|Steve Nesius / Associated Press|
|Buccaneers QB Josh Freeman takes charge at the line of scrimmage at training camp.|
TAMPA, Fla. -- New Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris says in his training camp hotel room he closes the door, closes his eyes to meditate and always ponders ways to reach his team. After all, he said, it takes a chameleon approach to effectively touch a group so varied in age, interest and personality.
This is what Morris cooked up for Wednesday morning: He showed his team film of recent games against divisional foe Carolina where the Panthers won the physical battles. He focused on a few of the poorest Buccaneers efforts. He let it marinate in silence. And then he challenged his team to reach a higher level of physical play in its practice. It did. Bodies were flying. Hits kept coming. Today's mission accomplished for this coach who preaches that his team, his players, must yearn to "be your best self" every day.
Who's at quarterback? These Buccaneers are transforming. No one knows exactly into what. Or what it will mean in terms of victories, but Morris knows that has to be the payoff. He talked about the guilt he felt in former coach Jon Gruden's last game, that 31-24 loss and debacle to Oakland in the Buccaneers' own stadium where Oakland rambled for 192 rushing yards. Morris said he felt he and all the staff and players let Gruden down, helped cause Gruden's firing.
Morris knows those broken Bucs are his to fix inside and out.
First, he has to get things right at quarterback.
Leftwich had the best practice of the group on Wednesday morning. He was the sharpest, especially in his red zone passing.
Freeman was feeling a touch of frustration.
"It's going all right," Freeman said. "Right now I'm trying to get in there more. I'd love to get a few more reps. We've got a lot of numbers at the position, so, it's not my decision and I've got to work hard and know chances will come. This is a great fit. Of course, I'd like to start."
Youth served: The Buccaneers have a strong mix of young players in years two through four in their careers who the team is expecting to step forward. Boldly forward. The current roster lists 25 such players. How those players accept this role and produce in them helps define the Bucs season. "It's their time." Morris said.
From Cover 2 to Bates Bunch: The Cover 2 defense has long been the identity of not only the Buccaneers teams but also, in part, the franchise. But no Gruden and no Monte Kiffin, the team's long-time defensive coordinator who is now at the University of Tennessee, means a whole new game, a whole new brand. And Jim Bates is the new defensive coordinator implementing his schemes in Tampa.
"Raheem and I talked and he wanted a fresh change and he let me bring my style and my beliefs to his new defense," said Bates, who was Denver's defensive coordinator last season. "I listen and I take input. We have brought in a lot, changed a lot. There will be a lot more bump coverage, a lot of mix. And we've got a lot of good defensive football players and quality leaders to get things done."
When you have run a scheme as long as the Bucs ran the Cover 2 and then change, struggle early in the regular season usually comes. Bates is a high-tempo, high-octane coach in practice who is fighting against that, pushing this group to get ready -- fast.
Tight end Kellen Winslow missed the morning practice while nursing an aching ankle. He was wound pretty tight after practice, nonetheless, offering: "I like it here, a great atmosphere, a real difference from what I am used to. The guys are having fun. The continuity is good. That is not what I experienced in Cleveland."
Winslow can, indeed, be a brooding player and soul. This player will give Morris his greatest challenge in finding ways to maximize his incredible gifts. If Morris can help Winslow do that and help orchestrate an offense that unleashes this player rather than simply includes him, the offense will be special.
Cornerback E.J. Biggers turned heads with a pass defended where he crunched the receiver and a fumble recovery, among other noticeable plays.
Morris said: "I see a young man starting to come around. He's starting to figure some things out and know when to pull his trigger, knowing what to do, knowing how to do it, wanting to make plays, becoming greedy. We like angry, greedy workers. So, I'm liking that."
Cornerback Ronde Barber, ready for his 13th season, looks as fresh and excited about the game as he did in his first season. Barber can still run and his cover skills have not diminished while his knowledge of the game and of life has increased.
Barber said: "Some guys come into the league and just have a natural knack for doing things the right way. I see them here, across the league. It takes a single-minded approach but also a big-picture approach. It takes good communication. We have to be our best self and let things play out. That happens for every team, even the Super Bowl champions."
"You guys know -- this is a nasty game." -- Morris describing why he is demanding more physical play from his team.
» If the Buccaneers can get Maurice Stovall (6-foot-5, 220) to stay healthy and active in his fourth NFL season out of Notre Dame, he should come alive; he is very talented, very impressive in practice.
» Derrick Ward, in from the Giants, says he will be used as part of a committee here, too, only in Tampa, he will start the process: "They know we won a Super Bowl in [New York] and they know I can help set the tone with the running backs. They want me to give more leadership and help the mentality here among the backs to understand that we as a group can get the job done."
» The Buccaneers are counting heavily on third-year linebacker Quincy Black and the rest of that young group to begin to distinguish itself, especially since the team did not bring back veteran Derrick Brooks. Morris said that Black approached Monday's morning session as if "it was a different deal for him."