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Camp Notes: Take What They Give You

Posted Jul 31, 2017

Dirk Koetter wants Jameis Winston and the Bucs' offense to get better at recognizing and taking advantage of what the defense is giving up…Plus, yet more rain and a QB rotation.

At one point during an 11-on-11 drill during the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Monday morning practice, wide receiver Adam Humphries lined up in the slot on the left side of the offense. Second-year cornerback Javien Elliott, who has been getting a good amount of first-team reps in the nickel back competition, settled across the line from Humphries.

Elliott had no intentions of covering his man on this play, however. At the snap, he slanted in on a blitz and quickly got close to quarterback Jameis Winston. The play was notable for that alone; Elliott had to pull up a bit so as not to hit the quarterback – a practice field no-no, of course – but it looked like he might have had a shot at a sack if the action were fully live.

READ: KENDELL BECKWITH MAKING RAPID PROGRESS

But the play was also notable for what Winston did when he saw Elliott zipping at him: He turned quickly and fired the ball to Humphries, right in the spot vacated by the cornerback. Humphries caught the ball with blockers around him and some open field in front of him. That, too, had a shot at being a big play if the action were live, and if Winston could indeed get the throw off before the defender arrived.

Whether this was a quick reaction to the blitzing defender or a play designed specifically with the knowledge that a blitzer was coming, it was an effective way to turn the strategic tables on the defense. That's something of a point of emphasis for the Buccaneers' offense this summer, and it was evident on Monday when a number of other short passes worked well for Winston and company.

"One thing we're working on is, we just have to take what the defense gives us more," said Head Coach Dirk Koetter. "It's no secret: Jameis likes to go for the big play. So do I. Sometimes to a fault, sometimes that gets us in trouble. We have been trying to get to our check-downs sooner. The defense dictates that a lot, but it did work out that way today."

The point makes sense in a vacuum. Winston has thrown for 50 touchdowns and more than 8,000 yards in his first two seasons but still has room to improve, particularly in terms of reducing turnovers. Learning when and when not to take chances, and where a defense can be most easily exploited, is part of a quarterback's development in the NFL.

It makes even more sense given the Buccaneers' efforts to add more explosive weapons to Winston's arsenal during the offense. Humphries had a productive 55-catch season out of the slot last year; tight end Cam Brate developed into a real threat, particularly in the end zone; and Mike Evans made the Pro Bowl after fashioning a 96-1,321-12 receiving line. However, Winston was heavily reliant on Evans, who led the NFL with 173 targets, and the receiver often found defenses rolling extra coverage his way. Tampa Bay moved the ball but lacked big plays, as the only team without a completion of 50 or more yards in 2016. That led to the free agency addition of big-play expert DeSean Jackson and the drafting of tight end O.J. Howard and wide receiver Chris Godwin.

Now Winston will have more options on most plays, which means he should feel less compelled to force it in Evans' direction. Even a simple check-down could be putting the ball into the hands of an explosive playmaker. And as that becomes a more effective part of the Bucs' offense, it could in turn open up those deep-ball opportunities that Winston and Koetter covet.

READ: 5 STANDOUTS FROM PRACTICE

Indeed, Jackson has already made a splash in his first few days of camp as a Buccaneer with a handful of downfield catches.

"Yeah he is going to take what the defense gives him," said Jackson. "You can’t force anything in this league. I think a couple days ago, there were a couple throws he wanted to take back, but that’s a part of training camp, that’s a part of practice. When the defense gives you looks sometimes you see things differently, so you can’t take that away. You’ve got to go out there, you’ve got to see it, you’ve got to go through it and that’s a part of practice, so he is doing what he needs to do to make his reads and get the ball where it needs to get to.

"Throughout the periods of practice, I get my touches. That’s all you ask for as a receiver – to get your touches, to do everything you can to help make some big plays. I think throughout the day, throughout the couple of days, we’ve been able to do that, so that’s been great."

* The Buccaneers are trying to decide whether their best backup plan for Jameis Winston involves Ryan Griffin or Ryan Fitzpatrick, and their giving the two competitors an equal chance to prove he is the answer.

Winston is getting the first-team reps, of course, which leaves the two Ryans to split up second and third-team snaps. Koetter and Quarterbacks Coach Mike Bajakian alternated the two during the first four days of camp to make it fair, and they're going to tweak the play distribution just a bit going forward to keep it that way.

What we've been doing for these first four [practices], instead of splitting reps like we did in OTAs we're going by days, who's got the twos and who's got the threes," Koetter explained. "And the threes have the least amount of reps; we've increased the ones' reps.

"After today, though, I think, Mike and I talked about having Ryan and Ryan go equal twos and threes because it's a little bit, the numbers are off. But now we're at four practices so their numbers are even, we're going to try to let that guy that's working with the threes get a few more."

That begs the question of whether there will be a similar approach to the snaps in preseason games, which begin for the Buccaneers on August 11. It's not a simple decision – Fitzpatrick has much more NFL game experience but Griffin has been developing in the Bucs' system for two years – so expect the Bucs to give the two a fairly equal split under the lights, as well.

WATCH: MONDAY'S PRESS CONFERENCES

* When does some rain become too much rain? The answer probably differs if you're a frog or a pizza delivery man. Somewhere in between is a football team trying to conduct a productive training camp.

The Buccaneers opened camp on Friday and enjoyed a sunny morning, albeit with the typical Bay area humidity. On Saturday and Sunday, fast-moving rainstorms doused the last third or so of each practice but didn't last long. There was no escaping the rain on Monday, however, as the Bucs' first day in full pads coincided with a steady rain throughout practice.

The team still advanced through all 13 periods on its script, thanks to a lack of lightning and fields that have held up very well to the rain. Afterwards, Koetter was asked if the rain could become an impediment to what the team is trying to achieve at some point.

"Well, there probably does come that time but, one, we don't control it and, two, we're not there yet," said the coach. "We'll worry about it when we have to worry about it.

"We did everything just how we had it scripted. You've got all this stuff going, you add the wet field, the wet ball, those are great challenges for us. It's great work. You can't duplicate it. Everything's not perfect; there were good plays, bad plays on both sides. We learn our lessons and keep moving."

According to Jackson, the players aren't yet fed up with the wet weather, either.

"Oh you know, we can’t ask for better conditions than this," he said. "As a wide receiver, you hate playing in this weather – it’s hard to catch the ball – but this is great work. You never know how the weather will [be] throughout the season, so to be able to get this work today was great. Offensively and defensively we got some great work in here today, so any time we are able to take advantage of this, that’s what we do to get our work in.”

The Bucs could control what they wore, and since they had passed the NFL-regulated two days in shorts and one day in shells, they could and did put on the pads. That is a much-anticipated event at every training camp, and the players weren't going to let a wet field stop them from getting in a few hits.

"I think especially you're talking about defensive players and O-Line," said Koetter. "That's how they make they're money. Those guys, they want to lay the wood out there on somebody and even though we're still trying to protect each other, this is a contact sport."