As educational administrators will tell you, however, they should be careful. The American school system sticks by its summer-vacation tradition, and probably always will, but research suggests that most students take a step back – as much as two months of grade-level equivalency lost – during those carefree weeks off. Buccaneers Head Coach Lovie Smith would like to see his roster avoid that sort of backsliding in the weeks to come.
"We had a successful offseason program, but now it’s about that next step,” said Smith. "We can’t take off five weeks, four weeks or whatever it is and then just come here to training camp and just get in shape during training camp; those days don’t work anymore. You have to keep training your body year-round and guys realize that. Now we throw them a bone, you don’t have to get up and be here at eight o’clock in the morning, seven or whenever they come around, you can sleep in and now it’s on you. Nobody is watching. How important is football to you? And I think it’s pretty important to our guys."
Of course, all 32 teams in the league are facing the exact same situation, so it’s anybody’s guess as to which clubs will do the best with their summer reading lists. That possibility of educational backsliding also adds a grain of salt to our analysis of what has taken place at Buccaneers headquarters over the past three months. Still, there is something to be said for end-of-the-year report cards, as well as what our eyes tell us on the practice field in June. So, that said, here are five mandatory mini-camp developments that seem quite relevant:
1. There is some intriguing speed on the roster, but we still don’t know how it will play.
Tampa Bay’s new offensive coordinator, former Cal Head Coach Jeff Tedford, might have said 3,000 words at his introductory press conference, but the ones that made a lasting impact were, “speed in space.”
Buccaneer fans will be happy with any variation of a high-octane offense, and it’s already clear that this year’s attack will feature a gang of very-big pass-catchers. That’s good. But it would be really good if there was also a dangerous speed element to the offense, and there are some interesting possibilities.
QB Josh McCown could find a few more speed weapons in the Bucs' offense than had been present previously
2. Josh McCown can fit the ball into a tight window.
Skeptics of the world unite! I am not here to disband you. In fact, I will be the first to say that we are prone to building too much optimism off practice performances, especially when there is no contact allowed.
But we all know that by now, right? I mean, nobody thinks that your team’s secondary is a disaster when 75% of passes are completed during WR-DB one-on-ones at your practice. We can filter what we see through the lens of allowable competitiveness. We don’t anoint our third-string quarterback the next Matt-Schaub-hidden-gem if he tears apart a third-string secondary in May.
So, take it as you will, but new Buccaneers starting quarterback Josh McCown looked particularly adept at dropping passes into tight spaces between coverage last week. When it came to timing patterns, particularly on the sideline, McCown often slung darts that looked like they were headed to empty space before the targeted pass-catcher suddenly sprinted into the picture.
You skeptics are still hanging around, and you should be. No, there was no pass-rush to speak of in these drills, and a comfortable quarterback is an accurate quarterback. I’m not saying anything I saw in June proves that McCown will be a prolific quarterback this fall. But what I did see looked quite promising.
Listen, hiring a Kona Ice truck to ply your teammates with snow cones at the end of the last offseason practice doesn’t prove that you’re a great leader. It is generous and thoughtful, but shaved ice alone isn’t going to make you brothers-in-arms.
But you have to take these things in context, step back and view the bigger picture, in which a perfectly-timed gesture isn’t just one man showing off his largesse, but a team leader knowing which buttons to push, and when. That’s not cynicism; McCoy’s hiring of the Kona Ice truck last Thursday is far from the most important piece of leadership he will provide over the next one, two or five years, but it is a clear indication that he’s actively thinking about that role.
Since arriving in Tampa as a first-round pick in 2010, McCoy has never shied away from being a team leader. Some can chafe under that role if it’s thrust upon them; some can try too hard. For McCoy, it seems to come naturally, and that was evident once again last Thursday when the Kona Ice truck pulled up at One Buc Place.
4. We know nothing about this defense yet.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn’t have a particularly good defense in 2013, nor would you expect they did given their 4-12 finish. The Bucs finished 21st in yards allowed and 21st in points allowed, which is good symmetry but not a particularly effective way to win games. That said, there were some promising elements, most notably a pair of first-team Associated Press All-Pros in McCoy and linebacker
When Lovie Smith stepped in as head coach in January, bringing with him a sterling reputation for constructing strong defenses, it was generally believed that he inherited a promising core of players. Beyond McCoy and David – superstar-caliber players at perhaps the two most important positions in a Cover Two D – there were safeties
On paper, the Bucs appear to have the makings of a very stout defense. Johnson and McDonald would seem to upgrade the pass-rush and pull attention away from McCoy, who may be on the cusp of supernova stardom. The addition of
It looks promising, and there were moments during mini-camp, even with four or five of the team’s top cornerbacks sidelined by injury, when the defense was a suffocating presence. They had no pads on, however, and there was no intentional contact. Will the Bucs’ defensive backs be the physical presence around the line of scrimmage they need to be to excel in this defense? Are Barron and Goldson hard-hitting difference makers? Is McCoy about to go off.
It all looks good on paper. However, last week’s mini-camp proved just how little we know until the pads go on and the hitting begins.
5. Questions answered…well, not so much.
Before the start of last week’s offseason-capping mini-camp, we proposed five camp storylines on which to keep an eye. This came with the usual caveats; to wit: “As Head Coach Lovie Smith has said on multiple occasions, there is only so much his staff can evaluate when the players are in shorts and avoiding contact. There will be no final decisions made on starting jobs or roster spots this week. Still, we can gather some evidence pertaining to the following issues that must be resolved before the start of the season.”
So, did we gather that evidence? Eh…kinda.
Let’s go down the five questions that were posed before the start of camp and see if we have any more clarity a week later.
(1) How will the cornerbacks sort out? Oh, man, we know nothing more than we did before last week began. This is a really bad place to start. On one hand, we have the apparently strong performances during mini-camp by
For the most part, Alterraun Verner, Johnthan Banks,
(2)Who will plug the gaps in the offensive front?
At this point, we’re basically asking who will start at left and right guard. We’re not much closer to knowing those answers than we were week ago, but we did get this bit of evidence at mini-camp: rookie
We also heard
(3) How quickly can the quarterbacks excel in Jeff Tedford’s offense?
Well, as noted above, Josh McCown looked quite good last week.
(4) Who will join the Lavonte David Trio on stage?
In other words, with David entrenched at weakside (WILL) linebacker, who will complete the 4-3 LB group at the middle (MIKE) and strongside (SAM) positions?
Our presumption is that Mason Foster, Dane Fletcher and Jonathan Casillas will be three players battling for two spots. We’ll have to wait and see if that is accurate, but this past week it was the status quo, with Foster (MIKE) and Casillas (SAM) taking most of the first-team snaps alongside David. I don’t think that in any way ends the competition for Fletcher, who came to Tampa under the assumption that he would have a real shot to win the MIKE job.
(5) Will the offense have any use for a fullback?
Grade: Incomplete. There wasn’t nearly enough information at mini-camp to let us know if the Bucs would make a point of keeping one of the two fullbacks on the roster –
Jeff Tedford’s offense remains something of a mystery at this point. We’ll know more after training camp, including whether or not Pryor and Lane are fighting for an actual spot on the depth chart.