- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 31, 2009

TAMPA, FLA. (AP) - With hip-hop music blaring in the background, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took the field for the first time under Raheem Morris, who had just as much pep in his step as the players.

“I need a little bounce,” the NFL’s youngest head coach said Tuesday after leading the squad through two of five workouts planned during a voluntary three-day minicamp to lay the groundwork for next season.

The 32-year-old Morris replaced Jon Gruden, who was fired in January after the Bucs dropped their final four games to miss the playoffs following a 9-3 start. Morris has presided over an extensive overhaul of a roster now featuring just four players who are older than the coach himself.

His selection of music was more about helping set a tone for his regime than promoting a fresh attitude.

“I hate to use the word change, because Gru was a good coach. It’s not like I’m trying to change everything coach Gruden did. I’m just trying to make it Raheem Morris,” said Morris, who was part of the former coach’s staff for six seasons.

“The way I know how to do that is with hip-hop music. Coach Gruden played a little bit of hip-hop. He played his own type of music. He played a little bit of everything. Just trying to present your best self. So I’ll go out there every day and treat it as a different environment. That’s all.”

Players like what they’ve seen _ and heard.

“He just wants you to go out there and compete and have fun. That’s what he’s pushing. That’s what everybody’s buying into,” safety-turned-linebacker Jermaine Phillips said.

In the scheme new defensive coordinator Jim Bates is installing to replace the Tampa 2 the Bucs ran for more than a decade, Morris is experimenting with using Phillips in the weakside linebacker position that opened when 11-time Pro Bowl selection Derrick Brooks was released.

Meanwhile, a couple of inexperienced quarterbacks, Luke McCown and Josh Johnson, are trying to take advantage of the absence of veteran Brian Griese to get a head start on learning the playbook of offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski.

McCown is a sixth-year pro who threw one pass last season. Johnson was a fifth-round draft choice in 2008.

Griese, who stayed away because his wife is expecting a baby soon, backed up Jeff Garcia last season.

“I don’t know if we’ve ever had just two quarterbacks at any camp since I’ve been here. But it’s what we’ve asked for, just an opportunity, just a chance to prove ourselves,” said McCown, who’s made seven career starts for the Bucs and Cleveland Browns.

“Coach Gruden’s playbook was 6 inches thick. This one’s 3 inches thick. There’s still a lot to learn, to get good at. I feel like I had mastered Gruden’s offense, so there’s a lot I need to forget in learning a new system.”

Since taking over for Gruden, Morris has talked about making the Bucs tougher and more physical. The team isn’t in pads for minicamp, though, so this week is more about timing and precision.

And, of course, learning what Morris expects.

The coach said he spoke “truthful, to the heart, from the heart, right to their heart,” and even challenged some players before taking the field.

“Sometimes you have to hit with straightforward shots. And I hit a couple of people with some straightforward shots,” Morris said.

“We’re a family. … Most people like to do that in a one-on-one setting. I like to do it in a 66-man setting, or a 80-man setting or a 53-man setting, whatever the case may be. … It’s challenging a guy, it’s inspiring a guy, it’s leading a guy, whatever you want to talk about. You give them that message to end your meeting, and we went out and had fun.”

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