TAMPA — Bucs coach Raheem Morris has prided himself on having a "violent" and "physical" team.
Morris sent that message by having players in pads for the first training camp practice in 2009, as he has been a big believer in utilizing padded practices throughout the entire season to improve tackling and build toughness. But due to the new rules in the collective bargaining agreement, coaches are limited in terms of how many practices they can have their team in full — or even partial — pads, which will be a significant adjustment for the third-year head coach.
Today will be Tampa Bay's first practice in pads.
"You guys know I like pads, but at the same time, it's an acclimation process for your team," Morris said Sunday. "It doesn't matter. The rule is the rule. It's no different than how you feel about any rule that we collectively bargain. If you complain about them, that makes you a complainer. I'm just going to follow what I'm told to do and try to win football games.
At training camp last year, the team would sometimes go in full pads for the morning practice and partial (helmet, shoulder pads) in the afternoon session. Now, only one such practice is permitted each day, limited to three hours, with the second practice up to the four-hour limit a walkthrough.
That continues in the regular season, when there are 14 total padded practices, 11 held in the first 11 weeks, with the remaining three in the final six weeks.
"It's the old Coach (Tony) Dungy (saying): 'No excuses, no explanations,' " Morris said. "You go out there and try to get better in training camp, and when it's time for the bullets to come flying and we play Detroit, we go. You've got to be able to tackle. You have to have your fundamentals. … you've got to find different ways and different tools to teach those things."
BYE-bye, BARRETT: When Barrett Ruud agreed to a one-year contract with the Titans on Saturday night, it ended not only the linebacker's six-year run with the Bucs, but also a close relationship with Morris.
Ruud and Morris have reiterated how close they have grown, particularly because of the long hours they spent together game-planning. Morris has called Ruud the quarterback of his defense (Morris is the defensive coordinator).
It's a strange moment for Morris with Ruud moving on.
"Personally, for me and Barrett, I'm going to miss him to death," Morris said after the morning practice. "He was more than just my (middle) linebacker. He was a close friend. I wish him nothing but the best.
"I hope he goes on and proves us wrong and makes it happen."
FREEMAN ON FIRE: The afternoon practice featured a spirited red zone period highlighted by several pinpoint passes from Josh Freeman and several acrobatic catches from, among others, WRs Dez Briscoe and Mike Williams.
"Josh has no fear," WR Sammie Stroughter said. "If you get there, he's going to throw it there. That's something you love as a receiver. If I stay true to him, he'll stay true to me. It's just fun to play with him. Everybody and anybody can get the ball."
Offensive coordinator Greg Olson, ever the coach, said afterward that Freeman's impressive throws were largely negated by two interceptions in other drills.
MISCELLANY: The team released LS Aaron Feld and signed TE Jose Cruz. Cruz, who started 13 games last season for Syracuse (mostly as a blocking tight end), was likely added partly due to the injury to rookie TE Luke Stocker, who is week to week with a right hip injury.
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]