On Saturday, veteran guard Ali Marpet pointed out that any NFL training camp was going to have its good days and bad days, and that this was okay as long as the overall trajectory was pointing up. For that to happen in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2021 camp, the players are going to need to get more consistent from the neck up.
Head Coach Bruce Arians was happy with the way his team rebounded from a poor showing in Friday's practice to perform much better in the first day in pads on Saturday. And after the Bucs wrapped up the weekend with another workout in the sweltering heat on Sunday morning, Arians remained pleased with how hard the players are working. However, he really wants them to start working a lot smarter.
"Really pleased with the effort," he said on Sunday. "We're working extremely hard, two days in a row, fast. But I'm not seeing the smart. We've got to be a much smarter football team. After looking at yesterday's practice, [we had] way too many mental errors. Same thing today [with] guys getting lined up, especially those young wide receivers, and it's time for them to grow up. But you can't ask anything more from our football team as far as work. Work, speed of practice and all those things – very, very competitive but we've got to become a smarter football team quick."
The mental errors seem more persistent on the offensive side of the ball. Arians indicated that the "assignment sheet" that lists mental errors and other mistakes after tape of the practice is reviewed has been longer for the offense than the defense. He praised the play of inside linebacker Devin White and rookie outside linebacker Joe Tryon in particular but he said the execution has been lacking on the other side of the ball.
That boiled over into some obvious frustration from quarterback Tom Brady after a couple of broken or unsuccessful plays on Sunday, one of which kept the first-team offense from succeeding on its final-period two-minute drill. Arians wasn't surprised to hear Brady voice his frustration to his teammates.
"Yeah, guys got to make plays, man," said Arians. "They're in critical situation, you can't fall down. [Brady] gives you a chance to win the game, you've got to go win the game. I don't care how tired you are."
The Buccaneers still have nine more practices before their first preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals on August 14. And they have more than a month before they kick off the 2021 NFL season against Dallas on September 9. There would seem to be plenty of time, plus a couple rounds of roster cuts, before the Buccaneers have to be performing at a level that will make a Super Bowl title defense possible, but Arians clearly wants to see things cleaned up sooner rather than later.
* The Buccaneers turned the page on their Super Bowl LV championship season after visiting the White House and holding their ring ceremony in the week before training camp. However, some 2020 accolades are still rolling in.
After practice on Sunday, visiting representatives from the Maxwell Football Club presented Arians with the trophy signifying him as the winner of the 32nd Greasy Neale Professional Coach of the Year Award. Arians was announced as the winner on March 25 but the Maxwell Football Club did not conduct its usual awards gala in 2021 due to the pandemic restrictions.
Arians is the second coach in Buccaneers history to win the award, following Tony Dungy for the 1997 season. Arians has now won it three times and is the only person in the history of the award to win it with three different teams. He was the Coach of the Year with the Indianapolis Colts in 2012 and the Arizona Cardinas in 2014. He is one of five coaches who have been chosen for the award on multiple occasions, joining Dungy, Dick Vermeil, Sean Payton and Andy Reid.
* Buccaneers cornerback Ross Cockrell claimed his first Super Bowl ring at that aforementioned team ceremony in July, but he soon may have competition for the biggest piece of bling in his family.
Cockrell's younger sister, Anna Cockrell, will continue her quest for Olympic gold on Monday morning when she competes in the women's 400m hurdle semifinals for Team U.S.A. Big brother will be watching.
In fact, Arians said "every TV in the building" at the AdventHealth Training Center will be tuned in to that race, which is scheduled to be run at 7:55 a.m. ET. Cockrell, who ran track at USC, finished third in Heat 1 of the event on Friday with a time of 55.37 seconds. She previously won silver in the same event at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru.
"I'm super excited for her. Obviously, we're here, we're in camp, it's a very nice distraction. But I know that she's worked hard her entire life for this and I'm just excited for her. I had the chance to talk to her last night so that was really nice. We had a good conversation, just about what's going on in the Olympic Village and how she's adjusting to the different times. And obviously the heat and humidity out there wasn't expected."
That start time is 35 minutes before the first horn of the Buccaneers' practice, so Ross should have no trouble watching the race before getting back to his own athletic pursuit. He will likely be surrounded by teammates when he does, which will only make his first camp experience in Tampa even better.
"This is my first training camp with the team," said the elder Cockrell. "I came in last year in the middle of the season and I didn't really have a chance to build a camaraderie with the guys, it was kind of right to work. Getting to the book, getting to the grind. I think the best part about being in this training camp is being around the coaching staff and different people. Also, having the chance for them to get to know me more and for me to get to know them a little bit more."
Cockrell was a seasoned vet when he joined the Buccaneers last September, having 68 games and made 43 starts for four other teams, and he picked up the team's system very quickly. He was originally signed to the practice squad but was then promoted to the active roster a few weeks later and spent the balance of the season as the team's fourth corner. It's a good thing that he's getting a full camp with the Bucs this summer because the team is asking him to do even more. He has been working at safety in training camp to help a thin position and possibly end up as a viable reserve at four different positions in the secondary.
"Coach [Todd] Bowles, our defensive coordinator, he doesn't hold any punches," said Cockrell. "There's a lot of different coverages, there's a lot of different techniques. Within the different positions themselves, you have to move as fast as you can. I've been working to study every night and try to learn the entire playbook, so whenever the team needs me, I can play."