Zyon McCollum didn't find the heat and humidity of his first practice as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer too surprising, having spent eight years in a similar climate in Galveston, Texas. If anything, McCollum said, the "air just sticks to you a little bit more" in Tampa.
The other thing sticking to McCollum after Friday's workout was the broad smile on his face. Friday was the beginning of the Buccaneers' three-day rookie mini-camp and the former Sam Houston State standout had first walked into team headquarters just one day earlier. His new team had a walk-through in the morning and then went full-speed in the afternoon, and it was clear that the rookie cornerback was thoroughly enjoying his first taste of the NFL.
"I just love life," said McCollum, his smile somehow growing even wider. "And doing what I love around good people, I can't help but just feel all that energy.
"I tried to take it all in but there's so much coming at you so fast that you just kind of roll with the punches. So I've just been trying to stay in the moment, definitely, and then just enjoy it. Definitely when I go back to my hotel room I'll have a moment to take everything in."
McCollum became a Buccaneer when team traded a 2023 fourth-round draft pick to Jacksonville on the final day of this year's draft to get the fifth-rounder they needed to select the tall and speedy cornerback. Tampa Bay scouts and coaches clearly liked his combination of size (6-2, 199), length and speed (4.38 40-yard dash) but he will obviously need time to make the transition from FCS college football to the NFL. McCollum has wasted no time in getting that process started by absorbing everything he hears from Buccaneers Cornerbacks Coach Kevin Ross, who is himself a former NFL corner.
"Already I've learned so much," said McCollum. "I mean, I've only met with him a handful of times, but definitely I'm more calm on the field. I feel like I'm seeing a lot more. He makes the field seem smaller than what it is, so I'm enjoying that."
McCollum explained that Ross made the field seem smaller by clearly defining what were and were not his responsibilities.
"In college, I feel like you're asked to do so much different things, so you feel like you have to cover everyone at the same time," said the rookie. "But here knowing you have high-caliber talent around you and they're expected to do their job, I just focus on doing my job. And then also understanding the football IQ – what's going on in certain situations – it makes me feel like I know exactly where to be before I'm even there.
"It's definitely a lot different technique-wise. I played a lot of press-man and I jammed a lot at the line of scrimmage. It was a little more aggressive. This thing here, playing a lot of off-coverage for one, and then also being a little more patient and square at the line of scrimmage. Which is something I've been working on in my training, so I'm pretty comfortable with it. But honestly, I'm happy. I want to learn every single aspect of the way of playing this game so I have no weaknesses."
As anticipated, McCollum has already started working at gunner on the punt team and there is a good chance he earns one of those jobs as a rookie, given his size and speed. The Buccaneers return all three of their top cornerbacks from last year – Carlton Davis, Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting – so he should have time to ease into a role on defense. Of course, that wasn't really the case for Davis, Dean and Murphy-Bunting, and the possibility of injuries means any player on the roster is not far from being in the starting lineup. McCollum is not daunted by that thought.
"Just being on this field, the coaches see something in you, see something in me," he said. "So I expect, and I know, that I can play in terms of my caliber of talent and athleticism. So right now it's just getting comfortable with everything and everyone and just trying to get everybody to trust me. Once these players and these coaches trust me, then I'll be able to play at a high level."
As much as McCollum enjoyed his first day of work as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer, it still was just one day. There's a long way to go before he or any of his fellow rookies have any particular jobs locked up. Nevertheless, it's nice to get off to a good start, and McCollum's smile made it clear he thought that was the case, if for no other reason than that football was back in his life.
"It was awesome," he said. "I love this game, so I'm definitely glad to be back out here. And on grass, too. All these little things – I take details into account and I try to enjoy everything. But I'm definitely trying to learn, especially from all the coaches and the scheme. Everything comes at you fast, but you're just trying to be comfortable and I'm loving it."