G Davin Joseph had his hands full with veteran DT Chris Hovan, but the rookie held his ground
Six weeks ago, after the first day of a three-day mini-camp at One Buccaneer Place, Davin Joseph admitted that he still felt very much like a rookie. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' first-round draft pick had officially been working as a professional football player for two months but, in his eyes, had yet to have a true welcome-to-the-NFL moment.
"I can't quite call myself an NFL player yet because I don't feel like it," he said at the time, "but I'm looking forward to the chance to play some ball."
Joseph probably feels differently after the Buccaneers' Friday morning practice at training camp. About 90 minutes into the two-hour workout, Head Coach Jon Gruden stopped the full-team drill that was in progress and formed his entire team into a circle around one small patch of grass. There, in the center, was Joseph, pitted one-on-one with rabidly intense defensive tackle Chris Hovan, an accomplished veteran.
With teammates howling on all sides, Joseph got into his stance and waited for Hovan's rush. To the delight of the white shirts behind him, the rookie stoned Hovan on the first rush, then rode him wide on the second one. The offense claimed a clear victory on the first play; both sides felt as if they had won the second snap. Whatever the final ruling, it was an eye-opening experience for Joseph.
So, welcome to the NFL.
"Sometimes a little peer pressure from your teammates adds to a drill," said Gruden. "Calling a guy out against another guy in front of their peers and having a little incentive sometimes is a good way to create some enthusiasm, which we certainly need this time of year."
The sudden one-on-one session may have been sprung on the players, but it wasn't an impromptu decision by Gruden and his staff. It is one of the special interludes the Buccaneers work into every camp, such as live goal-line drills and raucous field goal challenges, in order to keep the players' focus sharp. Tampa Bay is now in its eighth day of camp practices, its eighth day of toiling morning and afternoon in the unforgiving Central Florida sun.
If any of the team's enthusiasm was waning on this second Friday of camp, Gruden solved that with the purposely intense competition between the two lines.
"Well everyday we have one-on-one receivers against defensive backs," he said. "We have different phases of our practice schedule and today we just tried to jazz it up a little bit with a little sudden change to maybe add a little energy to the guys that are doing the drill.
"If you are a defensive linemen in the course of the game you might be lucky enough to get six or seven sheer one-on-one's. If you are an offensive linemen when you are one-on-one with a great player you've got the down of your life. We want to try and put guys under the microscope and see how they respond."
Gruden was thrilled with how both of those two players, rookie and veteran, responded to the challenge. Hovan was so fired up by the two mini-battles that he ripped his helmet off after the second one and fired it into the ground. His enthusiasm was a welcome sight for the coaching staff.
"Those are two great players," said Gruden. "Right now those two guys are setting the standard around here that all of us admire. They are working their butts off and that was a good way to start."
The one-on-one session included six snaps in total. After the combat between Joseph and Hovan, defensive tackle Anthony Bryant lined up against center John Wade and went straight at him with a bull-rush. Both sides thought they won that battle, but defensive tackle Ellis Wyms was the clear winner on the next snap as he got off quickly and made it around guard Dan Buenning. The last two matchups – defensive end Greg Spires on tackle Jeremy Trueblood and defensive end Simeon Rice on tackle Anthony Davis – were close enough to be disputed by both sides.
Overall, Gruden believed the drill did have a winner.
(On who won the battle today) "Well I think the offense won today in the one-on-one's," he said. "I am sure I will be criticized for saying that by some but I like the competitiveness there and I thought the offense won today."
Midway through the Bucs' first workout on Friday, as the players ambled gratefully to the cool-down trailer for a break, an altercation broke out near the practice field's sideline. Third-year wide receiver Michael Clayton lunged at one of the visiting NFL officials who were working the practice, only to be held back forcefully by fellow wide receiver Joey Galloway.
Clayton struggled against Galloway and pointed at the official…then smiled.
It was all a joke, of course, a running one-act performance deriving from a disagreement that Clayton and Galloway had over the details of a particular play just run in practice. The playful duo, Tampa Bay's starting wide receivers and the great hope for this year's passing attack, allowed their mock anger at each other to spill over to the referee on a lark.
Clayton and Galloway were just having a little fun. Again. Gruden has seen enough of such "fun" to pin the two with a nickname.
"You go to work here and Clayton and Galloway disagree on some things, like who is sitting next to whom in the meeting room or which color pen we are using tonight," said Gruden. "Those two are like guys are like Heckle and Jeckle, they are hard to deal with. When the officials come to practice you can just multiple what those two guys are going to have to say. They have a hard time letting it go, neither one is ever going to be wrong, and they tend to argue a lot so that is what you saw today."
In reality, the two have great respect for each other. Clayton, in particular, knows he can learn much from his counterpart, a 12th-year veteran who has on several occasions rebounded from tough seasons to regain his status as a front-line player. That's the path Clayton is trying to follow this year, after a record-breaking rookie campaign was followed by an injury-marred sophomore season.
"Every practice he comes out here and gives it 100 percent and he's making plays," said Clayton of Galloway. "You can't take anything away from him."
Tampa Bay actually has two receivers on that path, as former Pro Bowler David Boston is flying around his first Buc camp looking like the player who dominated defenses in 2000 and 2001 in Arizona. The receiving squad, which in years past has included a much higher percentage of lesser-known first-year players, goes much deeper than those three, too. Edell Shepherd, Ike Hilliard, Paris Warren, J.R. Russell, Maurice Stovall, Chas Gessner…every drill contains a new receiver making a big play.
In fact, Galloway thinks it might be the most talented crew, from top to bottom, of which he has ever been a part.
"I've been around a lot of receivers," he said. "I don't know if I've been around a group as deep as this one here. This is going to be a tough group to pick six or seven guys out of. It's a fun group to be around, there's a lot of talent and we expect to be leaders on this team and play well."
Said Clayton, when Galloway's comment was summarized for him: " I second that. The guys that we have on this squad have come so far, even the young guys who came in after me. They've made the step to take it to the next level. Those guys are waiting for their turn to get into the game, and I have full confidence in those guys that once they get the opportunity to play they'll be able to go out and make the same plays that we do."
More from Coach Gruden
The team did not have an update to report on the status of starting free safety Will Allen, who has missed the last three practices due to injury.
"He is going to have some medical procedure done," said Gruden. "I have not seen Will nor do I know the extent of it but he is going to be out for a couple days. We will update you when I get his official status."
Gruden did discuss which players will get additional action during Allen's absence.
"Well [Kalvin] Pearson has taken a lot of reps there and obviously [Donte] Nicholson, a second year player from Oklahoma, will get some turns," he said. "[Steve] Cargile and those guys will have to step up and play in our man's absence."
The coach touched on a variety of additional topics after the morning practice.
On if he was inspired by a scene in the movie that has the same kind of drill: "No. Football has been played for a long time and there is nothing I have invented. I have stolen a lot of ideas but I didn't get a chance to see that flick the other day. That drill is just something we have done in years past and we do every once in awhile."
On how this morning went overall: "I liked it, I liked it a lot. I like the progress I am seeing in a lot of players. This afternoon will be an examination for a lot of these guys. We are going to reduce the tempo but we are going to increase the reps by 10. We are going to put them in a number of different situations, we are going to get the coaches off the field, and we are going to find out who knows what. I do like this team, I like the way they are working, and I see progress."
On his thoughts on [Julian] Jenkins: "[Julian] Jenkins has had a couple of days where he has been hot and he has had a couple of days where he has been cold. And not [can you have that in the NFL] at that position, not with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and not on the defensive line. You are going to consistently apply pressure. We are a one gap scheme. We don't have 103 different fronts. You are going to disrupt. He has taken a step back here in the last 48 hours but he is a very good prospect. His legs are a little bit weary right now and I think he understand what I am saying. I am high on him, but I want more from him."
On how tough it would be to make this team as an undrafted free agent these days: "Well we have a lot of guys starting for us. If you look at Ryan Nece and you look at Anthony Davis, key guys. We have several guys, Shelton Quarles; we have a number of guys that have done it here. It is tough to make it if you are not good enough, that is the bottom line. We don't discriminate against anybody. [Bruce] Gradkowski is a sixth round draft pick and he is moving up the charts. We are going to just see where you are. We don't care what school you come from, we have drafted guys from just about every conference including the junior colleges. If we see talent and you provide it on a daily basis then you will get to play."
On if he would say [Bruce] Gradkowski is the number two quarterback: "No I wouldn't say that, I was just making a point. [Bruce] Gradkowski is in the mix certainly and he has a long way to go, but he is getting better."
On if [Kenyatta] Walker is going to practice this afternoon: "I don't know. I think he will honestly because of how we are going to practice today. We are going to reduce contact and we are going to challenge our players from the neck up as opposed to taxing them physically so there is a good chance he will take some sets and some plays."
On if [Kenyatta] Walker is having an issue with his knee: "Every year we have been very careful with him during training camp. It is no different this year. He is a guy that is on our program and we are keeping a watchful eye on him and doing what we think is right to get him ready for the regular season."
On if he has been happy with the results of the two minute drills so far: "Yeah I am. I liked the two minute drill yesterday and today. I thought our defense needs this and they need to communicate with the moving clock to get their calls done. We need to get the pass rush heated up and our offense has to respond to that. I thought there have been good signs on both sides of the ball. Chris Simms is doing a hell of a job for us."