After practice on Sunday, a towel draped over his head to shield him from the sun, Reggie Brown looked upward, took a deep breath of the thick air and claimed, "I love this weather!"
Brown seemed to be suppressing a sly smile as he said this, however, so you decide on your own whether you believe in the sentiment. More evidence to the contrary: Brown did sound sincere when he professed his appreciation for the alternating one-a-day/two-a-day practice schedule Head Coach Raheem Morris has instituted at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' training camp.
Brown, who says the Philadelphia Eagles' camps were just about as sticky, isn't having any more trouble with the Tampa heat and humidity than any of his teammates, and he was fine when the third practice of the weekend wrapped up at 4:30 on Sunday afternoon. But it's hard to imagine any human being who would truly enjoy the 105-degree heat index that bathed the Bucs' practice on Sunday. Battling through it is a two-hour test both mental and physical.
To address this undeniable aspect of holding training camp in Florida, Morris devised his two/one schedule last year, the first summer the Bucs returned to team headquarters to conduct camp. The Bucs opened camp with a two-a-day - one in the morning and one in the early evening - on Saturday, then hit the field just once on Sunday, albeit at the peak of the afternoon heat. The idea isn't to give the players every other day off; on the contrary, Morris expects the single practices on the one-a-days to be even more intense and fast-paced than usual.
His young team didn't disappoint on Sunday, though Morris will still expect a livelier tempo on the next single-practice day.
"First day of one-a-days and we went out and had better execution," he said. "We've got to increase our tempo in practice. I knew it was going to be one of those things where you come off a two-a-day, you have a morning and get your lift on, it's a little bit sluggish but the execution was a lot better."
Of course, the Bucs had become somewhat accustomed to starting camp with almost two solid weeks of unbroken two-a-days. A year ago, when Morris first installed his new schedule, he didn't quite get the up-tempo results he wanted on the early one-a-days. To jump start the system, he started taking full-team drills leave for a few plays, which succeeded in adding intensity. He doesn't think he'll have to do that this summer.
"I didn't have to do that today," he said. "They got better as practice went on. We'll get it better and we'll increase this thing and it won't be a spur-of-the-moment thing when I go live. I'll just stay with the script."
Morris clearly wasn't too bothered by whatever deficiencies he noted Sunday, probably expecting it to take a few rotations through the alternating days before the goals of the program sink in. In most other ways, Sunday's practice was a good one, with both sides of the ball having moments to build on.
"Those guys are competitive," said Morris. "The offense hit a couple big plays. I think Aqib Talib had a pick today. You saw Cody Grimm touch a ball today, you saw a couple guys touch some balls today, but [the defense] also hit some plays too. It was back and forth. It's great competition. What I want from those guys is better tempo the next time we come out for a one-a-day."
In January of 2009, Raheem Morris became the fifth graduate of the NFL's highly-regarded Minority Coaching Fellowship Program to be named a head coach in the league. He followed in the footsteps of Herm Edwards, Marvin Lewis, Lovie Smith and Mike Tomlin; coincidentally or not, four of those five have ties to the Buccaneers.
Those ties are certainly not coincidental for Morris, who was brought into the program by Edwards during the latter's days as the head coach of the New York Jets. From there, he hooked on with the Buccaneers in 2002, starting out as a defensive assistant and eventually becoming the assistant defensive backs coach under Tomlin.
It's no surprise, then, that the Fellowship Program is near and dear to Morris' heart. That's why he was thrilled to announce on Sunday that the Buccaneers will have four aspiring coaches in camp with them this summer as part of the program, including former NFL star Greg Lloyd.
"[People] know how much that program meant to me, how much that program means to a lot of young, aspiring coaches, to get in this league and to be around people and to do good things," said Morris. "Every once in awhile you get guys that you can learn from as well. We are lucky enough to have Greg Lloyd, a guy that's rushed a lot of quarterbacks in this league and put up a bunch of stats in this league. I thought it would be a great idea to get a guy like that around your young football team. He doesn't necessarily know our system but the thing he brings to us is talking about how that linebacker room was that he was in in Pittsburgh. He can talk about demeanor and some of those things that are very important.
Lloyd played 11 seasons in the NFL with the Steelers and the Carolina Panthers, racking up 54.5 sacks. He will be working with Joe Baker and the Buccaneers' linebackers during camp. The other Fellowship Program participants in camp with the Buccaneers this year are Junior Smith (working with the running backs), Corey Moore (wide receivers) and Barris Grant (linebackers/defensive linemen).
Morris asked Eric Vance, the Buccaneers' director of player development, and Assistant to the Head Coach Jay Kaiser to go through the large stack of resumes the Buccaneers received in regard to the Fellowship Program. Edwards didn't know Morris when he brought him into Jets camp and Morris doesn't want to miss any deserving candidates by only admitting people whom he's already acquainted with.
"We try to stay away from favors and look at the best candidates at the time, guys that fit what we're looking for," said Morris. " These guys are all hand-picked to come in here and I told them they should be proud of that. I know a lot of it is done based on who you know, but we try to pick guys that we don't know."
Williams with the Ones
Morris cautioned on Sunday that one shouldn't read too much into the depth chart until the regular-season is about to begin. Still, it's hard not to notice that rookie wide receiver Mike Williams is seeing a lot of action with the first-team defense.
Williams, a fourth-round pick out of Syracuse, has been impressive since his first day at rookie mini-camp the weekend following the draft. Fast, athletic and possessed of good hands and impressive body control in traffic, Williams has yet to hit a lull. He stood out in May, and again in June, and he's had a fine first week of training camp as well.
"He's been working at the X position with the ones. He's been out there a lot of the time. You also see Sammie Stroughter out there at the X position. Mike Williams had a dynamic offseason. He's come in and done everything we've asked. He's been one of the guys that's caught the ball. He's stood out. He's been standing out since he's been here."
There's no doubt that opportunities exist at wide receiver on the Bucs' depth chart, no matter how well-formed it may be at this moment. The team's leading receiver among wideouts the last two years, Antonio Bryant, is now in Cincinnati, and no other player started more than 11 games at the position last year. The Bucs obviously felt the position needed an infusion of talent in the offseason because they spent two of their first four five picks on Williams and Arrelious Benn and also traded for Brown early in the spring.
Williams has attacked that competition from Day One and has yet to slow down.
"He's a big, tall, fast guy that can go out there and make plays," said Morris. "Right now, he's running with the ones. He'll have an opportunity to go out there and prove himself in the preseason. Final depth charts and all that stuff don't come out until we go play Cleveland, but right now he's running with the ones, he's getting some one reps and he's having a ball. And his teammates are having a ball with him."