Even against the NFC's top red-zone defense in 1999, Yo Murphy (88) and the Bucs' offense made strides on Wednesday
On Wednesday, The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offense, which had shown considerable improvement on Tuesday, took it down inside the red zone, where there's a lot less room to move.
Guess what? The offense still looked sharp. The Buccaneers are coming to the end of their four-week, 14-session series of voluntary workouts and the new attack being installed by Offensive Coordinator Les Steckel is beginning to hit its stride.
"We're really on track," said Head Coach Tony Dungy, who has repeatedly insisted that these workouts are a success based just on the foundation that is being laid. "I like where we've been and our work has been very, very crisp. I think our guys are excited about the potential that we have, and that's what you're looking for."
Dungy had felt just as positive during the first three weeks of workouts, when the Buccaneer defense, which is in its fifth year under the same system, was clearly ahead of the offense. Steckel, brought in from the AFC Champion Tennessee Titans in February to restructure the Bucs' attack, was simply trying to ensure that the offense would be ready to hit the ground running when training camp began on July 23. The marked improvement shown by the offense in the last two days is merely icing on the cake.
"The offense is just going to continue to get better and better as they get more familiar with what we're doing," said Dungy on Wednesday. "Obviously, the longer they are together, the better they're getting. It was very encouraging today."
Even with strong results not yet expected, and even with one of the NFL's best defenses always on the other side of the ball, it is clear from the offensive players' enthusiasm in the last few days that they were eager to show their stuff. Dungy was asked on Wednesday if a little taste of success was helping the offense gain confidence.
"I think so," he said, "and that's going to be important for these guys. I think these 14 days that we were able to work together were critical for us."
The offense continued to work without WR Keyshawn Johnson, who was not in attendance on Wednesday as he attended to some matters scheduled before he was traded to the Buccaneers. Johnson will not be with the team on Thursday for the final summer workout, either, but he was mainly observing from the sideline anyway. Back spasms that began on Tuesday, May 30 have limited him to just one practice since, as he practiced on Monday and reported only mild stiffness afterward. Johnson will be ready well before training camp.
The playing field was a little more level on Wednesday, though, as NFL Defensive Player of the Year Warren Sapp also sat out. Though Sapp was held out due to a sore foot, he, like Johnson, would have been able to play in a game had there been one scheduled. Dungy noted one other injury that occurred during the workout: rookie CB Tarig Holman suffered a hamstring strain during a kick-return drill but is expected to be fine by training camp.
Johnson is really just getting a slightly early start to the next phase in the offseason, an off period between now and training camp that Dungy considers critical. While the Buc organization is finalizing details for training camp, the head coach hopes that his players will use the six weeks in between to continue the progress that was begun here and in mini-camp.
"For us, it's really a time to gear down and make sure we're all set with the routine that's coming for training camp," said Dungy. "But I think now is the most important time for the players. They have to carry this on pretty much individually. I think every guy has an idea of how he trains, what he can do to best get himself ready for July 23. That's what they have to do at this point."
But first things first, or last things to be accurate. The Bucs' last summer workout will take place between approximately 10:00 a.m. and noon on Thursday and then the 80 or so players on hand will be scattered to the four winds. Dungy and his staff plans to use this last chance to gather the entire team together as a continued emphasis on the basics of preparation.
"We've got to finish up with two-minute period tomorrow," said Dungy. "That will be the final piece of the puzzle and a good way to send off into the personal work. It will be one more day of fundamentals."
That is also one more day of difficult scheming for the Buccaneers' offense, as the two-minute drill is usually heavily weighted against offensive success. Still, with the gains of recent days, there is every reason to believe that Steckel's men will be up to the challenge.