The Bucs ran precise routes and paid attention to details to start their first mini-camp, and that's all the coaching staff was asking for
Jim Bates estimates that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers tried out, at most, two defensive fronts on Tuesday, the first day of the opening mini-camp of 2009. Raheem Morris said the offense ran only a few basic plays, and probably wouldn't add much on Wednesday. There was no hitting or tackling; no one wore pads; special teams got all of 20 minutes.
The Buccaneers don't have a game to play this weekend, and they aren't even allowed to put on the pads and bang into each other until July. The new schemes being installed by Morris and his coordinators, Bates on defense and Jeff Jagodzinski on offense, will take weeks and months to come together. No one's fooling anyone else on either side of the ball right now.
So what's the point of this three-day camp as March gives way to April? Morris, the Bucs' first-year head coach, summed it up in two words.
"Right now it's timing and precision," he said, and then repeated several times after the first day of camp. "The next time I see you guys in training camp, here, we're going to be talking about 'toughness' and 'physical' and 'violent.' When you talk about non-contact drills, you just talk about timing and precision. We want these guys to come in and get their timing down, be precise, be ready to play football. The number-one goal is just to execute – timing and precision.
"We're just laying down blocks, laying down bricks, a little bit of cement, and [we'll be] ready to go."
Morris, Bates and a handful of players who spoke to the media on Tuesday all agreed that the first day of organized practices went well. Routes were run sharply, assignments were remembered and a few 'big plays' were made along the way. The playbook might have been slim, but you have to learn Chapter One before you can move on to the rest of the story.
"It's a building block every day," said Morris. "You're trying to accumulate a bunch of knowledge into your players so they can get used to your system and then can come out and run it with timing and precision. So obviously you're looking for timing and precision. You're not thinking about a whole mass of plays, you're thinking about a few plays that you can run that you can go to in a game where you feel comfortable."
The Bucs were afforded an additional mini-camp this offseason because the team has a new head coach. Using it early in the offseason allows for some early work in laying the foundation for 2009, and it also gives the team's talent evaluators a better opportunity to assess the roster before the draft later this month.
"It's as good as any as a sneak preview for my coaches," said Morris. "You want to re-evaluate players every year. You try to make it as even a playing ground as you can. I've got to re-evaluate E-Mack [Elbert Mack]; I've got to see if he's going to be a guy. I've got to re-evaluate Ronde; I've got to see if he's still going to be a guy. We've got from old to young out there competing and I'm loving it."
The Buccaneers currently have 66 signed players on the roster and all but two of them showed up for the first day of the voluntary camp. Quarterback Brian Griese is remaining home with his wife Brook, who is eight months pregnant, and running back Earnest Graham is tending to a family matter. In essence, the entire team was present for Day One of a process that will build at least through December, and hopefully longer. On the field, the players were attentive, tuned in and on their details. Morris was obviously satisfied with the beginning of the year, and with his players' focus on the primary goals of this camp: Timing and precision.
"I was very pleased with the turnout," he said. "The guys that were here, they worked hard, they practiced smart, they worked on their timing, they worked on their precision. I was very pleased."