Here we are, two preseason games down and two to go. The open-to-public days of training camp are over, which means so are my eye witness point of views as to what’s going on within One Buc. So I wanted to list my observations of certain players and positions at this midway point of the preseason. Who needs to step their game up? Who has stepped their game up? Who’s been disappointing? Who’s been a nice surprise? Which rookies have impressed? Which rookies have not? Just some things that I’ve seen or heard over the course of this camp and through the first two dress rehearsals that could have a big influence on the final 53-man roster. So, let’s kick things off with this 2018 rookie class, the drafted and undrafted members.
DRAFTED ROOKIES WHO HAVE STOOD OUT
Of the eight 2018 draft picks, half of them have shined so far and half have not. This section is for the ones who have stood out. We’ll start with the two cornerbacks selected in the second round. MJ Stewart has been impressive in both of his games. Carlton Davis had a very solid game in Miami, but didn’t play against the Titans due to injury. Both youngsters have also had really strong practices in camp and have consistently been making plays.
Safety Jordan Whitehead, the Bucs fourth round selection, has also shined throughout this camp making plays in practice and with a strong showing in Miami. He too sat out the game against the Titans with an injury.
Last but not least, WR Justin Watson may have slid his name into that 5th wide receiver slot after his performance in Tennessee. He had a really nice toe tapping touchdown grab in the second quarter on a perfectly thrown pass from Jameis Winston. He had gotten off to a slow start in camp with a hamstring injury, but has really come along over the last couple of weeks. He may be putting the Bucs into a situation where they have to keep him on the 53-man roster rather than expose him to the waiver wire while being sent to the practice squad.
Third round pick guard Alex Cappa has also had a good camp and has even been getting some time with the first group at right guard splitting snaps with Caleb Benenoch. He might be the biggest surprise of this rookie group in the way he’s been able to transition from playing left tackle in Division-2 college football to an NFL right guard, but so far he’s more than held his own.
DRAFTED ROOKIES WHO NEED TO STEP UP
Unfortunately, the Bucs first round pick DT Vita Vea got injured in the first few days of camp and we haven’t seen him in any sort of real action yet. He doesn’t need to “step up” as much as he just needs to get on the field. I’d love to see what this young man can do at full speed with pads on, but it wouldn’t surprise me if we don’t see him play at all in this preseason. Hopefully, he’s ready to go for Week 1 in New Orleans.
One guy that does need to step it up is second round pick RB Ronald Jones. He’s had a, let’s call it less than stellar camp this far. There have been typical rookie running back issues like trouble with pass protection and blitz pickups. But he’s also had a few fumbles in practice and a bunch of dropped passes. The most alarming problem is that he’s rushed 12 times for only 11 yards in these first two games. That’s only a .9 yards per attempt average, which is the worst of ALL the Bucs running backs. In comparison, Peyton Barber has rushed 10 times for 53 yards and a 5.3 yards per attempt average. If I was Dirk Koetter, I would run Jones into the ground against the Lions on Friday. I would give him as many touches as he needs to get things going and become the running back that they expected when they selected him in the draft.
The last draft pick that I’ll talk about was also the Bucs last pick of the draft. LB Jack Cichy also started training camp off with an injury and has had to play catch up. Although he hasn’t had a bad camp, he hasn’t done much to stand out in one of the team’s deepest position groups. He’s still battling to make this team, but it’s looking more and more like he may be a prospect for the practice squad.
UNDRAFTED ROOKIES WHO HAVE STOOD OUT
There are a few guys from this group that have impressed Dirk Koetter and the coaching staff so far and a couple of them have flashed in the first two games. Wide receivers Sergio Bailey and Ervin Phillips have both raised some eyebrows despite competing in one of the deepest, if not the deepest position group on the team. TE Tanner Hudson has shown flashes in practice as of late. Koetter has also given some praise to offensive lineman Cole Boozer for his play so far. Now all four of these guys are still longshots to make the team, but they’ve all thrown their hat into the ring to be strongly considered for the Bucs practice squad.
UNDRAFTED ROOKIES WHO NEED TO STEP UP
Maybe the most disappointing undrafted free agent in camp has been safety Godwin Igwebuike. He was highly sought after by several teams following the draft. The Bucs gave him a huge signing bonus of $20,000 and a guaranteed base salary of $80,000 for this season in order to get him here. He was a player that I was somewhat interested in and he’s been nonexistent in camp so far. There’s a chance that he could end up on the practice squad since the Bucs seem to have high interests in him, but he really needs to show up in these last two preseason games.
Another undrafted player that I’d like to see more from is RB Shaun Wilson. He was injured for the Dolphins game and he saw a little action in the second half against the Titans, but I want to see what he can do with a few more touches. He’s another guy that I think could be a really good prospect for the practice squad if he doesn’t sneak in to the 53-man roster this season .
OTHER PLAYERS WHO HAVE STOOD OUT
There have been quite a few players that have stood out to me so far in this preseason. WR Mike Evans looks like he’s poised for a great year. TE OJ Howard has looked impressive and appears as if he’s ready to be an elite tight end.
All three of the quarterbacks have looked good so far. Combined they’ve thrown for over 700 yards, 4 touchdowns and zero interceptions while completing about 70% of their passes. So far, Jameis Winston is 24 of 31 for 328 yards and 2 touchdowns. He’s completing 77.4% of his passes and averaging 10.6 yards per completion with a 132.2 QB rating and zero turnovers. Ryan Griffin is just behind him at 26 of 37 for 267 yards and 2 touchdowns. He’s completing 70.3% of his passes and averaging 7.2 yards per completion with a 108.7 QB rating.
RB Peyton Barber has taken full control of the starting running back job. There may have been some speculation early on in camp that this might be more of a “back-by-committee” with him and Jones, but at this point Barber is clearly the best option averaging more than 5 yards per carry.
I’ve also been pleased with what I’ve seen from new center Ryan Jensen. Besides possessing some of the most amazing under-the-helmet hair I’ve ever seen, he has brought an attitude to this offensive line that’s been missing for a long time. I’ve seen him in shoving matches during both preseason games and I believe that he even got into it with Kwon Alexander in practice last week as well. The more this offensive line plays together, the more fun they should be to watch and Jensen will play a huge part in it.
Although I’ve been a little disappointed by the pass rush so far, DE Jason Pierre-Paul has been a bit of a pleasant surprise. He has been one of the more consistent run stoppers and tacklers in the first two games, but it hasn’t just been his play on the field. However, it’s not his talent that’s surprised me. I knew he was good. He’s really stepped into a leadership role for this team and his work ethic in practice is second to none which is refreshing from an elite player like him.
OTHER PLAYERS WHO NEED TO STEP UP
If you noticed, I didn’t mention Ryan Fitzpatrick when I was talking about the quarterbacks who have stood out so far. That’s because he belongs in this group unfortunately. With him being the presumed starter during Winston’s 3-game suspension, he really needs to step his game up to the level of the other two QB’s. He has the worst numbers of the three by far at 11 of 21 for 101 yards and no touchdowns. That’s only completing 52.4% of his passes at 4.8 yards per completion for a 65.8 QB rating. The numbers aren’t terrible… until you look at Winston’s and Griffin’s numbers. Hopefully he looks better in the third game where he’ll get more snaps, but I’d really like to see better production from the guy expected to be the starting QB for the first three weeks of the season.
Another guy that needs to “step up” is DL Will Gholston. He hasn’t had a particularly good camp for whatever reason. He signed a 5 yr/$27.5 million contract last year, in which $13.5 million of it is guaranteed including $6.5 million this season. I’m sure the Bucs don’t want to release him and basically piss away that money, so he really needs to perform better in these final two preseason games. His versatility should help him out though as he did get a lot of snaps inside against the Titans due to all the injuries at defensive tackle.
Next on the list is Julio Jones favorite cornerback Ryan Smith. Last year, he was the starting CB for most of the season and he got picked on quite often. He hasn’t had a particularly good camp and he didn’t exactly put out good tape during the first two games either. With the two new rookie additions, Smith has likely fallen from a starter to the fifth corner on the depth chart. If he doesn’t step it up in these next two games he may not make this team at all. I don’t dislike the kid, I just don’t like him as a starter. I like him as the fifth corner though and he’s a really good gunner on special teams so hopefully he gets his crap together and shows his worth by the end of preseason.
THINGS THAT NEED TO TIGHTEN UP
So this new look defensive line has played alright so far I guess. With the exception of a few plays here and there, they’ve had success stopping the run. However, I’ve been somewhat discouraged by the lack of pass rush from this group. There has been some pressure, but they only have 2.5 sacks in two games which is about the same pace as last season when they had a league worst 22 sacks. I realize that this is only preseason and we’re not actually seeing the “real” defense just yet, but I’m still a little concerned. Hopefully these guys get it going against Detroit and put these worries to rest.
Something else that’s caught my eye is the poor tackling and bad angles being taken by some of these players. Even Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander have been guilty at times. When NFL players are having issues with football fundamentals like this, it’s always alarming. I’m hoping that these guys just need some more live reps to get the juices flowing and the blood pumping and then they’ll be fine.
Another thing that’s bothered me is the safety group. Other than the rookie Jordan Whitehead, I haven’t heard or seen much of anyone else from that bunch. Justin Evans has been hit or miss and now he’s injured. Chris Conte hasn’t had an especially productive camp. And I had almost forgotten that Keith Tandy was even on the team because I haven’t heard his name at all. Again, I just hope that getting extra snaps this Friday will fix some of these problems and knock the rust off of these guys.
Well, there’s my take on what’s happened in training camp so far and what I’ve seen in these first two games. I’ll try and do another recap after the final preseason game and maybe give you a sneak peek at my final 53-man roster prediction if I can get it out before the team releases theirs.
Until then, as always…GO BUCS!!!