TAMPA — A Friday evening that started with P Mike Koenen playing catch with the fans in the stands at Raymond James Stadium ended with PK Patrick Murray hitting a 37-yard field goal to win a two-minute drill for the offense.
In between, the Buccaneers treated a night practice crowd of nearly 15,000 to a football fun fest that included quarterback and kicker competitions as well as a few morsels of what QB Mike Glennon called “real football.”
“It was a good practice,’’ Coach Lovie Smith said. “You want to get to the stadium more than anything, because it’s different than practicing at our facility.
“You want to see how guys do on their home field, and tonight I thought the guys made a lot of good plays. We were able to get another step out of the way in our preparation for actually playing here.”
The biggest step in that endeavor was taken by the offense, which finished off each of two two-minute drills by getting into position for what would have been game-winning field goals.
The offense also provided the two biggest highlights of the evening — a 17-yard halfback pass from Mike James to WR Vincent Jackson, and an 85-yard TD pass from Glennon to WR Chris Owusu.
“The coverage they gave us was exactly what we wanted,” Glennon said of his touchdown pass. “Chris did a great job of running away from whoever was covering and I just laid it out there for him.”
As impressive as those highlights were, Smith still walked away from the workout a little disappointed with his offense, which struggled to complete the center-quarterback exchange several times during 11-on-11 drills.
“That happens, but we’re not going to win a lot of games if it happens during the course of a game, so we’ll go back to the drawing board and correct it,” Smith said. “One time on the ground is too many times.”
The Bucs made the jump from last in the league in total defense in 2012 to 17th a year ago. They believe the changes they’ve made on that side of the ball will allow for another significant leap in the rankings this year.
That’s why defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier asked one of the Bucs’ newcomers, DT Clinton McDonald, to address the entire defense during a unit meeting in the offseason.
Because he spent the 2013 season playing for the eventual Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, and he might be the best candidate to explain how it takes more than talent to play championship-caliber football.
“It takes a hard-nosed tough team, a team imposing its will on the other team and camaraderie and brotherhood,” McDonald said. “And you get that from what you do out here in training camp, where you experience the struggle you have to go through.
“I also told them about my experience (getting my Super Bowl ring) and about visiting the White House and all that, and it was good because a lot of the guys, you can see, get really excited when you talk about it.”
Like the regular season, training camp is more of a marathon than a sprint. Making a good impression early on is still important, though, especially for young players.
In addition to WR Tommy Streeter and DL Da’Quan Bowers, who have earned Smith’s praise, LBs Brandon Magee and Jeremy Grable and S Bradley McDougald have made favorable first impressions.
“They’ve all had really nice camps so far,” general manager Jason Licht said of the trio. “And they’re Lovie’s kind of guys. They play fast, they’re athletic and they’re aggressive.”
Friday night marked the first time that Smith has led the Bucs onto Raymond James Stadium as their head coach. He did so to a raucous ovation from the crowd.
“That was great,” he said. “But that’s how they’ve been all along. It’s a fan base that deserves to see a good football team and we plan on giving them that.”