When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers prepare for an upcoming opponent, they use film study and scouting reports to get a feel for what they will be up against on Sunday. Now imagine replacing that film study with 20-something hours of actual on-field study of that team and how much better your knowledge of your opponent would be.
That's where the Buccaneers' offense and defense are three weeks into training camp. They've seen enough of each other's tendencies and strengths to build up some muscle memory. Each side has some advantages it wouldn't have in a typical game.
Enter the Miami Dolphins.
On Wednesday, the Buccaneers and Dolphins held the first of the two joint practices they scheduled leading up to their preseason opener on Saturday at Raymond James Stadium. These workouts are taking place about a mile from the stadium, at the Buccaneers' AdventHealth Training Center and its three pristine practice fields. For both sides it removes the cheat code of over-familiarity, and that's a welcome development.
"It breaks camp up," said Buccaneers Head Coach Todd Bowles. "After a while you get to know each other's plays and cheat some things as opposed to playing it honest. Just seeing a different color jersey gets you through the rest of training camp as opposed to going against the same guys every day."
View some of the top photos from Buccaneers Training Camp practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.
Linebacker Lavonte David called Wednesday's practice "fun" and a solid day of work for his squad. If you're less familiar with your opponent's tendencies you have to rely more on your own ability to diagnose what is happening and react to it in the ways you have been taught.
"Going against another team, you get a chance to see different offensive styles," said David. "Gives you a chance to put your keys to work. Taking stuff that you learned in the film room and putting it on the field and stuff like that. You can't really guess, you can't anticipate, you've just got to let the football play out. Just use your rules and let it play out from there. That's definitely that we saw today, we got a lot of different looks from them – a lot of boots, play-actions, and stuff like that. It definitely was a chance for us to…a lot of things we can learn from."
The two teams run somewhat analogous 3-4 defensive schemes but their offenses don't bear much similarity to each other. For example, Cornerback Carlton Davis noted that the Dolphins have a pair of wide receivers unlike any in the NFL in Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, both of whom are very fast and shifty. Bowles thinks new Dolphins Head Coach Mike McDaniel is putting his stamp on the team's offense, particularly in the ground game. McDaniel was the run game coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers before being promoted to offensive coordinator under Kyle Shanahan, and the Dolphins added three running backs in the offseason in Chase Edmonds, Raheem Mostert and Sony Michel.
"We know they have a heck of a running game – we knew that from San Francisco," said Bowles. "Mike's a heck of a running game coordinator and they can put things together. We know they have a lot of speed outside and nobody's really showing anything. From a work standpoint, it was good to get the work against a different offense. We see different blocking, they have different runs than what we see in practice, so the work was great. I don't think they showed us everything, nor did we show them everything."
There's no scoreboard at a joint practice, or rather what look like scoreboards are actually displaying what period of that practice is in action and how many snaps and minutes are left in it. It's impossible to declare a 'winner,' though some individual snaps clearly go one way or another. Bucs wide receiver Julio Jones, for instance, turned in several big plays while covered by Dolphins cornerback Noah Igbinoghene. Overall, the action looked relatively even, though each team will decide how it went after closely studying the practice tape.
"I thought it was good work on both sides of the ball," said Bowles. "We competed for the most part and it was clean – got chippy at the end; have to make sure we control that tomorrow – but it was good work on both sides. Got to look at the film, [but] we got a lot of good things done against different people, different blocking schemes, both sides of the ball, different coverages, different route running, so it was good for us because we normally go up against big receivers on defense and our offense goes against their blitzing scheme, so it's good to get a different approach."