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Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris wants his team showing more intensity in practice

The game plans and position battles will come much later. For NFL coaches, this time of year is all about learning: your personnel, your strengths, your weaknesses.

Good coaches make good decisions based on what they learn from offseason observations.

It's questionable whether Bucs then-rookie coach Raheem Morris bothered to do this last year given the train wreck that ensued. But give him credit for seizing the opportunity of the offseason this time around.

The Bucs are one of the NFL's youngest teams, and their 33-year-old coach is learning that you have to work particularly hard to set a tone when the roster is so inexperienced.

That process starts now. During the first three days of organized team activities last week, Morris emphasized practice habits, pointing to a lack of intensity in practices dating to last season.

To make sure his assessment was accurate, Morris went to the tape. He cued up clips of some of the Bucs' recent successful seasons. Not game-day tapes, but practice film. The difference was clear.

"You've got to evaluate yourself," Morris said. "I know you think it's a cliche and I just say it and then I go upstairs and take a nap on my couch. But you watch tape of how you practiced when you were good in '07 and in '05. I went back and watched some '02 clips and some old (Warren) Sapp clips and saw how he practiced and how he worked.

"You want to give your guys examples of what it should look like. Then you go and you find the worst thing you can possibly find of these guys and you put it all together and it's a clear, evident message of … how you become the best. We practice pretty good. But in order to get better, we have to practice better. We want to re-establish our practice habits."

The Allen Iversons among us might ask, What's the big deal? "We're talking about practice?"

But with only 16 games, simulating real situations in practices is essential. That includes having a game-day disposition every day.

For the Bucs, Morris wants the bar set high. And as the defensive coordinator, Morris, for example, is stressing to his defenders that nothing less than scoring or getting the ball back is considered acceptable. And when he saw a couple of defensive backs celebrating a relatively minor victory in practice last week, he made it a teaching moment.

"They have to sort of develop a standard," Morris said. "I kind of gave them some (ribbing) on defense. We celebrated knocked-down passes. When did that start? Why are we doing that? That's a missed opportunity. We want to pick it off.

Ronde Barber didn't become a great player here in Tampa by knocking down passes. He picked them off and he scored and he became known for that. … That's what you want to be known for."

MORE WARD?: You'd be hard-pressed to find someone who wasn't happy for RB Cadillac Williams, who led the Bucs in rushing last season coming off a second patellar tendon tear — an injury that is considered career-threatening after just one.

But the Bucs' decision to force-feed Williams meant a reduced role for Derrick Ward, and it's fair to ask whether the Bucs could have found a better way to distribute carries between their two top backs.

It's not as if Williams was far and away more productive; he averaged 3.9 yards per carry while Ward averaged 3.6 but had nearly half as many carries. Coaches have spent some of this offseason looking in the mirror on this subject, and Ward could have an expanded role in 2010 after averaging 8.1 carries last season.

"You want to run the ball more, period," Morris said. "You always want to establish the run, and toward the end of the year we were able to do that a little bit more. … Of course, you feel like you should give it to him even more. If I can get him the ball more this season, that's usually going to result in more wins and more happy faces around here."

If Ward gets more opportunities and does nothing with them, that falls solely on him. For now, he and the team could stand to do a better job.

Stephen F. Holder can be reached at sholder@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris wants his team showing more intensity in practice 05/22/10 [Last modified: Sunday, May 23, 2010 1:17pm]

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