Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Steady Progress

Monday was another day with a lot of positives at the Bucs' training camp, including Josh Freeman's daily improvement and a welcome visit from some stars of the past


The Tampa Bay Buccaneers know that Josh Freeman can start fast. Last November, the then-rookie quarterback threw three touchdown passes in his very first NFL start, leading the Buccaneers to a comeback victory over the playoff-bound Green Bay Packers. He became the second-youngest passer since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger to win his first NFL start.

What Raheem Morris and the Buccaneers' coaching staff wants out of Freeman right now, however, is steady progress. The Bucs are in the early days of their three-week training camp and the six-week lead-up to the regular season, and they don't need a star performance from their franchise quarterback. They simply need him to improve day by day so that by the time the Cleveland Browns visit on September 12 he'll be ready to lead the team to victory.

And daily progress is exactly what Freeman has given the Buccaneers through the first half-week of camp.

"He's gotten progressively better throughout camp," said Morris on Monday afternoon, after Freeman had turned in some very impressive periods during the morning practice. "We thought that would [happen]. He came out that first day with the jitters, I guess, opening-camp-day jitters, and he didn't look as good. He didn't go through his progressions as well. But today and yesterday he did a better job, getting better and going through the process. He's been doing well; he's just got to get better and better every day."

Truth be told, it's rare for the offense as a whole to shoot right out of the gate when training camp begins. The defense is usually a little ahead at the onset of practice, with the offense gradually gaining ground. That was the case on Saturday during the Bucs' two practices, but there has been a noticeable give and take on Sunday afternoon and the first half of Monday. Freeman, for instance, made several successful strikes during a pair of red zone drills on Monday morning, and perhaps more importantly, avoided any big negative plays.

"He had a couple good throws in there," said Morris. "He had a big-time throw in the corner to Jerramy [Stevens] in seven-on-seven. He had another bootleg throw [to Stevens] on the rollout; he had patience and set it up and really did it. Down there, it's all about touchdown-to-checkdown, getting completions and trying to maintain points. So the lack of turnovers was really what I was pleased with. That's what we've got to do when we get in the red zone - you've got to get points and get them fast."

The Bucs will do more red zone work during Monday's second practice, along with several blitz periods, and some of the plays will be repeats of what the team spent the morning installing. That's one of the reasons offenses are generally a bit behind on the opening days of camp - they're on their first trip through the playbook. When they double back, the action tends to get sharper, starting with Freeman.

"Once we stop installing you'll really see him excel even more," said Morris. "We've done install every day, putting a different situation in whether it's red zone or goal line or short-yardage. The repeats is usually when he gets a lot better. That's when he really showed up as a rookie and developed last year."

Freeman's daily improvement has also been a product of the outstanding effort his young receiving corps has been putting forth. The wide-open battle for starting jobs - and, perhaps more importantly, to potentially forge a long-term connection with a franchise quarterback - has those young players locked in on every play.

"It's been awesome because they're all flocking to Josh," said Morris. "They all want to catch more balls with Josh because they knows that's their way, their opportunity. And he knows that they want him to say, 'Hey, that's my favorite target.' They all want to feel like that and it's beautiful to watch. It's a bunch of young guys. They're all just happy to get the ball on their opportunities. It's a beautiful atmosphere. Right now it's a healthy, harmonious environment."

And it's getting better by the day.


Familiar Faces

When the Buccaneers brought training camp back to One Buccaneer Place last summer, they also took the opportunity to reconnect with their past. After thoroughly enjoying last year's well-attended Alumni Day at One Buc, the team didn't wait long to invite all their former stars back again in 2010.

Monday's Alumni Day once again brought out many familiar faces, from Chidi Ahanotu to Horace Copeland to Richard "Batman" Wood. The Buccaneers alumni watched most of practice from the VIP area near the main building, then were invited by Morris to line the sideline during the final full-team drill in the red zone.

Morris particularly enjoyed the reunion with some players who were around during his first training camp with the Buccaneers in 2002, including Marcus Jones and Chartric Darby.

"It's always good when some of your former Bucs come by, especially the ones that were here in '02," said Morris. "Some of the guys I met at training camp, some of the guys I was here with. The Beast [Jones] - I remember when he cut his hair off at training camp. He was fighting for his job. It was great. He and [Greg] Spires went out there battling every day."

As it happened, Spires won the starting left end job in that camp and ended up playing a crucial role in the Bucs' run to the Super Bowl title. Jones landed on injured reserve to start the year and was released a few years later, concluding a six-year run with the team. His NFL career ended that year, too, after a brief time with the Buffalo Bills but no more games played, and Jones admits that he felt bitter about that turn of events for some time. Now, however, he is at peace with his experience in the NFL and happy to see what the current Bucs' team looks like. Monday marked the first time since his release that Jones had returned to Buccaneers headquarters, and obviously his first visit to the new One Buc Place.

"I said to myself, 'Why close a door?'" said Jones. "I thought football had been taken away from me when I wasn't ready for it to be over with and it kind of left a bad taste in my mouth. But I said, 'You know what, here's a chance for me to go out and see what these young guys look like, what the team can possibly be like, and to see some old friends. It really meant a lot to me."


In Good Health

As much as injuries are ultimately unavoidable over the course of training camp, the Bucs have mostly avoided them so far.

The only player who was held out of practice due to injury on Monday morning, the third day of camp, was running back Cadillac Williams, and Williams was expected to be back in action in the afternoon. Tight end Kellen Winslow and center Jeff Faine also sat out the day's first workout but those were planned absences. They too, should suit up for Monday's nightcap.

Morris said Williams' twisted ankle was "nothing," and that Winslow was rotating practices with Jerramy Stevens, the team's other big pass-catching weapon at tight end.

"We try to split those guys up, Jerramy and Kellen," Morris explained. "They've both got similar issues, they're both a little older, they're both vets and they both need some rest. We put Jerramy up this morning in the red zone and Kellen will get his work this afternoon. [With Winslow], you're talking about a guy with two or three percent body fat. Conditioning is never a problem. It's all about maintenance, it's all about reps and it's all about his ability to pick up the offense in the classroom."

As is often the case with veterans in training camp, their periodic absences double as chances for the staff to get more extended looks at young players in the same positions.

"We wanted Faine to be ready to go for our blitz period this afternoon and he'll get the repeat of the red zone," said Morris. "It's a great opportunity to get looks at [Donovan] Raiola, a great opportunity to get [Jeremy] Zuttah some center work. [Faine] was another playing guy that was off today. We don't have anybody that's not playing right now."

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.