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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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Breakout Stars, Injury Updates, Observations & More from Training Camp | Brianna's Blitz 

An overview of top quotes, stellar performances, observations and injury updates throughout training camp and the preseason

Bri's Blitz August 25

Starting Quarterback 

The consensus is in. Head Coach Todd Bowles announced who the starting quarterback will be Week One at Minnesota: Baker Mayfield. Mayfield had been competing with third-year man Kyle Trask for the starting signal-caller duties in Tampa Bay, but the head-to-head battle has a victor. 

 "Lots of positives from both guys, looking at it," said Offensive Coordinator Dave Canales. "Thinking about what Baker has been able to do…[for] a little bit there in the middle of camp, Kyle [Trask] showed he's the real deal. Baker felt the heat and had a couple of days where it wasn't quite sharp. He turned it around, had a fantastic first preseason game with a couple drives – took us down, had a touchdown, the communication was smooth. Then he just kind of settled right in for that following week leading up to the Jets, showing up in that practice and [it was] just really like a good feeling like, 'We're settled here with this guy.' Everything felt like it was running smoothly. Kyle played fantastic in the game, so it really made it challenging. We're fortunate, going into this thing, that we didn't just name a starter going into it without giving Kyle a chance to show what he can do, because I think he earned a lot of respect in the locker room, on the coaching staff, in the fanbase for Bucs fans out there to see Kyle is real – he is the real deal. I couldn't feel any better about our quarterback situation going into Week 1." 

Mayfield started the preseason opener against the Steelers and completed eight of nine passes for 63 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions over the course of four possessions during the exhibition. He did not play against the Jets, but Todd Bowles confirmed Mayfield will start in the preseason finale against the Ravens on August 26. The former No. 1 overall pick and Heisman Trophy winner has accumulated 16,288 career passing yards, 102 touchdowns and 64 interceptions during his five-year career, including a stint with both the Panthers and Rams during the 2022 slate. Mayfield's emergence came in 2020, as he compiled a 95.9 passer rating while throwing for 227.7 yards per game and 26 touchdowns against eight interceptions. He helped guide the Browns to their first playoff win in 26 years and thrived in Kevin Stefanski's outside-zone based attack that stimulated a drop-back passing game and play-action sets to optimize boot-action designs. 

Now, Mayfield will take command of the Bucs' revamped offense and vie for revitalization on the gridiron. Driven by the chip on his shoulder, Mayfield has showcased his arm-talent, improvisation and leadership skills, precision at delivering the ball to all three levels and prowess on finding his target from a non-traditional launch point. With a fresh slate and rare opportunity, Mayfield has narrowed his focus. 

"This is a game that I always dreamt of playing," Mayfield described. "I've wanted to play it since I was little. To be able to be on a platform now with a great franchise and to earn the job, it's an unbelievable feeling. You never want to take those for granted. I'm one of 32 guys that can say they're a starting quarterback in the NFL. It's a special honor, living out a dream. Now is not the time to be satisfied. I think all of our guys are ready to push through this regular season and see where we go."

Defensive Rookie Impression 

Prior to suffering injuries, defensive tackle Calijah Kancey, outside linebacker Yaya Diaby and inside linebacker SirVocea Dennis all made an impression during their rookie debuts on the grass at the AdventHealth Training Center. Kancey showcased his advanced pass-rush arsenal and elite first-step quickness with multiple 'wow' plays in the trenches. The first-round pick out of Pittsburgh consistently found his way into the backfield but before Kancey could be unleashed in one-on-one drills, he suffered a calf injury on a non-contact drill at practice. The staff continues to monitor his progression but shedding the brace is a positive sign for Kancey. 

 "Calijah is incredible," Logan Hall stated. "I feel like he is really ahead of the curb, especially, [compared] to how I was when I came in. [He is a] tremendous pass rusher. He is still going through the growing pains of learning some of the defense, but football-wise, he's got it, [and] he can go for real."

Diaby, the Bucs' third-round draft pick, has displayed his explosiveness, ability to set the edge and speed-to-power conversion. He nabbed several pass breakups, multiple would-be sacks and even a diving interception during 11-on-11 periods at training camp. 

"We always say we like guys with heavy hands that can handle any kind of block. He's very versatile. He's making his presence felt this camp in pads," described Todd Bowles. 

Diaby has honed in on dropping into coverage to enhance his game at the next level, which is something he was not asked to do in college at Louisville. However, in the NFL, players must be multi-faceted to not provide a tip to the opponent. With lateral burst, short-area acceleration and a lethal punch, Diaby helped solidify the Bucs' defensive front. After missing several practices and Saturday's game against the Jets with an undisclosed injury, Diaby returned to on-field padded work. Conversely, Dennis, the Bucs' fifth-round draft pick, has not returned to practice with his own unnamed injury after missing the second preseason matchup at MetLife Stadium. 

Prior to being sidelined, Dennis routinely made splash plays throughout rookie camp, mandatory minicamp and training camp, posting four interceptions. The Panthers let Dennis roam in their defense at Pitt, maximizing his agility and play recognition. He produced 94 tackles and 7.0 sacks as a senior, earning first-team All-ACC honors. Over his last three seasons at Pitt, Dennis racked up 15.0 sacks and 36.0 tackles for loss. For the Panthers, Dennis was an explosive A-gap blitzer with quick downhill pursuit. Dennis only missed four tackles with detailed precision on tackling form and understanding of angles/leverage. 

The Bucs currently have one of the league's best inside linebacker tandems in Lavonte David and Devin White. However, both David and White are under contract for just one more season, and David is entering his 12th campaign in Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers were not going to force a pick at that position, but when Dennis was still on the board at pick 153 in the fifth round, they snagged another blue-collar player from the ACC. 

Nickel Corner Role 

The Buccaneers have seven players listed at the safety position on their depth chart, although undrafted rookie Christian Izien has primarily been working at slot corner, where he is considered the frontrunner for the starting job. His work at slot corner has garnered attention and the coaching staff has elected to let him focus full-time on the hybrid role, even though they plan to eventually let him work interchangeably at safety, as well. Izien played in the slot during his senior season at Rutgers, having previously worked as a strong safety for three seasons.

"Right now, he is working at nickel," said Bowles. "We will try to give him one at a time. Two of them at once is awfully hard to learn, so we are letting him learn the nickel part and then we will back up and put him at safety."

The job is an all-encompassing one to combat the growing use of 11 personnel. Slot corners have to able to blitz, cover running backs/tight ends, showcase a willingness to tackle and play the quarterback pre-snap. During camp, Izien has displayed his range, flying around in the backfield, along with quick-twitch athleticism and blazing speed. Izien has the athletic traits for man coverage and his priority is film study, optimizing the ability to play fast. 

"Just watching a lot of film, having anticipation on what is coming, and trusting my technique and athleticism that I have, and playing with instinct," Izien remarked on his goal. "I'm still learning a lot, that just comes with the ends and outs of playing a position, and Coach [Todd] Bowles is doing a really good job teaching me."

Izien did not play against the Jets with an unidentified injury but has already turned heads with significant contributions on the field. He will be one to monitor as competition continues to heat up. 

Young Wide Receiver Ascension 

Deven Thompkins, the 2022 undrafted free agent out of Utah State, has jaw-dropping vertical speed. Despite his 5-foot-8 frame, Thompkins possesses a 41-inch vertical, positioning him for effectiveness on jump-ball situations. Throughout camp, he has made several impressive, contested catches. 

"Deven can jump out of the gym," Mayfield stated. "He's not the biggest by any means, but he can really, really jump. He made a play in mandatory minicamp with me, just kind of a 50-50 ball where he goes up. His body control is unbelievable." 

Thompkins can climb the ladder and utilizes his shiftiness to generate yards after the catch. He has the initial burst to beat coverage at the line and exposes off coverage when given a free release. He tracks the ball well downfield and is a savvy route runner. He became the Bucs' primary kick/punt returner last season and in 2023, will likely have an increased role on offense in Dave Canales' system. 

The Bucs fortified the receiving corps. via the Draft with Nebraska's Trey Palmer. Tampa Bay got a steal in the sixth-round, selecting Palmer, a deep-threat who ran an eye-popping 4.33 at the NFL Scouting Combine after putting up monstrous numbers (71 receptions, 1,043 yards) for the Cornhuskers offense. The threat of Palmer's speed and his ability off screens, jet sweeps, reverses and motions, has drawn coverage, creating voids on the field to take advantage of. He can stretch the field both horizontally and vertically, adding another dimension to the Bucs' wide receiver room. Palmer led the FBS with three catches of 70-plus yards in 2022 and has already made several highlight-worthy plays for Tampa Bay, including two acrobatic catches during the preseason for touchdowns.  

 "It happens naturally," Palmer described, detailing his sensational grab against the Jets. "I work on it at practice and get extra [work] after practice, catching jugs and stuff like that. When I see the ball, I just see the ball – there's nothing around, I just see the ball – tunnel vision."

He has shown the ability to take the top off of defenses, but also the short-area quickness to create in the short/intermediate area of the field in the slot. Palmer has produced a breakout offseason during his pro launch. He has taken advantage of the added reps following Russell Gage's injury, elevating the unit as a whole. During the preseason, as NFL hopefuls strive to cement a spot on the coveted final 53-man roster, Palmer has risen to the occasion. 

Shaquil Barrett Status 

Shaquil Barrett, the NFL's third-leading sack architect from 2019-21, tore an Achilles tendon on October 27 last season, prematurely ending his promising 2022 campaign at the midway mark. Nearly nine months later, the Bucs conducted the first practice of their 2023 training camp. Barrett was on the field, making his highly-anticipated return to action. He avoided starting camp with the active/PUP designation, a telling indication that the Bucs were not worried about Barrett's Week One status. 

The grueling on-field work Barrett put in for the comeback, and the endless hours of training camp in the searing heat became therapy. On April 30, Arrayah Barrett, the youngest of four children for Shaquil and his wife, Jordanna, passed away at the age of two. In grappling with the unimaginable tragedy, football became a sanctuary. In a reminiscent view, Barrett is grateful for the additional time he was able to spend with Arrayah and his family due to his injury last fall. Now that football season quickly approaches, Barrett is thankful for the monotonous routine that takes his mind off the pain, even if just for a brief interlude. 

"Like this morning it was hitting me hard," said Barrett after the Bucs' fifth training camp practice. "Getting ready for practice helped me get my mind off of it a little bit just focusing on something else. I've got a lot of time in the day when I'm just in my head thinking about stuff and thinking about her. So having to actually think about what I'm doing right in the moment helps me out a lot and helps the family out a lot when we're doing stuff and trying to stay busy.

"It's a daily battle, a tough battle. I felt it heavier today than I did the last couple of days. It just comes in waves. We just talk to each other, talk through it with each other and just lean on each other to get ourselves through, and lean on the Lord, as well. It doesn't get any easier. It's just me being busy and keeping my mind off of it for a little bit. It's just tough – it's always going to be tough."

Not only is Barrett back on the field, but there is a newfound reinvigoration in the trenches. No. 7 sets the standard of excellence that others in the room aim to embody, including Cam Gill. 

"I wouldn't say he looks like his old self, I think he looks better than what he used to, so I'm excited to see what he does this year," Gill noted. "He's done a great job with leading us whether that's by example or by his actions. I would say, Shaq is one of the best teammates I have ever had on any level from high school, college, [and] to pros now. He is definitely a guy that I look up to and try to emulate my game after."

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