The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had a bad practice on Friday, one that the head coach likened to something you might find in a stable, but that's only a problem of any consequence if they followed it with another bad practice. Fortunately, that same arbiter judged Saturday's workout to be much better.
The Saturday rebound probably had a little to do with the tongue-lashing the players received and Friday morning and a lot to do with it being the very first practice of 2021 to include pads, and therefore action more resembling real football. Head Coach Bruce Arians, the aforementioned arbiter, said the donning of pads brought more "noise" (read: contact and chaos) to the action.
"Football players show up when the noise level goes up," said Arians. "A lot of guys look great in shorts but they disappear when the noise level goes up. So I was really happy to see it; I can't wait to grade the tape. Good ebb and flow at the end of practice – defense, offense.
"I thought everybody practiced to win rather than practiced to practice, and there's a big damn difference."
Guard Ali Marpet took to the microphone after Saturday's practice, too, looking as if he might have emerged directly from the pond behind him. The first week of training camp has been very hot and sticky, and putting on the pads didn't make it any easier for the players to handle those conditions. Believe it or not, Marpet gets a form of pleasure – or maybe more accurately, a sense of accomplishment – from fighting that heat and its effects.
"It's sort of, in a twisted way, a fun battle," he said. "You do have a devil on your shoulder talking to you just telling you to quit. It's hard. That last series there I think we had 12 straight [plays] or whatever and you're going against really good players and it's just sort of that internal will to keep on playing your best. That's the fun part."
Battling the heat while now in pads was part of the added noise Arians mentioned. It appears the Bucs handled the transition well and got back on track after one rough day. Hopefully they can now put together a string of good days as they head into August.
"I think today was actually a great day in pads," said Marpet. "I think the offense won some and the defense won some. It was a physical day and it's a great day to build on. I think this will be better moving forward. I think in training camp there are going to be some natural swings. As long as your trending in the right way, I think all of us are putting our best effort out there. That's how training camp goes, but as long as you're trending in that direction and that's how we feel right now."
*When rookie outside linebacker Joe Tryon put on his pads on Saturday, it was the first time he had done so in 19 months. The former University of Washington star finished that season on a tear, with 10 sacks in his last five games, but then opted out of the Huskies' 2020 campaigned before being drafted in the first round by Tampa Bay this April.
"It felt good you know - I haven't put pads on since December 2019 so it's been a long time coming," said Tryon. "I feel like I made strides and today was a good first day of pads.
It feels normal, it feels like I'm supposed to be here. This time last year I was unable to play and now it's just a blessing I'm not going to take for granted."
Now the rookie's push to carve out a significant role in the Bucs' edge rush rotation can begin in earnest. Buccaneers coaches have liked what they've seen from Tryon during some brief offseason work and the first six days of camp, but the guys who play in the trenches can't really show what they can do until there is real contact.
"He looks like he can play, he's got the ideal, typical body type for a defensive end," said Arians five days into training camp. "He has explosion coming off the line, no doubt about that. He's big, he's lengthy which is what you want. He's strong too but we'll really see what he has when we put the pads on."
Tryon held his own in the first OL/DL one-on-one drill of his NFL career and was at the very least noticeable during padded-up full-team drills.
Tryon's well-seasoned teammate, Jason Pierre-Paul, had what was probably the single best snap during those one-on-ones, easily beating his blocker on the left end of the line with a speed move around the edge. Pierre-Paul was fired up by the rep and began shouting at his fellow pass-rushers to keep up the momentum. Whether or not that outburst gave Tryon any more juice for his reps, the rookie is getting a lot out of being in an NFL camp with Pierre-Paul and the Bucs' other Pro Bowl edge rusher, Shaq Barrett.
"I pretty much have been shadowing Shaq and JPP," said Tryon. "In the meeting rooms they're dissecting film, telling us how we should do it and just watching what they do and trying to implement it into my game. Already I see strides. It's a blessing to be in this position. They're two amazing pass-rushers in the NFL and I feel like I'm in a great position."
*S Jordan Whitehead got in his first practice of the this year's training camp, though it was the man who has been taking Whitehead's snaps with the first team, Mike Edwards, who intercepted a pass for the second day in a row.
Whitehead was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list two days before the start of camp but was activated on Friday and on the practice field the next morning. Whitehead started all 20 games for the Buccaneers last year, including the playoffs, and had a key forced fumble in the NFC Championship Game.
Meanwhile, Edwards' reputation as a ball hawk may be growing. Last season, he intercepted three passes, postseason included, while playing 320 snaps on defense. That average of one pick in every 106 snaps was almost three times better than any of the Buccaneers' other regular defensive backs. This week, he got one in the last day without pads and the first day with them, though he might have enjoyed reversing the order of the two plays. On Friday, he landed very hard after making a leaping interception and needed several minutes to get back on his feet.
Saturday's pick was painless, for him and the defense at least. Inside linebacker Devin White also had a notable interception on the first play of the last period of practice for another mark in the defense's favor. That said, Arians said there were positives in those two plays for both the offense and the defense.
"Good for both," he said. "You learn from throwing it, and the defense obviously has to get some. We've been short on turnovers in camp. Devin's made that play now…he missed it once, now he's made it twice, so he's getting confidence because the quarterback will never see him going back there. He's got to learn, too."