By RICK STROUD and STEPHEN F. HOLDER
Published August 1, 2006
[Times photo: Bill Serne]
Michael Clayton runs past coach Jon Gruden, who tried to knock the ball loose with the pad during morning drills.
LAKE BUENA VISTA - Even when Chris Simms was in high school, he loved throwing the long ball.
"My last two years I only threw one touchdown pass under 20 yards. All we did was throw the long ball," Simms said. "We went down the field."
Simms is airing it out deep again.
The Bucs are emphasizing the home run ball at training camp this year. It's a weapon they believe they can utilize with Simms' arm strength and receivers such as Joey Galloway, Michael Clayton, David Boston and Edell Shepherd.
"I think Coach is being a little more aggressive, just gearing things toward our talent, honestly," Simms said. "We definitely have the personnel for it and I love throwing the deep ball, so it's working out good. Everybody gets excited to make plays like that. Between Galloway, Boston, Clayton, you've got Shepherd, the long ball has got to be a part of our offense."
Galloway said it is one thing to have the talent to go deep, but the Bucs have to connect.
"You can see these first days of camp we've gone deep a lot because we know we need to work on it," Galloway said.
NEW LINEMEN SHOW OFF: Guard Davin Joseph and tackle Jeremy Trueblood stood out Monday during the run period. This year, the Bucs have the luxury of not having to move players out of position to finish practice.
"(Joseph) and Trueblood on the right side have worked hard and made tremendous improvements," coach Jon Gruden said. "Once again, they're going against a great defensive team. They've had their moments where it hasn't been where we wanted, but they are getting better. They're working hard at it, and they are two big guys who are gaining confidence in what they're doing.
"Last year, we had such dramatic change every day," Gruden said. "Anthony Davis went from left tackle to right guard just to help us get through a practice. To have the second line run out there with some continuity as well as the first line with continuity, it allows us to evaluate better, coach better and see who's outperforming whom. You can easily take this right guard and put him with the twos and that right guard and put him with the ones for a series or period of plays and not disrupt everybody."
CROSS-TRAINING: Rookie receiver Maurice Stovall has worked on blocking techniques at the tight end position, but Gruden has no immediate plans to play him there.
Meanwhile, running back Earnest Graham has seen some time at fullback and is having a good camp.
"Nobody ever talks about Earnest other than a Gator fan," Gruden said. "He lines up over there as a receiver, he comes in at fullback and blocks linebackers, he carries the ball and makes yards. Helps on special teams. He's a good guy, man. Earnest is a guy, although he might not be that big in stature, he plays the game with real good leverage and as a surgical bomber he can go in there and help us."
DROPPING IN: The Bucs continued to drop passes in the morning workout. Among those struggling is Stovall.
"We have one guy who obviously has got to start catching the ball," Gruden said. "(David) Boston is impressing the hell out of me and Clayton is having a good camp. No. 2 (Simms) is just - I don't know what else he can do to complete more passes because he's just having a great camp.
"You know, Stovall and some of these guys have never caught the ball from a guy with this kind of arm. They've never caught the ball from a left-hander. I remember some veteran guys like Keyshawn (Johnson) and Keenan McCardell saying to me it's a lot different."
SPECIAL PRACTICE: The Bucs held a special teams-only practice as many veteran players got the afternoon off.
Among them was Michael Pittman, who stands to be the kickoff return man along with Torrie Cox and Graham.
Oregon rookie Justin Phinisee returned punts and has worked at returning kickoffs. He averaged 12 yards per punt return last season.
The bonus for the Bucs this season is the return of Pro Bowl punter Josh Bidwell and placekicker Matt Bryant.
"I think we're real excited about the past performance of our punter and our kicker," special teams coach Richard Bisaccia said. "I've also been through a season where the past performance didn't show up as the new performance."