The Tampa Bay Buccaneers put on pads for the first time in 2019 on Sunday. Then the Buccaneers' defense put on a show.
After two days of back-and-forth action to start the Buccaneers' 2019 training camp, the third day clearly tilted in favor of the defense, which seemed to welcome the addition of pads and contact with a fly-around mentality. Most notable was a long list of disputed passes, particularly in the series of four two-minute drills that closed out the 150-minute workout. That outcome can be interpreted two ways – the offense was mistake-prone; the defense was actively making plays – and both were probably true to some extent.
"It was more raggedy than I thought it [would be]," said Head Coach Bruce Arians of the first padded practice. "The noise level went up and some guys messed their pants. But, we’ll grade the film.
"Defense usually wins the first couple days. They’re not thinking as much. Offensively, you’re looking at all the things that they’re doing. We have to communicate. Between the heat and the noise, we didn’t do a very good job today."
Jameis Winston and Blaine Gabbert alternated directing those two-minute drills, and only one of the four produced points. That one ended on a Cairo Santos field goal* after a deep completion from Winston to Mike Evans on a desperation fourth down. Otherwise, the defense allowed very little movement of the ball, and cornerback Vernon Hargreaves ended the first drive with an interception near the sideline when he read an out route and got a good jump on the ball.
(* That "pressure" kick was a good showing for Santos in the Bucs' ongoing kicker competition, which already featured good days for both him and rookie Matt Gay the previous two days. Santos got another shot in the field goal drill on Sunday and made all of his kicks, including a 55-yarder.)
"It was a good first day," said Hargreaves, who probably felt better about it than many of his offensive teammates. "We were getting after it, getting this work in. Many more to go – we're not really satisfied with today's first day. It is what is. We'll see when the season starts."
Hargreaves and the rest of the Buccaneers' very young but promising secondary ruled the passing lanes for much of the day and Arians was impressed with the energy that group brought to practice.
“Yes they [did] and they’re doing very well," said the coach. "They can have fun when they’re having success. You can’t have success unless you know what you’re doing, and these guys are really bright.
"[Speed] is what we’ve built this defense on and we have it right across the board. They can all run. They’re high-motor guys and we’re going to have a lot of fun on defense."
In addition to the good work in the secondary, Tampa Bay's defensive front also applied a lot of very noticeable pressure on the quarterbacks, both from the outside and up the middle. Defensive linemen Ndamukong Suh and Vita Vea spent time in the backfield, which is obviously promising, though once again that was a development that could be viewed in several ways. Arians is likely to have some film-room critiques for his blockers.
“A couple of [defensive linemen] were turned loose," said Arians. "We’re supposed to be double-teaming and bouncing them off [and] they won’t touch them. [There was] just bad communication and like I said, the noise level got a little high for a couple of the young guys."
Until the Buccaneers line up against an opponent other than themselves it will be hard to get too excited about any unit's performance without considering what it means for the other side. Certainly Arians will be pushing his offense to have a better day when they come out for a second day in pads on Monday. That said, the optimistic sort could certainly find a lot to like about the way the secondary and the pass-rush performed on Sunday.
"We're just doing what we do, we're just playing ball," said Hargreaves. "We're able to play fast and our coaches, they're behind us all the way. They want us to play fast, they don't care about mistakes. They want us to play fast, make plays and play the right way."