Since “Old School” was unable to attend the first couple days of camp and enlighten everyone with his Twitter tweets and Periscope videos, I decided to take notes on some of the things that I noticed during Friday and Saturday’s practices. So for all of our outta town readers or just anyone unable to make it out for those two days, here is the “skinny”.
Winston’s Knee Brace
I’ve seen so many people questioning, commenting and panicking over Jameis Winston wearing a new knee brace, so I’ll address that first. It’s literally nothing. You can all take a deep breath and relax now. He was simply trying it out to see how he liked it. It’s the same type of precautionary brace that Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and numerous others wear to protect their front knee. He was supposed to wear it from Day 1, but they sent the wrong size so he had to wait until Day 2 to try it out. It was purely coincidence that it was the day after defensive tackle Gerald McCoy rolled up on Winston’s leg during 11 on 11 drills. Which by the way, Gerald joked that he’d be “earning a trip to the principal’s office for that one” meaning he got too close to Jameis with his pass rush in practice.
Marpet’s Transition to Center
Head coach Dirk Koetter says that right guard turned center Ali Marpet is looking good so far and having no issues with his new position. The only thing that I noticed was a couple of miscues during shotgun snaps in the rain. Other than that, it looks as though this was a smart move by the Bucs.
Bucs Third Round Pick
Wide receiver Chris Godwin has looked as good as advertised so far in camp, impressing fans, coaches and his teammates. I knew the kid was talented. What I didn’t know and noticed relatively quickly in camp, was his size. He’s listed at 6’1″/205lbs, but I’m not buying it. He looks more like 6’2″ or even 6’3″ and closer to 215 or 220lbs to me. So far, he’s displayed nice hands, precise route running, great athleticism and good speed for his size. He is going to end up being a steal in that third round!
This just in…DeSean Jackson is fast. Like really fast. Like even at “first day of practice half speed” he still looks fast. I knew he was speedy. I mean he led the league last year in plays of 20+ yards. The Bucs haven’t had speed like this at the wide receiver position since Joey Galloway was here. I knew his addition was going to bring a whole new dimension to this offense, but I can’t express to you guys how fast he is in person.
The Return of 2015 Doug Martin?
General Manager Jason Licht says that running back Doug Martin “looks like the 2015 version of himself” so far this offseason. He says he’s coming into this season with a chip on his shoulder and thinking that he owes the fans and the team after what happened last year. He looks quick. He looks strong. He looks lean. In fact, he says that he’s down to 6% body fat going into this season. He looks excited and focused, but still in good spirits despite still having to serve the final 3 games of his 4-game suspension from last season. Licht also said that the starting RB spot was not “guaranteed” to Martin upon his return in Week 4, which people are twisting and turning into all kinds of different scenarios on social media. It simply means that if Jacquizz Rodgers has 375 yards in the first three weeks of the season that the Bucs will likely continue “feeding his hot hand” until he cools off. Martin will have to earn his starting role back, but if the run game struggles through those few weeks then I think we’ll see the “Dougernaut” starting against the Giants.
This is one of the more confusing positions to figure out this offseason. First, the Bucs signed third year, third string QB Ryan Griffin to a $1.8 million extension claiming that he “has what it takes to be their backup QB”. Then the next thing we knew, they were signing free agent QB Ryan Fitzpatrick which led to the assumption that he would be their new backup to Winston. Now for the first couple of days in camp, it’s not Fitz taking snaps with the second team offense, it’s Griffin! I’m not sure how to read it or if there’s even anything to read into, but that’s what’s going on.
Obviously, wide receivers Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Adam Humphries and Chris Godwin are getting plenty of snaps. But I also noticed Freddie Martino getting some reps with the first team offense which I thought was interesting. Again, not sure if it means anything but just something that I noticed. As I’ve been saying, there’s going to be a really good battle for the last couple of receiver spots. Almost all of the “bubble guys” made some nice plays during the first two days of camp. Lots of athletic and acrobatic catches so far by Donteea Dye, Derel Walker, BoBo Wilson and Freddie Martino which will make for a fun competition to watch in camp.
First round pick tight end O.J. Howard is a physical specimen. Like Jackson’s speed, I knew Howard had great size at 6’6″/250lbs, but he really is impressive to see up close and personal.
Undrafted free agent tight end Antony Auclair could end up being a diamond in the rough. He was a “high priority” free agent after the draft and the Bucs were ecstatic to sign him. I see why now. He’s a big boy at 6’6″/ 260lbs but he’s got good speed for his size with great hands and is a tenacious blocker. He’s definitely my dark horse pick to make the team, possibly even supplanting veteran tight end Luke Stocker from his roster spot.
Fifth round pick running back Jeremy McNichols is very intriguing to me. He’s listed at 5’9″/ 214lbs, but he looks and plays bigger. He’s physical and fast with great hands and should really push fourth year running back Charles Sims for that third down back role in this offense.
Free agent defensive tackle Chris Baker is a huge human being. He’s listed on the Bucs website as 6’2″/ 320lbs, but I’m calling bullshit. With the rotation the Bucs have in the middle of that d-line, teams will have a really tough time running the ball on this defense.
Speaking of the size on the d-line, defensive tackles Sealver Siliga and seventh round pick Stevie Tu’ikolovatu are both “biggins”. Siliga is listed at 6’2″/ 345lbs and looks every bit of it. Stevie T. is listed at 6’2″/ 320lbs, which I’m not buying either. They’re both stupidly strong and both defy the laws of physics with how fast they get those big bodies going. I’m not sure the Bucs will be able to keep both of them, although I hope they do. If they really want to thrill the fans, they should have these two guys sumo wrestle for that final spot on the team on the last day of camp.
I noticed that second year linebacker Devante Bond was taking snaps as the strongside LB with the first team defense. It’s understandable as third round pick linebacker Kendell Beckwith was sidelined all through OTA’s and mini camp with an injury. However, head coach Dirk Koetter said on Monday that the rookie might be the most improved player over the first four days of camp thus far. This is going to be a good position battle to watch and I think the rookie will end up winning it in the end.
I wrote in previous articles that there would be a significant battle for the nickel corner position. Last year, cornerbacks Jude Adjei-Barimah and Javien Elliott were fighting for that spot. Now, the Bucs have added veteran Robert McClain to the mix. Elliott was taking a lot of snaps with the first team defense in the first two days, but I also saw Bobby Mac with a pick six on Day 1 so this will be a fun position to keep an eye on throughout camp.
Last year’s starting safeties Chris Conte and Keith Tandy have been taking the first team snaps. Free agent signee J.J. Wilcox has had a couple of picks in camp already. And Justin Evans seems to still be trying to find his way. This is a good safety group, folks.
It seems as though defensive coordinator Mike Smith is putting more emphasis on creating turnovers in this camp. I think now that most of the guys have this scheme down and know their jobs, they can start concentrating on some of the intricate points of this defense like punching out balls and causing fumbles, batting passes up or down to cause interceptions and gambling more on blitzes and in passing lanes. I’ve been saying for a while now that this could be a record setting year for not just the offense, but the defense as well. It should be exciting.
Not So Special Teams
The first two days of camp didn’t concentrate much on special teams. I don’t even recall seeing the kickers kicking at all, but that battle seems to be a dead lock at the moment.
Wide receiver Adam Humphries was fielding most of the punts with the Jugs machine, which wasn’t much. Not sure how much to read into that either.
It’s way too early into training camp to talk about who’s “on the bubble” or who’s “safe” in their position. Every year there are some surprise keeps and cuts and this year will probably me even more competitive. The NFL decided this year that there will be only one major cut down for all teams in training camp from 90 to 53 men. No more 90 to 75, then 75 to 53 men. It’s all going to be done in one clean sweep. It should make those final two preseason games even more interesting and especially more important to those guys that are fighting for a spot on the final roster. Until then, as always…GO BUCS!!!