TAMPA — After months of waiting, the Bucs gathered in the end zone for their first practice Friday afternoon at One Buc Place, then broke the team huddle to the cheers of fans in the stands.
And 10 minutes later, alarms sounded for nearby lightning, sending the team inside for an hour and 50 minutes. The team returned, again to fans' delight, only to be sent in 40 minutes later by more lightning, ending the first day early.
Late afternoon rains, a staple of summer in Florida, aren't going to change Lovie Smith's plans, which call for 4:30 starts for seven of the 14 remaining practices.
"That's not an ideal first day for us," said Smith, who is preparing his team for a 4:25 p.m. kickoff in the season opener Sept. 8 against Carolina in Tampa. "When we play Carolina, we could get a rain delay. You have to be able to go in and then come back out."
Smith likes having an early walkthrough practice, sharp minds for team meetings, then a practice under similar conditions to the Bucs' first two games. And the Bucs won't be in pads for full-contact drills until Sunday, so Smith isn't fretting about missing part of a noncontact practice.
Despite the predictability of Friday's weather, he's not changing his routine, starting with today's 4:30 p.m. practice, also open to the public.
"You don't change what you've been doing based on one day. … That's why getting too upset right now, that's just not going to happen," he said, "I spend a lot of my time when you're not in pads telling the guys to 'pull back, stop, not too much contact.' I'm kind of the contact cop out there."
MAKING PLAYS: WR Lavelle Hawkins made an impressive sideline catch in pass drills, and rookie Robert Herron drew cheers from the crowd with a catch across the middle. LB Dane Fletcher, a free agent signing from the Patriots, saw action at middle linebacker, where he'll work to challenge starter Mason Foster.
With veteran DB D.J. Moore's release this week, Smith said he likes third-year pro Leonard Johnson at the nickel defensive back, but also made the move with confidence in the depth he's seen in players like Danny Gorrer and Quinton Pointer.
THIS AND THAT: Ronald Talley, on the nonfootball injury list with a hamstring injury, has played at defensive end but was watching with the defensive tackles. He has the size (6 feet 3, 282 pounds) to play inside. … Smith was pleased with fans staying through the first weather delay: "The fans have been great. Eventually they'll get the chance to see their team practice for a full (session)."
Contact Greg Auman at [email protected]tampabay.com and at (813) 226-3346. Follow @gregauman.