TAMPA, Fla. — Greg Schiano ended his first mandatory minicamp as head coach of the Tampa Bay Bucs on Thursday morning with a little surprise — and it was as much a shock to offensive tackle Donald Penn as anyone.
Barely an hour had elapsed into the third and final practice session when Schiano called his team together and informed them of the high-stakes play about to take place: If the burly 6-5, 305-pound lineman with a penchant for talking up his athletic ability could catch a punt fired from a jugs-gun, the workout would end on the spot.
“He could’ve given me a little warning,” Penn quipped later. “I could’ve been talking to Preston Parker or Sammie Stroughter and gotten a little pointer. Everybody was all excited, and I was like, ‘Calm down, calm down, I got it.’ ”
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And he did.
Penn successfully fielded the punt hurtling toward him from midfield and his grateful teammates erupted in grateful cheers — the final official play before the Bucs reconvene July 28 for the start of training camp.
Schiano put Penn on the spot because he’d been getting an earful from him about his versatile athletic skills. Now he’s a believer.
“The rumors, they abound,” he said with a smile following the abbreviated workout. “He proved himself today under pressure. He stepped up.”
In essence, that was how Schiano felt about his entire team at the culmination of offseason training and the minicamp that capped it off. In terms of effort and enthusiasm, he expressed satisfaction that everyone stepped up.
“They worked extremely hard and really, that’s all you can ask,” he said. “They had a great attitude. They worked hard. I’m sure there was the feeling-out process — ‘What does he expect? What do they expect?’ But I thought as time went on, that became better and better and became a non-issue. It was fun to give them a little shortened day today and let them get started (on a break) with another six weeks to training camp.”
Schiano said he didn’t get everything accomplished that he’d hoped. “Never, especially as a new coach.” But all things considered, he was pleased — especially with the intensity his players displayed in workouts. The only real setback was the torn Achilles sustained by standout second-year defensive end Da’Quan Bowers early last month. Bowers might be able to return late in the season if all goes well, but in the meantime, veteran Michael Bennett will have to pick up the slack.
“Our intensity was more about speed and hustle,” he said. “I think they were very smart about the way they practiced. We already talked about the one injury that really hits the defense with Da’Quan. But other than that, we maintained relative health, which is critical (for the players) to learn the system.”
Schiano touched on a handful of other topics as well:
On the question of players buying into a new system
“I think it was everybody at different levels — some guys (were) fully in from Day 1; other guys (were) feeling it out and seeing how they fit in. That’ll continue. That’s with any team, but it’s magnified with a new coach.”
On cornerback Aqib Talib and his impending felony weapons trial two weeks from now in Texas
“Anytime you have a guy with an off-the-field situation that could affect his on-the-field situation, you’re concerned,” he said. “The thing that I can tell you since I arrived here January 26 is he’s been awesome. He’s worked. He’s been here every day. And I hope that it’s left behind him and there isn’t anything and that we can move forward. Again, I can only judge people since I’ve been involved. I can’t stick my head in the sand, but he’s been extremely focused — and (been) here, doing everything we’ve asked. I’m pleased with that, and I hope that it can kind of sort itself out — and we can get back to life and a normal situation.”
• On the issue of tailback LeGarrette Blount’s pass-catching ability, something that has limited his use as a third-down back in the past. “I thought he did a pretty good job,” he said. “Just watching what I saw here and on tape, does he have good hands? His hands are fine. So I don’t know how that will translate into our game-plan and all that, but he can catch the football and that’s a plus.”
On free-agent wide receiver Vincent Jackson and whether he’s been impressed by what the former San Diego Charger Pro Bowler has displayed so far
“I really have,” he said. “Work ethic. Study habits. Attitude. Effort on the field — all those things (that) you would expect from a true professional. So that helped a lot, especially when you have a young group like we do.”
On whether he’s settled on his three starting linebackers yet or whether it will take a training-camp battle to figure that out
“I think it’s going to be a battle,” he said. “There are too many good players there that all want to be the starter.”
On former Rutgers University and Patriots wide receiver Tiquan Underwood and what he likes about him
“No. 1, I know him as a person,” he said. “He has the core values of what we’re looking for. No. 2, he can run. There’s different kinds of speed, but he can do it and I know he’ll work hard. Will he make the team? I don’t know. That’s going to be up to him. But he’s certainly done a good job and dove right in for us. It’s fun to see a guy leave as a senior and have the experience in professional football. He’s become a pro, and that’s nice to see.”
And, finally, on whether Schiano will take a little time off before the start of his first NFL training camp
“I will,” he said. “I still have some stuff to finish up here. But before things start, you have to (take a break) or one year turns into the next. So, we’ll get away a little bit.”
But you can bet he’ll be counting the days to late July.