Many fans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers got their first good look at the squad in tonight's night practice. It was a gorgeous night to throw the pigskin around, no rain in sight and a nice breeze through the stadium avoided the sweltering we typically get this time of year.
The big question was Darrelle Revis going to participate in the team's first padded practice. The answer was yes - he indeed did, but only in the individual drills. He was not in on 7-on-7 or 11-on-11 drills. Neither were Carl Nicks or Davin Joseph. All three were held out as they continued to be eased back into football shape.
So the exciting thing about padded practices is it's really the first time you can accurately evaluate where you are in the trenches. While the offensive line (minus the two All-Pro guards) looked pretty solid all night against the Bucs defensive line - there was one Buccaneer who was nigh unblockable - Gerald McCoy.
McCoy looked lightning fast slipping by guard Ted Larsen to earn what would have been a sack. In other one-on-one reps, McCoy continued to dominate, penetrating easily into the Buccaneer backfield.
Another player showing great pressure off the edge was Aaron Morgan, who was robbed of a sack as he had to let up on a Mike Glennon pass to Tiquan Underwood that went for a touchdown (it was later called back as a medium gain). Had it been live bullets, Morgan would have annihilated the towering Bucs QB.
While Revis was off doing individual sprints, rookie Johnthan Banks took his spot in the lineup. Banks was stunningly good, covering Pro Bowl WR Vincent Jackson step-for-step and nearly stepping in front of one pass intended by Freeman to Jackson for an interception - it ended up on the ground for a deflection.
Freeman looked decent although as his m.o., not consistent. He was again terrible in the QB accuracy competition (the quarterbacks throw at moving targets attached to a buggy) which was won by Glennon. However, number five showed that amazing touch on the deep ball several times.
The Bucs were also moving Freeman a lot more on the 11-on-11, having him roll out on a few plays getting the Bucs QB out of the pocket where he seems to do a bit better.
Glennon has a big time arm folks - he throws the deep ball so easily its a thing of beauty. He also seems to have fairly good touch on the ball. Right now the game is just too fast for him. He's slow on his reads and delivers the ball late, allowing defensive backs to make plays on the football. Had it been live fire, he probably would have been sacked several times.
There was one troublesome pass where Freeman hit Williams late on a slant - had it been live fire, Williams would have been obliterated by a Bucs defender. Even so, Williams went down in a thud and Buc fans held their breath until he popped to his feet.
One of the more interesting battles is Dotson versus Carimi. Carimi is a huge mountain of a man who looked impenetrable in pass protection. Dotson blocked well in the run and was stout against the rush himself.
Michael Smith also showed some speed running the football.
I was disappointed that Davin Joseph and Carl Nicks weren't quite ready to participate fully. While I understand the need to hold them out and give them some more time to heal, now is the time for this offense to come together as a cohesive unit. I think it might be a little harder to do that if two main pieces are taking "mental reps".
I was disappointed in the performance of DaQuan Bowers, who was easily handled by Demar Dotson and Gabe Carimi most of the night. Bowers tried to bull rush but was quickly swallowed up by the larger men and didn't show any spin or swim moves.
I was disappointed in the tight ends, who dropped passes, looked slow out of breaks and couldn't shake the Bucs secondary. None of the TE stood out.
I was disappointed not to see William Gholston. He was on the sidelines working with the other injured players. I hadn't heard he was injured but apparently he is.
Mark Barron's number 23 just doesn't seem right. Of course Revis is #24 - he always will be - but I don't like Barron's #23. Don't know why.
I'm disappointed Tiquan Underwood remains an inconsistent enigma. He made a beautiful catch and run on a deep pass from Glennon, but then dropped an first down catch right in the bread basket from Freeman.
I was disappointed there wasn't a bit more contact. What fans saw tonight was not much more than a two hand touch football game. I know its the first padded practice and you don't want to go full speed and get someone hurt but at the same time if this team expects to be physical, they can't keep their players in bubblewrap all training camp.
If I see that damn "It's a Buc life for me" video one more time...
The Bucs appeared to escape practice without any serious injuries although safety Ahmad Black had to be helped off the field with a noticeable limp. At the time, it didn't appear to be a serious injury.
All in all a good solid practice. I'm not heading out to reserve a room in New York for the Super Bowl - the team certainly has some things to work on and they need to get some of their talented guys off the exercise bikes and on the football field. Still, the optimism is warranted. The team I saw out there tonight is light years better than what we've seen in recent years.