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RB looks like a good catch

By Times staff writers
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 11, 2002

LAKE BUENA VISTA -- While the coaching staff stressed it isn't reading much into Saturday's practices with the Dolphins, one thing is certain: Running back Michael Pittman has good hands coming out of the backfield.

Pittman made two outstanding plays in seven-on-seven drills in the morning session.

"I think what people don't realize about Michael is that they see those big arms, he's a strong guy, and they forget he catches the football well," general manager Rich McKay said. "That will be a strong point for him this year and I think some of those plays will show that."

Pittman, brought in to replace Warrick Dunn, made an acrobatic catch behind the linebackers on a Brad Johnson pass. He lunged to catch the ball, then rolled over his shoulders.

But the Bucs' offensive highlight of the morning session was Pittman's 45-yard touchdown catch from Rob Johnson. Pittman went wide on linebacker Scott Galyon, beat him downfield, made the catch and sprinted into the end zone without breaking stride.

"Pitt's got exceptional ability as a receiver as well as a running back and when he gets one-on-one with a linebacker, we're going to give him a chance," Rob Johnson said. "A lot of our offense is designed that way. If they're going to isolate him and make him make plays (we're going to go to him)."

The effort was gratifying for Pittman, who has been slowed most of training camp by an ankle sprain.

"It was a good day today," Pittman said. "I was pumped up and had the wind. Coach puts us out there to get the backs on the linebackers one-on-one and Rob made a perfect throw. (The ankle) was sore but I'm out here to compete and play through it and I'm happy I did that (today)."

NOT KING'S FAULT: The Bucs' lowlight came in the morning, when former starting quarterback Shaun King threw an interception to linebacker Zach Thomas, who returned it for an apparent touchdown.

Coach Jon Gruden defended King's throw..

"That's my fault as much as anybody's," Gruden said. "We were working a little short motion turn around and we brought the motion a little too far inside. And when you bring a hook route too far inside where Zach Thomas is, good luck. That's what happened on that play and it's going to be a good play for us when it's all said and done."

ROYAL RETURN: Veteran punter Mark Royals, who kicked for the Bucs the past three seasons but signed with the Dolphins in the offseason, was happy to visit with some of his former teammates and said he plans to keep his ties to the Tampa Bay area.

"I've changed teams a lot in my career," said Royals, with his seventh NFL club. "It's good to come back and see all the old faces again. It's definitely different. It's the way the business works. You just deal with it."

SPREADING THE LOVE: ESPN analyst Joe Theismann said the buzz surrounding the Bucs and Gruden has spread well beyond the Tampa Bay area.

"I think it's exciting," he said. "There's such excitement because of the success that Jon has been able to have at the places he has been.

"What's really good this year for the Bucs and their fans is that all the articles that I've read no one mentions Super Bowl. No one has talked about this football team going here and doing this," he continued. "So the players haven't had to figure out a way to be cautiously optimistic without sounding like they are bragging. I think that's very good for the mental psyche of this football team."

Theismann said the Bucs' bevy of tall receivers will be a noticeable advantage.

"These are the guys you want to get the ball to when they are moving, because if they are moving, they are going to be hard to bring down," he said.

A HAZARDOUS ASSIGNMENT: An amusing moment involved a Dolphins ballboy who was used as a mock quarterback in a pass-rushing drill. Several times he was almost clobbered by Bucs pass-rushers who couldn't stop their forward momentum in time to avoid a collision. Once, defensive tackle Anthony McFarland tried to pull up and accidentally plowed over him. The young man didn't appear to be hurt.

BUCS BITS: In one-on-one passing drills in the morning session, the Bucs offense completed 21 of 27 passes. "I've played against them for four years and that's the most open I've ever seen receivers (against the Dolphins)," Rob Johnson said. ... As part of his plan to build team chemistry, Gruden took the players to see the movie Signs on Friday night. The team rented the theater near the Celebration Hotel. Cornerback Ronde Barber critiqued the movie by placing two thumbs down. ... Disney officials estimated attendance at11,550 for both sessions. The stadium record was 11,355, set March 27, 2001, when Mark McGwire and the Cardinals played the Braves in a spring training baseball game.


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