-NFL.com took a look at the most pivotal rookies for each team and Lance Zierlein's answer for the Buccaneers may surprise you.
"Tristan Wirfs will get the attention as the first-round selection, but Tom Brady does an outstanding job of protecting his tackles by getting rid of the football. Winfield Jr. has already been making plays in camp. I'm betting on the instinctive, ball-hawking safety to win a starting spot and contribute early on."
The fact of the matter is the Bucs have multiple starting-caliber rookies from this year's draft class. But to Zierlein's point, Winfield has impressed so far in camp. I had hesitation putting any expectations on the young players this year, especially, given their lack of offseason program. But all anyone talks about with Winfield is how smart of a player he is and how many plays he's making on the field. Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles had this to say about him during Tuesday's media availability.
"Very heady, very studious – he comes prepared all the time," Bowles said of Winfield via Zoom. "He takes coaching, which is the biggest thing you could ask for a rookie and he applies it. Not just from the classroom – you can talk to him passing by him in the hallway and say something, and he'll retain it. That's very encouraging and he puts it to use once he gets on the field. I really like that about him."
Winfield is getting his work in, too, occupying multiple roles within the secondary in practice.
-The Buccaneers media availability was again more defensively focused, save for left guard Ali Marpet. We got to talk to Coach Arians first, as always. He had some praise for the secondary, even if they aren't necessarily getting the interceptions they would maybe like to have.
"They're going against a different quarterback (Tom Brady) most of the time and he's putting balls in places that you can't intercept," said Arians, in a sentiment that was later echoed by Bowles. "You really can't cover much better than they're doing. I'm happy with where they're at. [Parnell] Motley has done a good job catching balls that have been thrown to him. He's making most of his balls down the field or overthrown balls. I'm not concerned at all with where our corners are."
Bowles acknowledged that Brady throws great 'incompletions' and said he was also please with where the secondary is trending thus far in camp.
"The thing I'm encouraged about [is] they came back in shape and they're running around and moving well," Bowles said of his young cornerbacks, in particular. "As we see more routes, Tom gives us a challenge because if he doesn't throw it to his guys, it's hard for him to throw it to us because he throws great incompletions. I know that's hard to do, but he's very precise and specific in what he does. More importantly, our guys like focusing on our scheme and trying to get ready for the season without missing all the small, fundamental steps. That's what we're preparing for."
Up front, defensive lineman Vita Vea has also been having a strong camp despite currently playing with a club on his hand. Marpet even said on Tuesday that he's seen a tremendous amount of growth in Vea as a player, and particularly in his pass rushing ability. "He's a weapon," Marpet said.
One of the reasons for that growth may be the guy Vea is lining up next to on most snaps. Eleven-year veteran defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh has continued to have a positive impact on Vea's development.
"It actually helps a lot," Vea said of playing next to Suh. "It's hard to describe. Sometimes I can ask him out there like, 'The O-lineman did this to me, what should I do?' He's played so long that he's seen everything, so he can help me right then and there and tell me what to do next time if it happens again."
That hasn't gone unnoticed by the Bucs' own offensive line, as Marpet mentioned. The defense isn't the only unit that has seen drastic improvements. The offensive line is benefitting from having Brady under center and not just because he gets the ball out quickly. Marpet said it's really his understanding of the game that has been important for the line.
"I think the knowledge base and his communication skill – for us as an offensive line – is huge," said Marpet of Brady. "There are times he can see things that I'm not seeing and he's like, 'Hey, I want you guys to do this.' I'm like, 'Done.' Amazingly, he'll pick something up that I didn't know was coming. Just his veteran experience and his ability to communicate it across the line and to the receivers and everything is really impressive. That's been extremely helpful."