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Bucs Mini-Camp Musings: Day One

Posted Jun 12, 2018

Key takeaways from the Bucs' first day of mandatory mini-camp.

1. The Bucs’ offense is focusing on red zone improvement.
There were multiple drills today that included red zone situations. At one point during 11-on-11, quarterback Jameis Winston went 3-for-3 on touchdowns to tight end O.J. Howard and wide receiver Mike Evans. The first came on a leaping grab in the back of the end zone by all 6-foot-6 of Howard as he was able to reach over the defender for the grab. Evans came up with two impressive catches of his own, the first being a quick shot over the middle to Evans at the goal line. The next came on a standard Mike-Evans-in-the-corner-of-the-end-zone catch (though there was nothing ‘standard’ about it). Given the team’s red zone struggles last season, it’s no surprise it would be a focus during mini-camp with all the pieces in place, even if it is ‘shorts football.’

2. Cole Gardner is the ‘biggest’ surprise on the offensive line.
Injuries to the right side of the line with tackle Demar Dotson and guard J.R. Sweezy not practicing during mini-camp have opened up some opportunities for tackle Caleb Benenoch and guard Leonard Wester to get more reps in the interim. Both saw playing time last season, with Benenoch starting a few games late in the year. However, what was more surprising to see was second-year player Cole Gardner step up at the left tackle position as Donovan Smith was in and out during the first day of mini-camp. Some (but probably not many) may remember Gardner when he was picked up as an undrafted free agent in 2017 before he was placed on injured reserve during training camp. Not only is he back, but he is surprising people, including his head coach.

“Caleb [Benenoch] played a lot of football last year, so we look at Caleb as a starting talent whether he ends up in the starting spot or not,” Koetter said. “He has started games for us before. So really the guy you’re talking about the most there with the least experience is Leonard Wester. He’s played a little bit. These reps that he’s gotten have been invaluable. If Dot’s back and ready to roll in the fall, which I think he will be, then Leonard’s reps will be cut back. So, he should be taking advantage of this. Cole Gardner on the other side, since Donovan [Smith] has been in and out a little bit this spring, that guy is one of the biggest surprises probably of the offseason.”

3. Chris Godwin is as consistent as ever.
We’ve spent a lot of time collectively talking about wide receiver Chris Godwin and the strides he’s made this offseason and during OTAs. It’s for good reason and it’s worth emphasizing again how consistent the young ball-catcher is. Godwin lived up to that praise during the first day of mini-camp, at which there were spectators present. The second-year player even garnered applause on a couple of his catches, including a spectacular grab in the back of the end zone that earned Play of the Day honors. Coach Koetter was quick to reiterate that while Godwin makes those plays, he’s reliable as well.

“I know you guys couldn’t’ be out here every single day but if you were out here every day, you would have noticed Chris as one of the guys that every day made some kind of highlight play, on top of being very consistent.” Koetter said.

4. Winston is going downfield a lot more.
Another point of emphasis for the offense this offseason has been the deep ball. Quarterback Jameis Winston understands it’s an area he personally needs to improve, and with more time with his receiver arsenal, it’s starting to click. All it takes is more reps and getting back to basics.

“After you take a good look at what I need to improve on the most, deep ball comes up every single year,” Winston said. “So, I’m definitely focusing on that and getting with my guys to see how we can make that possible. You rep [the deep balls] with the guys that you’re going to throw it to and making it happen out there. It’s kind of similar to back yard football; throw it out there and let them go get it.”

5. Running back Ronald Jones is one of the standout rookies this offseason.
Obviously, his sheer size and athleticism makes first-round pick Vita Vea stand out among his rookie teammates. But another newbie that has continued to impress both his teammates and his coaches is Ronald Jones II, the second-round pick out of USC’s backfield. Scouting staff and coaches alike had done their homework on ‘Rojo,’ with Coach Koetter touting him as one of the best running backs in this year’s draft (Penn State RB Saquon Barkley included). What comes next is how Jones adjusts to the NFL game. He’s been taking reps with the first team and his quick learning hasn’t gone unnoticed by his quarterback.

“Just his explosiveness and he’s starting to get it,” Jameis Winston said of Jones. “It’s good to see when a young guy is starting to get it. It’s because they care. When guys are out there and make mistakes and are just laughing, you have to pull those guys to the side. But he cares. That’s very important to me.”

In that same vein, Coach Koetter has noticed how the rookie is working and likes his attitude, along with his talent.

“He does take it serious and Ronald is very talented,” Koetter said. “We like what he’s doing. He’s got plenty to work on and right now, we have time to do it.”

Play of the Day: Chris Godwin came across the back of the end zone and made a crazy leaping grab to haul it in for the touchdown as the Bucs were in a red zone drill situation. Godwin finished it off with an alley-oop to fellow receiver Mike Evans who dunked it over the goal posts.