The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are about 48 hours away from finishing their offseason program and going on one final extended break before training camp. On Tuesday, however, they got a little sneak peek at what that much more demanding camp will be like on the first day of their three-day mandatory mini-camp.
The missing elements were pads and real player-on-player contact – none of that is allowed at any point in the offseason, even the final mini-camp – but the heat was there, and the tempo, and a full complement of players.
"Today was a good taste of what training camp is like," said Head Coach Dirk Koetter. "It's also one of the reasons we like to practice in the morning. But, guys got their final weigh-ins today before coming back for five weeks. So, we'll put body weights on some guys and it's going to be a measuring stick for where they need to be, conditioning-wise, when they come back."
In terms of its form, the Buccaneers' first mini-camp practice was very much like the 10 OTA workouts they conducted over the previous three weeks. But the team had all of its players on hand for the first time, and the practice was held in the afternoon, under tougher conditions than the usual morning session. Koetter set the tempo for the practice by scheduling a no-huddle, two-minute drill for the third period, after warmups and some quick individual drills.
"We always do some sort of an 11-on-11, no-huddle, in period three," said Koetter. "We try to set the tempo. That happened to be a no-huddle situation where we needed a touchdown, and the defense won them both today. We're going to do a different version of that on Wednesday. Tomorrow the tempo setting will be no-huddle, red zone."
Even though this week's mini-camp is essentially just an extension of Phase 3 of the offseason program (albeit mandatory), the Bucs did come into the week with a specific list of things to accomplish. They were all aimed at getting the team ready for the much more critical work of training camp in August.
"We're finishing our install, number one," said Koetter. "[The] defense put in some more of their exotic pressures today; we worked some short yardage; we're going to work some goal-line tomorrow. Again, think about working goal line with no pads on. But you have to put it in, you have to introduce it to them so when you come back in the fall, the guys have been exposed to everything they're going to be exposed to in training camp. Finishing the installation, getting as many guys on the same page, setting our body-weight goals, our conditioning goals."
View some of the best photos of the first day of Buccaneers' 2018 Mini-Camp.
- The Buccaneers have 91 players on the offseason roster, including international practice squad player Eric Nzeocha, who is an exemption from the 90-man limit. All 91 of those players were on the grounds at One Buccaneer Place on Tuesday, and 84 of them participated in practice.
The seven players who were held out due to injuries were no real surprise: tight end Antony Auclair, linebacker Kendell Beckwith, tackle Demar Dotson, safety Maurice Fleming, wide receiver Jake Lampman, guard J.R. Sweezy and wide receiver Justin Watson. Most of those players had been sidelined for several weeks, at least, while second-year man Auclair suffered an ankle injury early in last week's run of OTAs.
"He's got an ankle situation going on right now," said Koetter of Auclair. "It's not significant but he will not be working in this camp."
There was also a handful of players who had missed time in recent weeks who were back in action on Tuesday, including two who were starters for all or most of the 2017 season, tackle Donovan Smith and cornerback Ryan Smith. Rookie safety Jordan Whitehead, who returned from a hamstring injury at the end of last week's OTAs, was also in action, as was linebacker Adarius Taylor, who lost the last two games to the 2017 season due to a broken leg.
Koetter was impressed that Taylor was already back on the field, running full speed, given the significance of his injury. Taylor, who was known as Adarius Glanton before legally changing his name earlier this year, got a lot of first-team work at strongside linebacker with Beckwith on the shelf.
"Number one, when you go back and look at the injury Adarius had, it's somewhat of a medical miracle that he's out here practicing full-speed," said Koetter. "The second thing that jumps out is he changed his name, he got married and he's playing all three linebacker spots. So, I'd say that Adarius has really stepped up so far and is doing everything he can to help."
The three most significant injuries in the above list, in terms of both the ailments themselves and the expected roles of the players involved, belong to Beckwith, Dotson and Sweezy. The Buccaneers don't yet know if any of those players will be ready for the start of training camp, but they'll get a couple extra days to evaluate them in late July before the rest of the team reports.
"There are still three or four guys coming off of surgeries that we'll have to wait and see when they get back," said Koetter. "As you may or may not know, when rookies can come back a couple days before the vets [for training camp], also injured players [can]. Those guys can come back. So we'll know a lot more that last week in July. Guys like Dot and Kendell Beckwith and J.R., all the guys that are still out with injuries. We'll have a lot better feel for where they're at then. Then Jason will make a decision on what he's going to do with the roster."
- The Buccaneers spent a very high draft pick, number 38 overall, on USC running back Ronald Jones, who is almost certain to have a major role in the offense this year. In a much lower-profile move, the team also signed Duke's Shaun Wilson as an undrafted free agent at the end of the seven rounds, and he could conceivably carve out his own niche on the roster, as well.
The 5-9, 185-pound Wilson is undersized for an NFL running back, which is most likely why he did not hear his name called on draft weekend. But he averaged 5.2 yards per carry for the Blue Devils, caught 81 passes over four years (including 36 last year) and scored a total of 26 touchdowns.
"We did a ton of [pre-draft scouting] work on Ronald Jones," said Koetter. "I did no work on Shaun Wilson. Jason [Licht] and the scouts did so that guy has impressed me because I didn't know about him. I'm not saying [he impressed me] any more than Ronald Jones because Ronald Jones was one of the best backs in the draft, right up there at the top. But, Shaun Wilson has done a really nice job. He's a smaller guy so durability will be the question. But he had a nice punt return today, really good hands, good route runner. He's smart, he's picked things up."
The Buccaneers carried four tailbacks for most of the 2017 season, and that's the number that Koetter likes to keep active on game days. Three of those four (Peyton Barber, Jacquizz Rodgers and Charles Sims) are back and Jones essentially replaces the fourth, the departed Doug Martin. To make the team, Wilson would need to unseat one of those four or convince the team to use a fifth roster spot on the position. Two of his 26 touchdowns at Duke came on kickoff returns, and he could help his chances of making the roster by making an impression as a return man.