It's not always easy to tell how well an NFL team is performing during a training camp practice. Was that incompletion caused by a poor route by the wide receiver (bad) or was it just a great play and a quick break by the defensive back (good)? Would the quarterback have actually gotten that throw off if the edge rusher was allowed to finish his pursuit? Why does every run look like a 40-yard touchdown?
Training camp offers fans a once-per-year opportunity to watch their favorite teams practice. Generally, they respond to something like a completed deep pass with hearty cheers. But if there happen to be a lot of those on any given day, is that a reason to worry about the defense? Joint practices, like the ones the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will hold this year with Miami and Tennessee, have more clear-cut winners and losers, but a team practicing against itself can produce mixed messages.
That's why the best parts of training camp practices are the one-on-one battles. The OL-DL pass rush competitions and the WR-DB head-to-head reps are particularly entertaining, but you can find other one-on-one situations within 7-on-7, 9-on-7 and full-team drills. A safety covering a detached tight end in the slot, man to man. A tackle trying to keep an outside linebacker from getting around him on the outside. And so on.
That's the basis for our last discussion of our annual Roundtable Week. All this week, Digital Contributor Amy Schwartz, Staff Writer/Reporter Brianna Dix and I have been engaging in a series of discussions regarding the Buccaneers upcoming training camp. You can find the schedule of our daily topics below. Today, we are looking for the best one-on-one battle to watch in this year's camp.
Specifically, this is today's Roundtable task: Each of us is going to identify a single one-on-one battle between two Buccaneers that we are most looking forward to seeing this summer.
· Monday, July 4: Name a sleeper on the Buccaneers' 90-man camp roster who you will be keeping a close eye on.
· Tuesday, July 5: What is the best test a player or unit on the Bucs' roster will get during the joint practices with the Dolphins and Titans?
· Wednesday, July 6: What is a headline you hope to be reading about the Buccaneers as training camp and the preseason comes to an end?
· Thursday, July 7: Which Buccaneer do you think most needs to have a strong camp and preseason showing?
· Friday, July 8: Identify a one-on-one battle between two Buccaneers that you are most looking forward to seeing in camp practices.
Duplicate answers between the three of us are not allowed, so order of selection sometimes matters and we have been rotating that order all week. Today, Brianna gets to go first, followed by me and then Amy. Brianna, you're on the clock!
Brianna Dix: Aaron Stinnie/Luke Goedeke vs. Vita Vea
Like Scott mentioned above, OL-DL pass rush matchups draw eyes during training camp. In general, offseason workouts are tailored for offensive and defensive linemen as they go head-to-head at the line of scrimmage to work on pad level, hand placement, footwork and overall technique. As is often uttered in football, 'The battle is won in the trenches.' For the purpose of this roundtable category, that is where my focus lies. This may not be the flashiest choice but it is a battle that will breed success and one that the offense is predicated upon.
Buccaneers nose tackle Vita Vea often works against center Ryan Jensen, but additionally lines up over the guard at times. My one-on-one battle during training camp to watch is Aaron Stinnie/Luke Goedeke versus Vita Vea. This clash will not only be entertaining on the grass at the AdventHealth Training Center but will help dictate who wins the starting gig at left guard to protect Tom Brady. Whichever player – either Stinnie or Goedeke – can hold their own against the club's three-down anchor, he will cement a full-time role in the Bucs' esteemed offensive line. With the man who is highly touted as the greatest quarterback of all time under center, the stakes are high, leaving no room for error.
The Bucs' coaching staff has made it abundantly clear to players that the left guard vacancy is open for the taking. Stinnie is known for his prowess as a run blocker and as he develops in pass blocking to counteract the opponent's bull rush, his ceiling is high. Back in March, Tampa Bay re-signed Stinnie to a one-year deal. He has been with the Buccaneers for two-and-a-half seasons after being claimed off waivers in November of 2019. Stinnie was given lavish praise for his production in three postseason starts filling in for injured right guard Alex Cappa as the club cemented their legacy in Super Bowl LV. In 2021, following his grand performance in the playoffs, Stinnie competed with Cappa for the starting job; however the club opted to stay with the incumbent. Now, Stinnie has another chance to entrench himself as a mainstay in the line.
His challenger? Rookie Luke Goedeke. The Bucs selected Goedeke with the 57th overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft out of Central Michigan. He will have a chance to win the coaches trust as he vies for a premier role. In college, Goedeke filled a glaring need at right tackle in Jim McElwain's zone-blocking scheme, but his natural fit is at guard. He has experience playing in a variety of assignments up front including dual play (a staple in Tampa), pin and pull and gap schemes. At Central Michigan, Goedeke stayed centered in blocks with his play strength and possessed the athleticism to clear lanes for rushers at the second level. One of the most challenging aspects of his current transition to the NFL is hand placement. At right tackle in college, Goedeke shot with his right hand and now must adapt to the opposite side of the formation as he develops his pass sets. During OTAs, the defensive line had the advantage on the offensive line but during training camp, both Stinnie and Goedeke will look to shift that narrative.
With his powerful play on the gridiron, Vea dominates at the point of attack. He will be a true measuring stick for both Stinnie and Goedeke throughout camp. This is the competition I am impatiently waiting for.
Scott Smith: Rachaad White vs. Devin White
I'm putting my money on White here.
Both of these players have something to prove in 2022. There's more at stake in training camp for Rachaad White, the rookie running back out of Arizona State, because he will be trying to carve out a role in the Buccaneers' offense while Devin White's every-down starting gig is not in question. But Devin himself has stated a desire to be a better player in 2022 than he was in 2021 after the frequency of his splash plays dipped last year.
The specific one-on-one I'm looking for here is when Rachaad leaves the backfield on a pass play and Devin picks him up on his route. The Buccaneers drafted Rachaad in the third round in large part because they saw enormous potential for him in the passing game. White was productive in that area at Arizona State, he has good hands and he's dangerous when he gets the ball out in open space. But Leonard Fournette has also been a high-volume pass-catcher throughout his career – a bit sneakily so – and his job as the lead back is not in question. The Buccaneers had veteran Giovani Bernard available as a third-down back last year (and he's still in the mix in this camp, too) and he ended up with just 23 catches to Fournette's 69. Rachaad White will need to prove that that pass-catching potential will actually translate to the NFL. If he wants to be significantly involved in the offense early in his rookie year, he needs to make that point in August.
Devin White is coming off his first Pro Bowl appearance and the former fifth-overall pick and he's unquestionably had a good three-year start to his career. We all witnessed peak Devin White during the 2020 run to the Super Bowl when he was a big-play machine, and that included excellent work in pass coverage. That said, over the past three years he has usually been better as a tackler and a blitzer than as a cover man. That 2020 postseason run, some improvement in coverage last year and White's top-notch speed suggest that he can be big-time asset in pass defense, which is becoming more and more important for NFL linebackers these days. If he could blanket his rookie teammate when they get matched up on routes, that would be a good start for a potential evolution in Devin's game in 2022.
In their three years paired together, Lavonte David has been the more effective coverage 'backer while White has been incredibly good on the blitz. And David will assuredly be an important part of the Bucs' efforts to slow down tight ends and pass-catching backs again in 2022, while White will almost certainly continue to invade the backfield. However, there will be times when White is needed to match up with and shut down running backs in the open field. The Rachaad-vs.-Devin White-Off will be an interesting preview of that.
Amy Schwartz: Mike Evans vs. Carlton Davis
While there will be plenty of new and exciting matchups across the field during training camp this season, I am most looking forward to a very familiar one. The best going against the best, wide receiver Mike Evans vs. cornerback Carlton Davis.
It's almost like poetry in motion getting to watch two of the best in the league go head to head and enhance each other's playing ability.
This March, prior to becoming a free agent Davis signed a new three-year contract extension to remain with the Buccaneers. The deal allowed the Buccaneers to keep a key cornerstone of the defense in place for the near future. During Davis' time in Tampa, he has become all too familiar with matching up with two of the best receivers in the NFL in Evans and Chris Godwin. The challenge has helped develop Davis' skills and physicality.
"He has the size," said Davis. "He has that sneaky speed. He is sneaky quick. But what people don't understand is that Mike is a hell of a competitor. I don't even think people understand. Like there are days where it's like day six of camp and he is going hard – my legs hurt and I'm barely getting out of my pedal and he is full speed, full go, and he is on a different timing than everybody else."
Davis said during mandatory minicamp that his goal for this season was to prioritize "ball skills" and turn pass breakups into interceptions. The matchup with future Hall of Fame receiver Mike Evans can only continue to enhance his skills moving forward.
"He wants it more," said Davis. "You can just tell he wants it more. He has the physical abilities [and] he can do it all, but his mental, and how he approaches the game is so much different and underrated. I don't think a lot of people understand that he is a monster to go up against every day because he doesn't like to lose. When he loses, he gets really mad. And you don't want to see Mike mad. He's a beast."
Evans has been one of the most consistent players in the league with a record eight consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons. As Evans begins the journey towards his ninth 1,000-yard season, he will first take on Davis all training camp long and it is set to be one of the most competitive matchups on the field.