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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Schiano puts big focus on fundamentals

TAMPA - A whistle blew and, from his crouched position a few yards in front of the end zone, a Buccaneers assistant coach began tossing footballs in rapid succession at quarterback Josh Freeman. The tosses, intended to simulate shotgun snaps, went everywhere – over Freeman's head, off to one side, then the other. One even rolled on the ground to Freeman. That was the point behind the drill: Much of what happens during a football game is not scripted. Bucs coach Greg Schiano has taken strides during his first training camp to ensure his players are as prepared for those unexpected moments as for their opponent. Actually, he's taken several strides in that endeavor.
A typical Tampa Bay training camp workout this season includes from three to five periods lasting five to seven minutes each in which the team focuses entirely on fundamentals. Today, for example, while Freeman and the quarterbacks fielded errant snaps, the offensive line worked on falling and cradling a fumble, while special teamers worked not just on blocking punts, but on finding the football after it had been blocked. "This coaching staff, they treat you like it's your first time playing football, but I mean that in a good way, because I think it's a great thing we're doing,'' six-year veteran defensive tackle Amobi Okoye said. "Not only do they teach you these things, but they do it in situations that help you to understand why you're doing it. I like it, and we'll obviously have to wait and see what the end result is, but I think the impact is going to be great.'' The impact already has been great for some. Several players including defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said they learned things during the fundamental periods they'd never been taught before. Others, mostly veterans such as Okoye and defensive back Ronde Barber, aren't necessarily learning anything new, but are being reminded daily of the importance of fundamentals. "We've set a high standard here as far as football IQ is concerned, because it's not good enough just to be able to go out there and run fast and play hard,'' right guard Davin Joseph said. "So this camp is really about learning football, and it may seem very elementary, but learning the fundamentals of football is a very important part of playing at a high level, and that's what we're trying to achieve.'' Offseason and training camp workouts are the best places to focus on fundamentals, Schiano said, because a team's focus changes once the regular season starts and weekly game plans have to be installed. While the objective is to make sure players apply the fundamentals during games, it is during position group and individual practice periods that the work on fundamentals takes place. Recently, quarterbacks practiced stepping up into the pocket while being bumped and pushed by a group of coaching assistants simulating the actions of a would-be defender. As defensive linemen practiced their tackling technique, wide receivers practiced making sudden cuts during their pass routes to avoid defenders and the secondary practiced stripping the ball carrier. "Coach Schiano is a very detailed head football coach and, for him, little things lead to big things,'' Bucs general manager Mark Dominik said. "He constantly stresses the little things you need to do to become a better football team and you see that in these different circuits here.'' Many veteran players said the focus on fundamentals here is sharper than in other camps they attended. Even some rookies are doing more fundamental work here than before. "At the end of the day in college, we just went out and played football,'' said linebacker Lavonte David, a second-round draft pick out of Nebraska. "But here, you've got to know what you're doing, so there's a lot more (fundamental work).'' Not every rookie is getting a heavier dose of fundamental work. Some, such as running back Doug Martin, a first-round draft pick out of Boise State, said this camp mirrors they're previous experiences. "Back at Boise State we were very detail-oriented and so, coming here, it's been a smooth transition for me,'' Martin said. "The difference here is, if you don't do it you get fined.''

rcummings@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7979

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