Hello from steamy Tampa Bay, where the Bucs were practicing for about two-and-a-half hours earlier today. It was an intriguing experience, watching this new team under new coach Greg Schiano. It’s not college, but there is a college feel for the former Rutgers coach.
Want some quick thoughts after taking it all in?
— The one thing Schiano was known for at Rutgers was taking mediocre recruiting classes and turning them into above-average classes. He got the most out of his players, and you can see it happening here. The focus is clear: Fundamentals, tackling, ball-security, details, buying in. This team is so young, there is so much inexperience, that’s what they need. They may be the youngest team again. But it’ll also be a good thing for the established players like Gerald McCoy and Josh Freeman. Everyone benefits.
— Speaking of Freeman, he spent about five minutes doing a bad snap drill, which is one more example of Schiano’s insistence on being prepared for any situation. Basically, Freeman stood in the shotgun and an assistant fired bad snaps at him, and he had to corral them and react. Maybe it’ll happen once every two games, but he’ll be ready. Oh, and Freeman looks incredibly skinny. I almost didn’t recognize him. There wasn’t a directive from the team or anything as far as why he lost 20 pounds. He just came in skinny and told them, “This is a weight I’m more comfortable at.” And they said… OK.
— Want some insight into Schiano’s mind? I mean, it sounds like Bill Belichick. Anyway, the third-team was out there, going through late-game situations. And the QB threw a pass into the flat, the receiver caught it, evaded a defender and scored. Schiano should be psyched, right? Well… “You know what? That’s when we weren’t tackling,” Schiano said. “We didn’t really think that play was (successful). That’s a big error. We threw it into the field of play with 11, 12 seconds left on the clock. If he doesn’t get in the end zone, game over. Those are things that come up. You know, I don’t want to tackle live, obviously, you have to look at that and say, ‘Would we have been tackled there?’ If we would’ve, then that’s the wrong decision. If we wouldn’t have, it’s the right decision. And the quarterback… it’s always easy for me to say that on the sidelines. But the QB has someone running at him from every direction, he’s trying to throw it and get it to his receiver. There’s a lot of processing that has to go on. So, that’s why we do it so much. High-speed decision-making.”
— A couple under-the-radar players to watch? Good, solid showing from WR Preston Parker, a former North Alabama star who began contributing a little last year. Could be a slot guy. And Iowa State product CB Leonard Johnson, who wasn’t drafted, has impressed. Both could figure prominently.
— Receiver Mike Williams had a down year last year, developing some bad habits and torpedoing endless fantasy teams. He went from a find to lost. Well this year, he’s back on the right track. Williams actually stayed after practice to work on his route-running, telling Freeman he’s in the best shape of his life. Listen to Williams explain: “Like I just told Josh, I told him I’m in the best shape of my life. He asked me, ‘Do I want to run a couple routes after practice?’ I was like, ‘Yeah.’ He was like, ‘You feel like you’re more in shape than last year?’ I was like, ‘At this time right now, I’m in the best shape of my life.’ “
— Vincent Jackson was the team’s big acquisition of the offseason, and it’s so easy to see why. He looks like a beast out there. On one red-zone rep, Freeman spotted him crossing and lofted up a pass and led him. Jackson reached the ball at the exact same time as CB Anthony Gaitor, and they collided in mid-air. Wanna guess this one? Jackson wound up holding the ball in his arms, laughing back to the huddle. Gaitor walked off, shaken at hitting a 230-pound machine.
— I hate to say this… but I kinda thought Dallas Clark was done as a player. With just 17 games the last two seasons, Clark hadn’t looked like himself. But he has been surprising spry here. Bucs people are more than pleased with their new tight end, and he could be on his way to being one of the best signings of the offseason. And the word is, he’s been a joy in the meeting rooms, helping the younger guys, which wasn’t exactly Kellen Winslow’s thing. “Obviously, everyone knows him, he’s an absolute stud, man,” Freeman said Clark. “A good guy to be around, loves football. It’s been great. Connected a few times the other night, connected a few times today, he’s doing a great job. I’m excited to have him.”
— The Bucs really like their draft class this year, and there is a chance every one of them makes the team. Obviously, S Mark Barron is the real deal. But don’t be surprised if LB Lavonte David (smart, tough) is a starter and RB Doug Martin is given the chance to be the game-changer they think he is. He can run.
— One more quick thing… Can you believe Ronde Barber switched positions in his 15th year? I mean, that’s selfless. What I loved was his reaction to the request. Essentially, Barber said, Whatever, I just want to be on the field. Pretty awesome.