TAMPA — Perhaps five minutes into talking to reporters Friday after his first practice since September, QB Matt Grothe had to stop and collect himself, overcome with the emotion of a day in a Bucs uniform.
"It's just something I love to do. The last eight months have been a big struggle for me, but I'm trying to come back strong," said the former USF star, one of 49 tryout rookies hoping to earn a free agent contract during the three-day minicamp.
"It's live practice, and I'm back at it. It's something I've missed, something I'll never regret. … A lot of kids dream to be in these shoes, so I'm just going to not take it for granted and do what I can to try to stick around."
Grothe faces long odds — the Bucs have four quarterbacks on their roster, including undrafted rookie and former Mississippi starter Jevan Snead. But in a short time, especially coming back from a knee injury that ended his senior season after just three games, he has turned a few heads at One Buc Place.
"I was very impressed with Grothe," coach Raheem Morris said. "Listening to him get into a huddle, you understand why he was in control of his team, why he was a guy over there at South Florida that ran the show. Just talking to him, he has the lingo of a quarterback, the mind of a quarterback, the personality of a quarterback.
"He lacks some size (Grothe's listed at 6 feet). I like picking on him a little bit. I told him to stand up when he was behind center. I like messing with my guys. You're talking about a sharp guy, a guy who has a lot of wins under his belt, a lot of yards. … I can see why."
Grothe admitted having his share of jitters at his first practice, wearing the uniform of the team he grew up cheering for in Lakeland, in the shadow of the same stadium he played in for four years with the Bulls.
"It's extremely nerve-wracking," Grothe said. "It's the NFL. It's not college or high school. A couple of plays, I'd go up there and I'd have to step back for a sec, because I was shaking. … I'm just so anxious to get out here because it's been so long. I couldn't let myself calm down. I'm going to work on doing a better job of that (today). Everybody's flying around at 120 mph, and I was a little out of my own league. … It's a chance for me to come out here and prove I can play."
WILLIAMS FLASHES: Some Bucs staffers felt fourth-round pick Mike Williams was good enough to warrant a first-round grade were it not for his character questions.
So, maybe it should be no surprise that the receiver showed up big in minicamp practice, making two head-turning catches and turning in a solid performance. Williams was sure-handed on a day where there were plenty of drops, and his speed was evident as well.
"He flashed today," Morris said. "There's no doubt about that. Going across the middle and snatching the ball out of the air. He's big. He's fast. He did a nice job of finishing. He caught a couple of little short passes and took them all the way to the end zone."
Though his football prowess was unquestioned, the upstate New York native still has work to do in acclimating to the Florida heat. He missed the end of practice with a painful calf cramp.
"You have to train you body to be able to play in this heat," Morris said. "He'll learn and he'll get better."
LORIG OUT: Seventh-round pick Erik Lorig, a defensive end from Stanford, sat out with an injured pectoral muscle he suffered before the draft.