CB Donnie Abraham appeared to be in mid-season form on Thursday
A series of 14 voluntary workouts began at One Buccaneer Place on Tuesday amid serious media coverage, despite the fact that it was the middle of May and months from training camp. By Thursday, the media contingent had dwindled significantly, probably because each practice pretty much looked like the last.
That repetition was just fine by Head Coach Tony Dungy, however. Dungy was very pleased with the first three sessions, which drew virtually the entire team roster, and feels a solid foundation is being laid for July's training camp.
"They're doing well," said Dungy after Thursday's practice, which concluded at approximately noon. I think they're working very hard, and I really like our attitude. By the time we're done here, we'll have 14 days of practice, which will be invaluable to putting the new offense in."
The installation of new Offensive Coordinator Les Steckel's attack is, of course, the main topic of concern this 'offseason', but a number of points of interest arose during the first week of the four-week program. Among them:
King out for a day Second-year QB Shaun King, going into his first full season as the team's starter, looked sharp on Tuesday and Wednesday but did not practice on Thursday. King was on the field and staying close to Steckel, but backups Eric Zeier and Joe Hamilton took all the snaps, prompting concern from onlookers.
After practice, Dungy delivered the less-than-traumatic news. King had suffered a cut on his left foot on Wednesday afternoon while riding a jet ski in Tampa Bay. It is not a serious injury and King is expected to be back in action on Monday, when the second week of workouts begins.
In King's absence, Zeier got most of the snaps with the first team offense.
A few other bumps and bruises King's injury occurred away from the practice field, but a few Bucs sustained minor ailments in the more traditional manner. WR Reidel Anthony suffered a mild ankle sprain on Tuesday and did not run during the following two workouts. WR Karl Williams joined Anthony on the sideline for Thursday's session after also spraining an ankle on Wednesday. Neither are serious and both hope to return to the field on Monday.
A handful of other Buccaneers did not practice due to previous injuries. That list included tight ends Dave Moore, who had his ankle scoped several weeks ago, and Patrick Hape, who is recovering from a foot fracture sustained in early March. While neither could join in the running routes, both took long turns catching a variety of passes from the Jugs gun.
Others who didn't participate but should be fine for training camp, at the latest, included LB Alshermond Singleton (ankle), G Frank Middleton (shoulder), DE John McLaughlin (back), G Ken Blackman (knee), S Shevin Smith (knee) and S Ashley Cooper (knee).
Defense still dominant The Bucs' first-team defense was often stifling during the first week, and newly-acquired WR Keyshawn Johnson indicated that that was partly because offenses, so dependent on timing, are usually behind at this time of year. However, a factor probably just as important is the sheer talent of the defense in question.
The Bucs' defense, in fact, looked particularly strong on Thursday, when some very familiar names disrupted the offense's early efforts during team drills. DE Chidi Ahanotu and DT Warren Sapp came hard on the rush and S John Lynch leapt to break up a pass on one memorable play in the early going.
Most visibly impressive, however, may have been CB Donnie Abraham. Like several of his defensive mates, Abraham wore a black Pro Bowl t-shirt under his practice jersey on Thursday. The fifth-year cornerback did not get the shirt personally in Hawaii nor was he wearing it as a motivator; all the players simply had them placed in their lockers by the equipment staff. However, it was fitting for a player that many felt was deserving of an all-star berth in '99, and his play on Thursday indicated he will be in that class again in 2000. Abraham broke up two of the first four passes during team drills and provided blanket coverage during his time on the field.
Dungy was unsurprised by Abraham's play. "Donnie's a veteran guy," said the head coach. "He plays pretty well all of the time, and today was no different. He got his hands on some balls and disrupted some things. He's playing like he normally does."
Bucs pick up the pace Steckel, a Vietnam veteran and Marine reservist, brings discipline and crispness to Buc practices, but that alone could not account for the high energy level on the field. Though the summer workouts are voluntary, the Buccaneer players attacked them with intensity. Quarterbacks Coach Clyde Christensen thinks the Bucs have their eyes on a prize.
"We got a little taste of success last year," said Christensen, "and I think our players are hungry. We know that we have to start over from square one and climb the mountain all over again."
With the progress that the Bucs made in this first week of summer practices – and Dungy feels it was a good step forward – perhaps they are on at least square two by now. They will at least head on to week two after a three-day period to rest and absorb the lessons from week one. Next week's practices are one day longer, from Monday through Thursday, and will continue to become more complicated as additional parts of the offense is installed.
The team will then follow with three workouts (Tuesday-Thursday) during the week beginning Monday, May 29 and four final sessions (Monday-Thursday) during the week beginning Monday, June 5. After that, it's roughly six weeks off before the real deal: training camp. It appears the Bucs will be well-prepared for that crucial month.