The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tennessee Titans shared a row of practice fields for nearly five combined hours on Wednesday and Thursday mornings, and it was in the last hour that they really got down to business.
The last few periods of a joint practice that went extra-long at St. Thomas Sports Park – the home of the Titans' training camp – focused on the type of work that most resembles live game action: move-the-ball and red-zone drills. For much of the two days, the drills that combined the teams were split onto two fields, with the Buccaneers' offense facing the Titans' defense on one and the opposite matchup on the other. For Thursday's final hour, though, all 180 players were in the same area, which only spiked the competitiveness of the day.
Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Buccaneers' first-team offense started a long series of two-minute drills with an impressive drive that produced the desired result: a field goal before time experienced. The Bucs just missed on two deep shots to Mike Evans during that possession but Fitzpatrick otherwise spread the ball around well to set up a short field goal try for kicker Chandler Catanzaro.
Both teams got multiple opportunities to drive down the field with their first, second and third-string attacks, and there were wins for both sides. There were enough successful moments for the Buccaneers' offense, such as the drive noted above, for the day to feel like a good step forward in advance of Saturday's preseason contest between these same two teams.
"I love going these joint practices going against another team because it's different looks, it's un-scouted looks where you're out there having to react, trying to use your base rules," said Fitzpatrick. "There's things that happen during a practice that you maybe didn't expect, but it's good to see how our guys are reacting. I thought we did a decent job today. There's some stuff we definitely need to work on but in general I thought our guys competed well today."
Even though the 11-on-11 game-situation drills were the highlight of Thursday's long field session, there were plenty of other opportunities for the competition between the two teams to gain intensity. That was certainly true of a one-on-one period between the Buccaneers' wide receivers and the Titans' cornerbacks in which all of the reps began within the 10-yard line. That kind of red zone drill compresses the space and leads to more contact and more contested passes in tight areas. Rookie Justin Watson provided one of the Bucs' top highlights of the drill with a leaping catch over a defender in the back left corner of the end zone, but the Titans' corners were able to deny a good number of potential touchdown passes.
Fitzpatrick enjoyed those moments when the competition level jumped up a notch or two.
"I thought it was a great battle the last few days, whether it was one-on-ones or out there in those team settings, the seven-on-seven stuff," said the Bucs' 14th-year passer, who had previously seen plenty of former-Patriot-turned-Titan corners Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan. "I thought [the Titans defensive backs] competed, they're very aggressive and physical. There's a couple guys over there that I've gone against a bunch, the New England brothers. I think they're talented on the back end. We were impressed; I'm glad we got some work against them."
For the second day in a row, Buccaneers Head Coach Dirk Koetter had a generally positive view of how practice unfolded. Despite the longer-than-usual workout on Thursday, Koetter didn't think his team's energy began to fade until the very end.
"It was good. It was good work. There was the threat of rain, there was talk we might have to go inside. There was a lot of good situational work and I thought our guys competed well. That was a good practice, good work."
The Buccaneers and Titans are finished with their shared work. Each team will hold a separate walk-through on Friday before their eventual meeting at Nissan Stadium on Saturday night. Koetter said the next 48 hours would be devoted to the mental side of the team's preparation – evaluating practice tape and making adjustments for the game. The final hour of move-the-ball work will be particularly useful for judging what is working and what needs to be tweaked on both offense and defense, and Koetter knows he'll have help in those adjustments from his veteran quarterback.
"Oh, wow, Ryan – just look at his experience, not only as a player but he's been in a lot of rooms and a lot of systems," said Koetter. "He's great for Jameis [Winston], heck he's great for me. I enjoy talking to Ryan. He's got really good input on situational football like we did today. He's a lot of fun to have in there."