true two-minute," said Dungy. "We were trying to set up some things, and trying to get Martin in the habit of coming on the field and not just kicking in the kicking period. So we were just setting up some drives and finishing with field goals, and that was pretty sharp. It's just a little bit different routine. Rather than being out there and kicking five and six in a row, he came on and had to get set up to kick it in less than 30 seconds."
The team was even better when practicing short-yardage situations, the all-too-familiar third-and-ones that seem like sure things until it's game time. On Tuesday, it was a sure thing, as the Bucs' offense was perfect in its eight short-yardage tries. During the 1999 season, the Bucs had a 56.9% success rate on third downs of three or less yards, converting on 37 of 65 attempts.
"Our offense was actually 8-0 (on Monday), which was good to see," said Dungy. "That's something we're going to strive to continue all year, to be productive on those third-and-ones. We had some games (in 1999) where we really struggled. For the most part, Mike (Alstott) did a good job. When he got the ball, we were able to convert last year. But we had some games where we missed some third-and-ones, and our goal really is to hit every one of them."
Alstott, in fact, was eight of nine on third-and-one rushes during the 1999 regular season, but he wasn't much help in that situation on Tuesday. The Pro Bowl fullback took an early exit to the training room when his already touchy left hamstring became aggravated. The team is being extremely cautious with their star back during training camp.
"He's going to be okay," said Dungy. "He's got a little bit of a slight hamstring strain. It seems like every time he gets it going, it twinges a little bit and we don't want to turn it into a full-blown pull. So we kept him out this morning, and he's going to be fine."
Tackle Pete Pierson was also held out of practice due to his own slight hamstring strain, which helped make for a long morning for first-year tackle DeMarcus Curry. With last year's left tackle starter, Paul Gruber, still unsigned and rehabbing a broken leg and this year's projected starter, Jason Odom, nursing a sore back, Pierson should have been the man to step into the first-team line on the left side. Since Pierson has missed some time recently due to the flu, T George Hegamin had been switched to the left side; however, Hegamin was in Philadelphia for family business on Tuesday morning, leaving the vast majority of left tackle duties to Curry.
Hegamin will be back in camp Tuesday evening and Pierson could return to the field as early as Wednesday. Even Odom has not yet been ruled out of Friday's game. The only player definitely ruled out at this point is safety Damien Robinson, who suffered a hamstring strain during the first practice of training camp. The Buccaneers' coaches will decide on inactives and playing time on Thursday evening and Friday morning.
One player who should get into the preseason opener against Washington on Friday is TE Patrick Hape. Tuesday morning was Hape's first full-fledged practice in month, and he came out of it well. Hape had a screw inserted into a fractured left foot in June and has been recovering since. He practiced briefly on Monday but was in there from beginning to end on Tuesday.
"Pat did better," said Dungy. "Yesterday, he wasn't sore, he was just kind of fatigued and tired from not having worked. Today, he was okay, so I think he made it through."
The Buccaneers also worked on goal-line situations late in Tuesday morning's practice before returning to the two-minute drill one last time. During the work near the end zone, the offense showed improvement and rookie QB Joe Hamilton looked particularly poised. On one designed series of plays, Hamilton executed a handoff that was stuffed near the goal line, then immediately called the team back to the line for a quick snap and was able to throw a scoring pass to TE Todd Yoder all alone in the right corner of the end zone.
"Joe did a good job on the times he was in there," said Dungy. "He's a very smart guy. He's not getting a ton of reps, but when he's in, he knows what he's doing. He puts the ball to the right receiver, and that's been impressive."
Not every play near the goal line worked, of course, as the Bucs' defense is consistently when of the toughest red zone opponents in the league. CB Brian Kelly and DE Marcus Jones, for instance, each turned in a good play to thwart potential scores.
"Sometimes the defense wins and sometimes the offense wins," said Dungy. "Those two guys, on those two plays, did a really good job."
So there was something to enjoy on both sides of the ball, as well as on the sidelines, where the Bucs' extended family got a chance to see their team up close. Dungy was pleased with the morning, overall.
"It was a good day," said Dungy. "We also had four real tough practices against Miami, so we needed a couple of days to get over that. I thought our tempo and sharpness was much better."