Linemen like T Chris Denman (74) and C/G Enoka Lucas (61) appreciate days when the pads come off
The first week of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2007 training camp was constantly reshuffled by rain, with a good number of the scheduled two-a-days turned into less grueling one-and-dones. Shortly into the second week, the players got another big break, as Family Day turned Saturday into a mini-vacation from the rigors of camp.
If the first nine days of camp had seemed a little less physically draining than usual, all of that melted away on Sunday morning as the Buccaneers reconvened under a brutally hot sun. It was the hottest day yet in a camp that has often been surprisingly mild-weathered, and Head Coach Jon Gruden made his players sweat with a particularly demanding practice.
Fortunately for those players, Gruden did give them one more break, choosing to go without pads after working in full gear every other day of the week. That concession won't last long; the Bucs will go back to full pads on Monday as they begin preparing for the New England Patriots.
"We've had seven straight days of pads and we felt that was the right thing to do," said Gruden. "We still got a lot of work done, covered a lot of situations, but we'll be in pads again tomorrow."
As defensive end Kevin Carter pointed out during last Wednesday's team trip to the movies – another first-week break in the schedule – working in full pads is particularly tiring for the big men who are constantly bashing into each other at the line. Thus Sunday's practice gave them a reprieve as there was a little less head-to-head work between the O-line and D-line and a little more emphasis on individual period and technique work.
However, there is still quite a bit to be resolved on those units, particularly on the offensive side of the ball, so the Bucs still need more full-pads day in camp for evaluation purposes. The starting five on offense has not yet been finalized, though there's no doubt it's going to look different than it did in 2006. As Gruden pointed out Sunday, there is a decent chance the Bucs will have five new starters up front in this year's regular-season opener as compared to last year's opener.
"[Jeremy] Trueblood didn't start last year in the opener," said Gruden. "[Davin] Joseph didn't start in the opener. We still have a battle going on at center. Arron Sears has a chance to be the starting left guard. And at the left tackle position we're hoping [Luke] Petitgout comes back shortly to help us out. But anything can happen at this point in time."
Trueblood and Joseph are established starters now, of course, and essentially sure things for the starting line. Petitgout, who has missed about a week of camp with back soreness, is still expected to stabilize the left tackle spot. Center is less resolved, with incumbent John Wade trying to hold off Matt Lehr and Dan Buenning, but the Bucs could be close to a long-term solution at left guard. Sears has looked "very good" at that spot in his first NFL training camp, according to Gruden.
"He's just a quality player," said the Bucs coach. "He's experienced beyond his years and he's a very physical, naturally-powerful guy that can pull. He's a factor in the perimeter plays and he really showcases pretty good pass protection in there. So he's a guy that we're excited about."
Glazer Family Foundation Awards Grants
After practice, Gruden joined Executive Vice President Bryan Glazer near the bleachers to present six grants totaling more than $26,000 on behalf of the Glazer Family Foundation.
Representatives from the Achievement Academy of Lakeland, Manatee County Girls Club of Bradenton, Suncoast Voices for Children Foundation of Largo, Canine Companions for Independence of Orlando, Kids in Balance of Riverview and Clothes to Kids of Clearwater accepted the grant checks and commemorative plaques on the practice field at Disney's Wide World of Sports.
Gruden handed over the checks and plaques to each set of representatives, thanking them profusely for the work they do in the Central and West Central Florida communities. He particularly enjoyed meeting the representatives from Canine Companions because that meant interacting with a pair of exquisitely trained labrador retrievers and the disabled children they assist. In fact, when Gruden presented the Foundation's check to Justin Johnson, the young man impressed the coach by commanding his companion, a light-colored lab named Kendra, to gently take the check out of Gruden's hand with his teeth and then hand it to him.
The Glazer Family Foundation awards grants twice each year to Central and West Central Florida programs focused on the health, safety and recreation of disadvantaged youth. In 2006, 15 nonprofit organizations received grants through the biannual program. Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Malcolm Glazer established the foundation in 1999. Since that time, the Glazer Family Foundation has given nearly $3 million in program grants, tickets and merchandise to the Tampa Bay area. Visit www.glazerfamilyfoundation.com for more information.
More from Coach Gruden
After the morning practice, Gruden spent a little extra time on the field watching fourth-year quarterback Chris Simms go through a series of passes to test his throwing arm. Simms has been limited since the early days of camp by a sore arm, but he has gradually assumed a larger role in practice in recent days and he appears close to putting the arm issue behind him. Gruden touched on Simms' health and several other topics between practices on Sunday.
On if Chris Simms is showing improvement: "Yeah, I think so. We wanted to get him 80 to a hundred throws and work on going to alternate receivers, et cetera, driving the ball in the void and doing some different things. The arm looks good to me and we'll talk to the doctors and the trainers and so forth here at lunch to see what we can do this afternoon."
On if Simms will get some snaps in the game: "He needs to play. He needs to play, obviously. Yeah, I do expect him to play. But there are a lot of things that go into that. If we get the ball and can do something with it and look at some guys, we'd like to do that. He needs to get out there and play. Physically, he looked good today, what I saw. Hopefully he can work himself back into a ready position this week."
On LB Barrett Ruud missing practice: "He bruised his knee; he'll be day-to-day. He might be a day or two, but he'll be back hopefully sooner than later."
On if Ryan Nece moves into the starting MLB spot with Ruud out: "Well, Ryan Nece has been playing there. Antoine Cash has been playing there and Quincy Black has some experience playing in there so we'll have to do the best we can, adjust as long as Barrett's out. But we expect him back shortly."
On Dan Buenning learning at the center position: "He's a guy, too, that had a real serious injury on Thanksgiving Day. He got hurt last year in the preseason, missed the early part of the season, got hurt late in the season. He's not all the way back physically but he's staying on top of the center position. Assignment-wise, he's doing some good things but physically is another story. He still to me is not a hundred percent. He's not totally back yet, but he's fighting through it, and when he returns to full health we expect him to be a real good football player again."
On Luke Petitgout still not practicing fully: "It's obviously been well-documented around here. He went through the individual work and we had hoped to have him practice more extensively today. But we're going to do what we feel is right from the doctor's standpoint, and hopefully in the next day or two we'll see him full-go, ready to go."
On an unsuccessful play in which WR Michael Clayton threw a pass: "His quarterback rating had been pretty good on that. That was group install and I'm sure he really wasn't loosened up. Sometimes when you call a play like that, you call it and not a lot of guys on your football team expect it. You've got to be able to make that play on short notice, and clearly he's got to get on his toes because he and Ike and some of the other guys, they all want that throw. Today wasn't a real good look at it."
On how Matt Bryant is doing: "He's been really good. [Josh] Bidwell and our snapper have done a nice job. The battery's been pretty consistent from Day One and he's hitting it really good. Statistically speaking, his numbers are what we want them to be and his kickoffs, he's hanging them high and he's getting location. He's making field goals so we're really pleased with Matt."
On Joey Gruden, Jay Gruden's young son, kicking field goals: "Yeah, he made a 36-yarder, I guess, during an Arena [League] football game. We've reached into the Predator organization before with Jay Taylor and now obviously Greg White. If we need Joey Gruden, we'll keep an eye on him."