The Tampa Bay Buccaneers completed their sixth training camp practice with a rising heat index in Florida. The Bucs will conduct one more practice on Wednesday before taking the day off on Thursday. Per usual, many players showcased versatility on the grass and impressed during one-one-one drills. Following practice, Head Coach Todd Bowles, along with several players, recapped the day and provided an overview of what is to come. Here are the top takeaways from day two in pads.
Antoine Winfield Jr. Embraces Versatility
From the podium on Tuesday, Bowles emphasized takeaways and the importance of players not only being in prime position but retaining the catch. Last season, the Bucs' backfield got their hands on several balls but did not always come away with the catch. In 2022, men in the last line of defense have taken that to heart. Following practice and media availability, Antoine Winfield Jr. extensively worked in the scorching heat by himself on the Jugs machine. He empathized tracking and ball skills to elevate his craft. With an emphasis on the mental aspect of the game, Winfield Jr. is aiming for ascension entering Year 3. Throughout training camp, Winfield has played a variety of roles on the back end, including nickel corner. "Definitely look forward to playing in the slot, that comes with my versatility," Winfield said. "I have to be great in the slot to play in this league, so I am just working and crafting every day." He has played closer to the line of scrimmage, covering receivers underneath and has been featured in Bowles' creative blitz packages. Winfield has also played free safety over the top and can set the edge against the run. Being able to move Winfield around can keep offenses off-balance, using variations of man and zone. With the addition of Logan Ryan and Keanu Neal, the Bucs have the freedom to be more creative in coverages with each of their respective skillsets.
Todd Bowles Sheds Light on Keanu Neal's Role
After playing linebacker last year for the Dallas Cowboys, Keanu Neal has transitioned back to his natural fit at safety. Prior to his stint with Dallas, Neal served as the prototypical Cover Three strong safety for the Atlanta Falcons. He primarily carried running backs/tight ends and utilized his physicality near the line of scrimmage to stop the run. Now, his size will be featured in Tampa Bay. "He's not just a box player," Bowles stated. "He understands schemes. He understands how to play zones and then can play some man, so he's a utility size safety. He impacts the game because when the ball is played on the perimeter so much, when smaller wideouts and backs go try to block him, he can run right through them. He has a role, and we are still trying to figure that part out." Whether it is a running back chipping or a receiver stalk blocking in the open field, Neal would create a mismatch problem, overpowering with size, especially on screens where receivers are forced to hold the block longer. Neal can help bolster the secondary in 2022, adding flexibility to round out the unit.
Robert Hainsey Takes Strides
On Friday, Robert Hainsey remarked, "I'm ready," at the podium after taking first-team reps at center stepping in for Ryan Jensen. Over the past year, Hainsey has earned the trust of players and coaches alike with his cerebral approach. "His film study is outstanding," Bowles described last week. "He's very smart. He can see defenses; he can help the quarterback that way, can help the offensive line. He's diligent about it, and he wants to be good." A year ago, Hainsey had never played center with just 31 offensive snaps on his resume accumulated during his rookie campaign, but the hard work has paid off. On Tuesday during one-on-one pass rush drills, Hainsey had a stellar rep against Vita Vea in which he drove him backward – a noteworthy feat. Again, during the team period, Hainsey won the matchup at the line of scrimmage with Vea, keeping Brady clean in the pocket. He immediately received recognition from coaches, a confidence booster as Hainsey strives to win the vacant center job.
Strong Outing for Tyler Johnson
The top four receivers on the Bucs' depth chart are set with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin (recovering from ACL), Russell Gage and Julio Jones. The last two receiver spots are up for grabs and Tyler Johnson has turned heads throughout camp, garnering praise from both Evans and Bowles. "He came in in great shape," Bowles stated. "I think he's learned the offense a little more so he's playing a lot freer than he was the last two years. This is a great camp and he'll get a lot of playing time and we'll get to see what he's really doing." Johnson has received plenty of reps, making catches over the middle. He made a highlight grab downfield during the move-the-ball drill on Tuesday, warranting cheers from the crowd. The third-year pro has embodied the mindset, "control what you can control" and get "one percent better every day." There is an embarrassment of riches in the receiving corps in Tampa Bay and Johnson studies his teammates' precise route-running to optimize growth. Over the previous two seasons, Johnson has accumulated 48 receptions (72 targets) for 529 yards and two touchdowns in 31 games played (three starts). The former 2020 fifth-round pick will vie for time on the field and is certainly on the right track. There is an abundance of established weapons in Byron Leftwich's arsenal and Johnson continues to take evident strides forward, striving to forge a role.