In his first year as the Buccaneers' defensive line coach, Brentson Buckner has brought an unmistakable passion to his work, and an unflagging attention to detail. On Saturday, Buckner brought something else to his D-Line charges: Another voice of wisdom.
Buckner played 12 seasons in the NFL for the Steelers, Bengals, 49ers and Panthers. He started his coaching career in Pittsburgh as an intern, but his first real gig as a position coach came with the Arizona Cardinals in 2013. Buckner enjoyed a very successful five-year stint as the defensive line coach in Arizona, and during that entire time he was supported by Tom Pratt, who was also on staff as the pass rush specialist.
Buckner was relatively new to coaching when he and Pratt both started with the Cardinals in 2013. Pratt was not. By a long shot.
Pratt, who recently turned 83, began his NFL coaching career in 1963 with the Kansas City Chiefs. He stayed with the Chiefs for 15 seasons then moved on to the Saints, Browns, Chiefs (again) and, in 1995, the Buccaneers. Pratt joined Sam Wyche's staff that year but that proved to be the end of Wyche's tenure and Pratt pursued other football employment until returning to the Chiefs for a third time in 2000.
Pratt's NFL coaching tenure is so deep that he was actually on the sideline with the Chiefs in the very first Super Bowl. He was still in Kansas City when the Chiefs won Super Bowl IV in January of 1970. Among the players Pratt coached in Kansas City was Curley Culp, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2013 after being nominated by the Senior Committee. Pratt coached another Hall of Famer, Derrick Thomas, in his second stint with the Chiefs.
View photos from the Buccaneers' 2018 Training Camp practice Saturday at One Buccaneer Place.
"I had the pleasure of coaching with him the last five years in Arizona," said Buckner. "He's just a wealth of knowledge. To have him come over and talk to the guys and give them some of the same knowledge he gave to me, Derrick Thomas, Curley Culp, all those guys – you can't pay enough for that."
Pratt didn't just observe as the Buccaneers' defensive linemen went through their drills. Buckner wanted him to dip into the wealth of knowledge and share it with his men. At one point, the team moved into a special teams drill, which generally doesn't involve the defensive linemen. Buckner used that time to gather the linemen in a circle so that Pratt could share some of his well-earned NFL wisdom. It wasn't just a series of platitudes; Pratt made some very specific comments regarding technique and even engaged with defensive tackle Beau Allen to help demonstrate his points.
"He was really just telling them about technique," said an obviously appreciative Buckner. "He coached in the first Super Bowl, and the one thing he reiterated to our guys was, good technique is good technique no matter what era you play in. He just cemented all the things we've been trying to work on. He told them, 'If you really listen, all coaches tell you the same things – hands, good technique.' It means more coming from him because he's seen so much more football. He's seen the evolution of the game."
Tom Pratt's remarkable NFL career began more than 50 years ago and only intersected with the Buccaneers for one year in the '90s. But he was back on Saturday to pass on some of his knowledge, and that can only help a Tampa Bay defensive line that is trying to make a rather serious transition in 2018.
Head Games: The first NFL game has been played since the NFL instituted a stricter rule regarding hits that lead with the helmet. The Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens played the Hall of Fame Game on Thursday night and there was far more interest in how the new rule would be officiated than in which team would come out on top. (For the record, the Ravens held on for a 17-16 victory.)
There were three instances during the game in which the new rule was invoked. Two of them seemed rather obvious and likely would have been flagged even before the rule change. The third one slid a little more into a gray area, and that one involved a hit by a safety. Because they are more likely to make one-on-one hits in space than, say, a defensive linemen, safeties have a better chance to find themselves in a position to violate – or hopefully avoid – the new rule.
Buccaneers safety Justin Evans, who is quite capable of laying the hard hit, thinks there will be an adjustment period in getting used to the rule. He thinks proper tackling technique will keep him from drawing flags.
"I didn't watch it, but I heard about it," said Evans of Thursday's game. "We're just going to go through the preseason and figure out exactly how they're going to call it so we can be ready for the regular season. You've just got to know not to lead with your crown, facemask up, no head-to-head or really anywhere. If you've got your crown you can't him anywhere, so you've just got to keep your facemask up."
Head Coach Dirk Koetter knows that the impetus behind the rule is a good one, as it is an attempt to increase player safety.
"I only saw one of the calls in the game the other night, and the one I saw, I thought was a good call," he said. "The officiating crew that we had here said that they thought another one of those calls was 50/50, that not everybody would agree. I think there is definitely going to be some trial and error as both the officials and the players adjust to the rule. But, it is a rule now and it is something that we're going to have to adjust to, just like any other rule. It's for the players own good. It's for the players' safety. We just have to adjust, so we will see how they are going to call it."
Snap Judgment: The Buccaneers made a roster move way back on February 2 that probably didn't move the needle for even the most die-hard of Tampa Bay fans. On that day, the Buccaneers signed a long-snapper named Drew Ferris who had never played a down of regular-season NFL football.
Every NFL team signs a handful of players in January and February to what are called "reserve/futures" contracts, meaning their deal will kick in when the new league year begins in March. The Buccaneers signed 10 such players in those two months, and half of them have already departed. Others include tackle Brad Seaton, wide receiver Jake Lampman, tackle Givens Price and linebacker Eric Nzeocha. All are still with the team (Nzeocha definitely will be as a participant in the league's international practice squad program) but none are yet household names in the Bay area.
So it might seem strange that a player signed in that time period is a near lock to make the 53-man roster, but that's the case with Ferris. He is, after all, the only long-snapper on the roster.
Saturday's training camp practice at One Buccaneer Place was very well-attended by Buccaneers fans, but it's unlikely that any of them took particular notice of Ferris. And that's a good thing. If a long-snapper is doing his job well, he will almost always fly under the radar. It's when things go wrong that people notice the position.
Veteran Garrison Sanborn handled the Bucs' long-snapping duties in 2017 after a long career in Buffalo, but he was not re-signed after the season. The Bucs signed Ferris instead and have not given him any competition. Linebacker Adarius Glanton and tight end Alan Cross are both capable at the job and are likely to be listed on the depth chart when it debuts on Monday, but Ferris is the only specialist.
"Well, we're confident in Drew," said Koetter. "It's pretty typical, even if you have two snappers, usually that second snapper is a luxury that's out of camp pretty fast. We have two good backups in Adarius Glanton and Alan Cross, who are also position players. Adarius has done it in a game before. We're really confident in Drew. He's going to get his work here in preseason."