TAMPA — Jon Gruden described his return to One Buc Place on Saturday as "emotional."
For the first time since his firing nearly three years ago, Gruden visited the headquarters of the franchise he coached for seven seasons, this time as the star of ESPN's Monday Night Football broadcast crew.
Gruden watched practice and interviewed Bucs coach Raheem Morris, several members of his coaching staff and seven players, including QB Josh Freeman, DT Gerald McCoy, RB LeGarrette Blount and CB Ronde Barber.
Gruden was part of the broadcast team that called the Outback Bowl between Florida and Penn State at Raymond James Stadium on Jan. 1, but he said Saturday's visit was different.
"It's great. I've got a lot of friends here," he said. "I love (Morris). I love (offensive coordinator) Greg Olson. I've known (offensive line coach) Pat Morris a long time. (Quarterbacks coach) Alex Van Pelt I coached at Pitt. I'm rooting for the Bucs, man. Selfishly. I love (OT) Donald Penn and Ronde Barber.
"First time in the building. I was fired up, to be honest with you, man. You get a little emotional."
Morris was defensive backs coach under Gruden and was promoted to defensive coordinator in waiting on Christmas Eve 2008. A month later, Gruden was fired after seven seasons, three playoff appearances and a Super Bowl XXXVII title.
Morris said he was excited to see his former boss.
"Everybody wants to paint how our relationship should be," Morris said. "But like I tell all my guys, I couldn't have worked for a better guy, treated me nice, treated me good. He helped me develop my career. …
"We just shot the bull on the field. He just talked about what the defense looked like and he said, 'If you'd been playing that when I was here, I might still be here.' I said, 'I don't think it's because of the defense, it's because of that big guy over there, No. 5 (Freeman).' "
BIGGER ROLE FOR JONES: Sean Jones says his comfort level in the defense has grown substantially in his second season in Tampa Bay.
That's a very good thing, because the Bucs are about to ask a lot more of their starting strong safety.
Morris said starting FS Cody Grimm's season-ending knee injury will result in Jones often changing roles and playing free safety in certain scenarios. Grimm was typically the eighth defender near the line in running situations. But backups Corey Lynch and Larry Asante are less suited to that role, meaning Jones will be called upon to fulfill it when needed.
"You'll see him move around a little bit," Morris said. "You'd like to see him as the guy down in the box making some plays. He'll do some different things."
Jones, 29, has drawn raves from coaches. He says remaining in the system for a second year after changing teams twice in two years has been a boost.
"This is really the first time in my career I can play the same defense two years in a row," he said. "I'm definitely learning news stuff, different nuances each and every day, and it's helping me out a lot. I can just continue to get better and better."
DIFFERENT PLAN: Though the Bucs had CB Aqib Talib shadow Atlanta's Julio Jones nearly the whole game last week, they won't assign him exclusively to Colts WR Reggie Wayne on Monday. Morris emphasized that Pierre Garcon is just as much of a threat: "If you look at their targets per game, it's really equal. So, you have to be able to stand up and be ready to play football against those really good wideouts."
INJURIES: LB Quincy Black (ankle) and QB Josh Johnson (ankle) returned to practice. TE Kellen Winslow (knee) did not practice for the fourth straight day but will play Monday night.