The Tampa Bay Buccaneers resumed training camp on Monday with what Head Coach Dirk Koetter described as "one of our best practices of the year." And one of the standout individual plays from that session was delivered by a player who actually hasn't practiced much in this year's camp.
Veteran cornerback Brent Grimes, who suffered an unspecified injury during the first weekend of camp, only returned to field work in a very limited fashion on Saturday, the team's most recent practice before the players rested on Sunday. To start the new week, Grimes was more involved in the seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 drills. In one of the former periods, he plastered DeSean Jackson on a deep route and managed to cut in front of the receiver at the last second to make an interception in the end one.
The turnover elicited a big response from all the players in red jerseys (the defense, that is), and Grimes punctuated his play with a soccer-like run across the field, his arms out in imitation of an airplane. The pick was a great sign for a defense that needs one of its best playmakers on the field, but the post-play run across the field was probably just as enjoyable for Grimes because both gave him just what he'd been missing: Movement.
"For my sanity I just need to move around," said Grimes who, indeed, can often be seen filling slow portions of practice with an activity like repeatedly kicking a football in the air. "I'm not good at sitting still for real long. It's good to come out and work with the guys and be part of the team in that aspect. Obviously, I'm in meetings and all the things like that, and in the locker room kicking it. But to get out and actually put in the football work with the team, you just feel part of the team more when you do that. I have fun and it makes my day much better."
Grimes's long absence from practice, and now fellow starter Vernon Hargreaves' groin injury, has provided a lot of extra reps for rookie cornerbacks Carlton Davis and M.J. Stewart. Like everybody else who has observed the first couple weeks of camp, Grimes has been impressed with how his young teammates have handled their transition to the NFL, and he's been more than happy to help with that, even while sidelined.
"Yeah, I enjoy working with people, younger guys, older guys, whatever," said the veteran defender. "It's fun communicating, figuring out things. Like I ask other people questions. It's not that everybody's got to ask me questions, I'm going to ask other people questions, too. I feel like we've got a real good team, a real good group in that aspect.
"What you can see every day is that guys are learning, guys are having fun competing. Guys also are asking questions, trying to get better and learn things and learn situations. There's been a lot of good things this camp."
Near the beginning of Grimes's absence from practice, Koetter voiced what most already believed about Grimes: This far into his career, he doesn't need as much practice time as, say, Davis and Stewart, in order to be ready for the regular season. The extra reps for the young corners have been helpful in their development. That said, things definitely look better for the Buccaneers' defense when Grimes is on the field.
"We want Brent Grimes out there," said Koetter. "He's our best cover guy, so it's great to have Brent out there."
Grimes tied for the team lead in interceptions in each of his first two seasons with the Buccaneers, and he is the only player in the NFL who has registered at least three picks in each of the last five seasons. He has 33 interceptions, total, over the last decade, including six seasons in which he had four or more. Grimes has clearly maintained his unusual athleticism into his mid-'30s – in particular, he can jump through the roof – and Monday's pick showed off his ball skills.
"That was just a normal deep ball, a deep ball in the air, make a play on the ball," said Grimes. "It was nothing I did like, 'This step or that step.' No, it was just making a play on the ball."
Grimes can pass on a lot of hard-earned NFL knowledge to his young teammates. For instance, on Monday he spoke about the keys to playing "off" coverage effectively, as opposed to press. That's an area in which Davis, in particular, is trying to make a transition after largely playing press at Auburn. But Grimes's top contribution to the development of his young teammates may simply be in helping them develop a mindset…and that's easier to do when you're out on the field, moving around.
"You've got to work on your game," said Grimes when asked to offer advice for young players. "You've got to remember that you love this game. For me, I'm trying to have fun with it. I know the old word is 'hard work' and, 'This is work and that is work and we've got to work hard." I mean, I'm going to do that, but I'm trying to have fun. When I'm having fun, the game is a game and you can play free and have a good time out there instead of being chronically anxious and just worried about everything and intense. I'm just trying to be free and have fun out there, honestly."