We are currently in the information valley of an NFL calendar year that is mostly news-breaking peaks, with almost every player and coach around the league enjoying a last few weeks of downtime before the action begins in earnest. This week in particular, the hope is that these hardworking NFL men and women are enjoying some Fourth of July-related fun, food and family.
That's our goal here at Buccaneers.com, too, but since that start of training camp is hurtling towards us at deceptively breakneck speed, we're also caught contemplating what that means. And thus this is not only Fourth of July week but also Roundtable Week, at least here in our world. All this week Staff Writer/Reporter Brianna Dix, Digital Contributor Amy Schwartz and I will be kicking around topics related to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' upcoming training camp and preseason slate, one per day.
We started on Monday as each of us tried to tease out one name on the Buccaneers' lengthy 90-man camp roster to which you might want to pay a little more attention this July and August. What's on our minds today is the two weeks in August in which the Buccaneers will share the practice field with another team. Prior to the preseason opener against Miami and the second game at Tennessee, the Bucs will hold a couple joint practices with those teams, which always adds an extra level of spice to what can become monotony during a repetitive training camp.
So here's the question for today: When the Buccaneers take the practice field with and against the Dolphins and then the Titans, what's the single best test, for a Tampa Bay player or unit, that will come out of that adversarial work?
· 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 are rotating that order all week. Amy went first on Monday so she slides to the bottom of the list, with Brianna kicking us off and me following. That means you're on the clock, Brianna…what Dolphins-Bucs or Titans-Bucs showdown are you looking forward to this summer?
Brianna Dix: Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans
Tyreek Hill in a Dolphins' jersey certainly added intrigue to my contemplation on the above category, however, I have chosen to go an alternate route. The single best test, in my opinion, that the Buccaneers defense will face during the joint practice exhibition is Derrick Henry. Through the first two months of the 2021 season, Henry led the league in rushing and once again started the perpetual cycle of gashing teams on the ground week-after-week. The Titans were atop the league hierarchy at a 5-2 record, spearheaded by Henry who averaged nearly 30 touches per game. Then disaster struck. A Jones fracture derailed his otherwise dominant career ascension. A Jones fracture means a break at the base of the fifth metatarsal, located on the outside of the foot. Henry underwent surgery and returned for the playoffs, but did not look like his usual, formidable self. Following the AFC Divisional Playoff round loss and a healthy offseason, Henry is ready for a monstrous bounce-back; a setback leading to a comeback on the gridiron.
Regardless of the chatter surrounding Henry's post-injury form, there is a reason he is dubbed "The King" by peers. Now, he is fueled by hunger entering a fresh slate in 2022. As the eighth player all-time to rush for over 2,000 yards in a single-season, Henry became the NFL's Offensive Player of the Year in 2020. As the NFL evolves to more and more pass-centric offenses with 11 personnel dominating the league, the ground game has taken a backseat as defenses adapt to aerial attacks with increased utilization of nickel packages (extra defensive back on the field to replace a linebacker). Henry is a one-man wrecking crew. Defenders do not know how to contain Henry; if the opposition aims too low on an angle, Henry can bulldoze his way through and if a defender aims too high, Henry can use a nasty stiff-arm to overpower. He is the ultimate mismatch on the field. Defensive coordinators around the league have No. 22 circled during game plans – the ultimate test of dominance.
With rare pull-away speed, Henry is a polarizing player on the gridiron. As a prototypical one-cut, downhill runner, Henry out-leverages defenders in space. Once there is an opening, Henry instantaneously accelerates and hits top-speed, making him nearly impossible to bring down with a rare combination of size/speed. What a better measuring stick for the Bucs' run defense prior to the start of the 2022 regular season than facing Derrick Henry in a simulated practice? Hint: there is not one! The Bucs' defense is predicated on one thing – stopping the run. In 2021, the Bucs' run defense ranked third with 92.5 yards allowed per game, after ranking first the previous two years. During the first half of the season in 2021, the Bucs possessed the best unit in football. However, a downward spiral ensued, resulting In Tampa Bay grading out at 15th in yards allowed per carry at 4.30.
The joint practice with the Titans will present the opportunity for the Buccaneers' defense to get in sync and return to their lofty status, forcing offenses to become one-dimensional. Akiem Hicks adds another force on the interior alongside Vita Vea with Ndamukong Suh's departure, in addition to second-round selection Logan Hall. The club will be relying on Joe Tryon-Shoyinka to step up in his second year, filling the void of Jason Pierre-Paul's absence. Vea, Shaquil Barrett, Lavonte David and William Gholston are the cornerstones up front. The key for the Bucs' defense in trying to contain Henry will be stopping him before he is able to break past the second level into the secondary. Tackling Henry in the open field is almost an insurmountable feat. Whether it is between the tackles (north and south) or an edge run (east and west) that stretches C-gap assignments, the Bucs must neutralize him near the line of scrimmage.
Scott Smith: Terron Armstead, Miami Dolphins
"The King?" Come on – "Tractorcito" is a way better nickname for Derrick Henry. And, sure, he's a handful for all the reasons you mention, but I wonder how much that will translate into a practice setting. I'm sure there will be a couple live periods, but most of the time the Bucs' defense will be in "pro-thud" mode and won't really be trying to bring Henry down anyway. If I was a Bucs defender I'd be telling Henry, "I COULD tackle you if I wanted to but, you know, rules…"
I'm going to go with an old pal of the Buccaneers, newly-acquired Dolphins left tackle Terron Armstead. Given the results of Miami's offensive line in recent seasons, it feels weird to be writing something positive about one of their blockers, but that's precisely the reason the Dolphins sailed a yacht full of cash across the Gulf of Mexico to bring Armstead over from New Orleans.
In particular, Armstead is just the sort of August warmup that second-year edge rusher Joe Tryon-Shoyinka needs as he tries to nail down the starting OLB spot opposite Shaq Barrett. Tryon-Shoyinka was pressed into a sort of hybrid role as a rookie, seeing snaps at three or four different spots along the front, but this season the plan is to let him focus almost exclusively on rushing off the edge. He's going to have to contend with a lot of the NFL's best perimeter blockers when he's coming off the quarterback's blind side, and few will be better than Armstead.
Before he missed half of last season due to injury, Armstead had made the Pro Bowl three years running. He didn't take part in offseason practices as he was recovering from surgery but the Dolphins expect him to be ready for training camp. Tryon-Shoyinka is probably hoping Armstead will be ready by the time the Dolphins visit the AdventHealth Training Center 10 days into August because going against a technician like the veteran all-star would help him hone his own game. Armstead is one of the NFL's best pass blockers, using his long wingspan and great footwork to keep rushers at bay.
And in this case, there should definitely be some worthwhile physical action between Armstead and all of the Bucs' edge rushers. Again, the limits on full-bore contact will take the steam out of some drills, especially in the trenches, but every training camp practice features at least one full-speed one-on-one pass-rushing drill. It's mano-a-mano, and it might be the most enjoyable 10-15 minutes of the entire practice. I'm looking forward to seeing how well the Bucs' edge rushers, especially young Tryon-Shoyinka, fare against the former Saint.
Amy Schwartz: Tyreek Hill, Miami Dolphins
I am going to take the easy and obvious answer here, thanks Bri! The single best test for the Buccaneers during joint training camp practices will be new Dolphins receiver Tyreek Hill. This offseason the Dolphins traded five draft picks for Hill prior to giving him a huge extension to make him the highest paid receiver in the league.
Hill has appeared in six straight Pro Bowls and helped the Kansas City Chiefs reach the AFC Championship game three seasons in a row. While Hill's time with the Chiefs has concluded, the Bucs are all too familiar with the talent and skill he brings to an offense. When the Buccaneers and Chiefs faced off in Week 12 of the 2020 season, Hill recorded seven receptions for 203 yards and two touchdowns in the first quarter. Todd Bowles and the Bucs had a better answer for Hill when the Chiefs came to town for the Super Bowl, holding the Chiefs to just nine points the entire game and basically shutting down Hill's production. The Bucs secondary was able to keep Hill in check with zero catches for zero yards in the first half of the game.
It's obvious the Dolphins are all in on Hill and he's the latest in a long line of weapons the Dolphins will have this season under new head coach Mike McDaniel. Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has an embarrassment of riches with Hill, Jaylen Waddle and Mike Gesicki, which could prove to be a great test of just how far along the secondary is during training camp. With new faces Logan Ryan and Keanu Neal joining the fold, I like the Bucs odds of matching up with the Dolphins offense. The challenge of facing Hill and company obviously will not be a unique opportunity for the secondary when training camp rolls around. The Bucs secondary already has the opportunity to face Pro Bowl receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin every week during practice, but Hill presents unique challenges to any defense. His speed and size creates mismatches in coverages and allows him to make explosive plays.
If we're being honest, the most intriguing part of Hill and the Dolphins coming to Tampa for joint practices has to be the reunion with safety Antoine Winfield Jr. The Bucs safety was able to quiet Hill during the Super Bowl with six tackles, two passes defended and an interception while keeping the receiver in check. This will be the first time the two are reunited following the now infamous peace sign Winfield Jr. gave Hill in the final minutes of the Super Bowl victory. It should be nothing short of fireworks when the two face off on the field for the first time this training camp and I cannot wait to see how the Bucs defense plays against their former foe.