The Tampa Bay Buccaneers turned in their best practice of training camp on Wednesday, according to Head Coach Lovie Smith, which makes sense as it was also very nearly the last practice of camp. On the other hand, maybe the defining factor wasn't the date of the practice but rather its *style.
*WATCH: HIGHLIGHTS FROM PRACTICE
The Buccaneers conducted a more "physical" form of practice on Wednesday, with harder hits, some after-the-whistle antagonism and even a prescribed live-tackling period at the goal-line. It all added up to football being played more like, well, football, and the players responded.
The live goal-line work was the 11th and final period of practice; almost every other camp workout has been 10 periods long, but the Bucs added one on Wednesday to make up for the drill that was rained out at the end of Tuesday's session. And, in true Spinal Tap fashion, going to 11 seemed to turn everything up a notch at One Buccaneer Place.
"It's good physical play as much as anything," said Smith. "We have to be a physical football team. We talked about running the ball offensively. Once you get down on the goal line, we know what's coming and the defensive side, of course, knows what the offense is doing. It's good to see our players in a situation like that."
READ: STANDOUTS FROM PRACTICE
Wednesday's final drill may be the only one of training camp to feature true game-like action, with the goal to get the ballcarrier on the ground. This type of work is kept to a minimum to reduce the chance of injury, obviously, but it does allow for a truer assessment of which side wins on any given snap. The Buccaneers ran eight live-tackling plays in the goal-line drill and the offense appeared to score on exactly half of them…although there was some dispute over the final rep.
As Smith noted, this drill was primarily a test of power on both sides, with seven of the eight play-calls being runs. A little fullback-release pass on the first play failed to work, but running back Doug Martin made a nice cut left and then push forward to cross the goal line over left tackle on the second snap. After the defense stopped running backs Charles Sims and Mike James on the next three plays – with camp star Kwon Alexander right in the middle of two of those stops – 240-pound rookie tailback Dominique Brown powered over right tackle for a score on the sixth snap.
The seventh play of the drill was a well-executed bootleg run to the right corner by rookie quarterback Jameis Winston. On the eighth and final snap, Brown got the ball again, running behind rookie fullback Joey Iosefa. Brown appeared to get just enough push straight up the middle to fall over the goal line, but both the offensive and defensive players emphatically signaled that they had prevailed on the play.
Each play was followed by a huge celebration by the winning side, making it the loudest period of training camp, if nothing else. It's clear that the players are eager to get on a real playing field again after a somewhat unsatisfying preseason opener last Saturday.
Photos from the Bucs' training camp practice on August 19.
"I thought that was our best practice," said Smith. "Overall, good work. It was the longest practice we've had. We needed to makeup some of the plays we missed yesterday. Great work all over the field, really – finishing up with red zone work and goal line work. The guys are focused, locked in and are doing a lot of things well. We know we have a game coming up. We need one more practice and then of course, we'll start game planning a little bit. We can't wait to play another game."
If the Buccaneers see marked improvement in their second preseason outing next Monday night, they will likely point to Wednesday's productive practice as a significant step forward.
"Well, you always want to get in game situations but this is a part of it," said defensive tackle Clinton McDonald. "A lot of people think it's just a Sunday thing or a Thursday or Monday thing, but a lot of what we do on the field on those days involves these days here – getting our practice in and getting our film study in. So this is a big part of what we need to do."
Additional notes from Thursday's practice:
- Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins was targeted twice in a little over a quarter of play in Saturday's preseason opener. Both passes were broken up, but Winston is obviously not shy about looking for his big second-year pass-catcher.
Seferian-Jenkins has been a common target for Winston on the practice field, as well, and that was true again on Wednesday. At one point, Winston threw mid-range seam passes to Seferian-Jenkins on consecutive 11-on-11 plays, both times delivering high, hard throws that the 6-5 tight end caught above and in front of a gang of defenders.
If those two are forging a special connection, Seferian-Jenkins says they still have a way to go.
"Yeah, it's a work in progress, me and Jameis are still working," he said after Wednesday's practice. "We did a good job today and we're finding some chemistry, but we're still working. It's really early and we're just working all together, all just trying to get chemistry. All the guys that are in there are trying to get chemistry together when we're in there, so we know when we've got routes, we've got different concepts, what do we need to do for each other."
Seferian-Jenkins caught 21 passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns in 2014 after being selected high in the second round of the 2014 draft. His rookie season was hampered by injuries and the Bucs' offense as a whole was moribund for much of the year. Now he's healthy and the Bucs have both a new quarterback and an experienced new offensive coordinator in Dirk Koetter. All those elements point toward a more productive second year for the talented tight end, but he's not taking anything for granted.
"I'm not going to expect anything," he said of the notion that Koetter's offenses tend to feature the tight ends. "The only thing I'm going to expect is that I come out there and play hard. I'm not worried about anything else, just play hard. Everything else will fall in place.
Photos of fans at the Bucs' training camp practice on Wednesday, August 19.
"I just feel more comfortable [this year]. I understand how to take care of my body, how to eat right. Just being on a routine – that's something my coach preached to me, getting on a routine and sticking to that routine and trying to capitalize [on it] and put days together where you're doing good stuff. You're not going to be perfect, but if you're making good positive plays and stacking them day after day after day…that's why I'm doing the same routine over and over again."
- Two members of the secondary who are trying to crack the starting lineup had strong practices on Wednesday. Both safety D.J. Swearinger and cornerback Sterling Moore punctuated their good work with a pair of interceptions.
Swearinger was a waiver claim by the Bucs in June after he was unexpectedly let go by the Houston Texans, the team that drafted him in the second round in 2013. He is currently listed second on the depth chart at strong safety, behind Major Wright, with Bradley McDougald filling the first slot at free safety. Swearinger could potentially force a rearranging of that setup if he continues to produce turnovers...especially if he can duplicate that action in the preseason games.
"He has been making plays maybe three days in a row or so," said Smith. "He had a good strip attempt in the game. D.J. is a good football player. It's one thing for us to say you are a good football player. We do need to see production on the field and we are taking notice."
Moore is also occupying a number-two slot on the depth chart, but his situation isn't quite as clear-cut. Moore is listed second behind starting left cornerback Alterraun Verner, with Johnthan Banks and Mike Jenkins running 1-2 at left cornerback. But there is essentially a third starting cornerback job up for grabs, since the nickel back often plays 40-50% of a game's snaps.
Since the Buccaneers signed Moore as an unrestricted free agent in the spring, they have sought to test him out both inside and outside on defense. Prior to camp, he spent most of his time at the outside cornerback spot as the team tested its depth at that position, something it has made an effort to improve. Now, the team is seeing if he can be the answer in the slot, where he will compete with Leonard Johnson and Isaiah Frey.
"I know we need a playmaker at every position, but that position we ask him to do a lot. He's part linebacker at times, part safety, part defensive back," said Smith. "You need to have a skill set that is pretty unique and [Moore] has that with his corner background. He'll hit you. You are going to get chances in there. You have to be able to make them when you get an opportunity. We haven't been pleased with the amount of production we have gotten from the nickel position. That's why we are looking for some different options in there also. In the past, we've had a nickel get five interceptions. He'll have opportunities. They will have opportunities."