Head Coach Jon Gruden goes over the day's schedule at a team meeting on Tuesday morning
How do you get every one of 50 players intricately involved in a 90-minute practice when you have just one field to work with and two hours of pre-practice meeting time?
Keep in mind that this practice is more than just preparation for a game that looms four days away; it is much like a game in itself. These 50 men make up the South squad for the 2005 Senior Bowl; they are in Mobile, Alabama to show their talents to all 32 NFL teams. What they do on the practice field, matched up head-to-head with the best senior college players in the nation, is evidence as valuable as what they do in Saturday's game.
So how do you give each player a chance to prove his worth under such tight conditions, particularly with only one video lift to provide tape from the workout?
You plan every minute of practice and you coordinate every yard on the field.
That's what Tampa Bay Buccaneers coaches were doing at 8:00 a.m. on Tuesday morning, kicking off the second day of workouts for the South squad. At 9:00, they met with the South players and went over the day's plans, then continued the installation of the offensive and defensive playbooks. The Tampa Bay staff is in Mobile to coach the South team, which gives the Bucs valuable first-hand experience with these 50 draft-eligible players. But it also puts a great deal of responsibility on the shoulders of Head Coach Jon Gruden and his staff. Thus the intricate planning for one 90-minute field session.
As Gruden told the players at the beginning of the 9:00 a.m. meeting: "Big day today, men. Big day. I want to look sharp this afternoon. Everybody in football is going to be there to see you and I want to make sure we're ready to go."
Here's what else you do in this situation: Get as much meeting time as possible, even if it means changing the day's schedule. The original Tuesday plan called for the Bucs' staff to make a trip over to the morning practice being held by the opposing North team, coached by the Oakland Raiders. The idea was to take a critical look at the 47 players on that squad, but the Bucs decided additional time spent with their own charges would be more beneficial.
That decision met with nods from around the crowded meeting room for the Bucs' coaches on the 11th floor of Mobile's Riverview Plaza Hotel. Special Teams Coach Rich Bisaccia, for instance, appreciated an added 15 minutes after to lunch to continue his crash course on the Bucs' kick return and coverage schemes, and the position coaches knew they could put the 30 minutes that followed to good use in individual unit meetings.
Buccaneer coaches also agreed with the idea of extending the individual periods during the afternoon practice. If the idea is to get a good chunk of video on each receiver, for instance, then what better way but to have the players take turns running routes for 10 minutes?
In addition, Buccaneer coaches often use these individual periods to match their players up against another unit. At Tuesday's coaches' meeting, Running Backs Coach Art Valero asked to conduct the running back and tight end periods in conjunction with those of the safeties and linebackers. Of course, there are also plenty of one-on-one sessions already scheduled into the practice, particularly between receivers and defensive backs.
"These one-on-one battles, this is what excites everybody who comes to watch us," Gruden told the wideouts and corners at the team meeting. "Let's do a hell of a job of playing our techniques and finishing the job."
The drill pitting offensive and defensive linemen against each other is also a highly-anticipated part of each practice. At the morning meeting, Gruden complimented LSU DE Marcus Spears and Southern Miss T Jeremy Parquet for their work against each other in this drill on Monday. The Buccaneer coach wanted both players to understand that they would be facing such stiff competition every day in the NFL, when left ends and right tackles routinely go up against the league's best.
"[NFL teams] need a right tackle to shut guys like this down," Gruden told Parquet. "This drill right here is going to be the best drill of the Senior Bowl, the one-on-one pass rush. We've got to get after these guys."
Gruden called attention to those two players while showing a short film of some of the better moments from Monday's practice to open the team meeting. Others who were singled out for praise included Arkansas QB/WR/TE Matt Jones, Georgia QB David Greene, LSU S Travis Daniels, Alabama DT Anthony Bryant, USC TE Alex Holmes, Citadel RB Nehemiah Broughton, West Virginia RB Kay-Jay Harris and USC DE Mike Patterson.
Jones, who played quarterback at Arkansas but may see his NFL future at wide receiver or even tight end (he is 6-6 and 237 pounds), was given credit for running a nice double-move route against LSU CB Corey Webster, and Greene was praised for delivering a perfect deep ball on the same play. Jones also got past the corner on a subsequent play but didn't properly take the rest of the route out towards the sideline and Daniels was able to make the interception.
During the 8:00 a.m. coaches' meeting, Buccaneers Director of College Scouting Ruston Webster asked Gruden if Jones was going to see any snaps at quarterback during Tuesdays' practice. Gruden responded by working that into the schedule, and let Jones know of the decision at the team meeting, while also stressing to the Razorback prospect that he needs to concentrate on making a good impression at receiver.
Jones responded with a "Yes, sir." All 50 players, most of them clad in some gear from their respective colleges, sat attentively and responded quickly to questions during the 20-minute meeting. Much of the meeting was spent watching the opening film.
Holmes was singled out for recognizing a defensive scheme and blocking the right man on a successful running play, and Broughton, who was a tailback at the Citadel, got a nod for finishing a play well as he worked on converting to fullback. But Gruden may have saved his most intense praise for Bryant, the Alabama nose tackle. Bryant got off the ball quickly on one snap and shot right between the guard and the center before either man could get a hand on him.
Gruden challenged Bryant to play like that on every snap – not just in games but during this all-important week of Senior Bowl practice.
"We need penetration," said Gruden. "We've got to be disruptive as hell. We don't need one-play wonders. We've got to have play after play after play. Are you with me, Anthony? If you can do this, you can do this [in the NFL]. Do it, every play."
Gruden had a similar message for all of the defensive players before letting the team break up into individual-position meetings. Rally to the ball, go all out on every play and, most importantly, finish.
Not only will these players' eventual NFL teams demand such effort in practice and during games next season, but it will show up on all the post-Senior Bowl videotapes used for draft evaluation. Players can only help themselves by proving that they can and will get to the ball on every play.
"When you practice today and you're wearing a white shirt, I want you to run to the ball," said Gruden. "Put your speed on tape."