Training camp is the time for a team to jell together. This year, they'll do even more of it with the absence of a preseason or even joint practices. When you're going against your own teammates day-in and day-out, things start to feel a little… monotonous.
Being the fierce competitors they are, most NFL players don't settle for monotonous. That's why usually, they'll try and figure out who won that day of practice. Sometimes it's a conversation among individuals but a lot of the time, it's between sides of the ball. Media members watching practice will have the same conversations, 'Did you see that interception?' 'What about that route so-and-so ran?' 'That was a bomb right to him in the end zone.'
With 14 padded practices this preseason, I want to now try to figure out who will win the majority of them: offense or defense. The offense has a lot of new – yet established – faces. The defense is going into their second year together after returning all of its starters. Offense is usually flashier as it is, especially in camp when contact is limited. But the defense has the opportunity to set the tone. So who will it be? That's where Senior Writer and Editor Scott Smith comes in during the last installment of our Camp Countdown series. After all, camp is here! As a note: we may pick the same side of the ball.
See all other nine questions we've answered over the past couple of weeks below:
Tuesday, August 4: Who 'wins' training camp? Offense or defense?
Today's Question: Who 'wins' training camp? Offense or defense?
I'll warn you; I'm much more let's say 'defensively inclined' when it comes to football. I think it's probably a symptom of growing up outside Chicago where, much like it was here in Tampa, defense was king. The constant chess match of the defense trying to remain two steps ahead of an offense has always fascinated me. And now that the Bucs have a defense that is going into their second year intact, I can't help but think that gives them a leg up this preseason.
The offense will obviously be the focal point for many with the addition of quarterback Tom Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski. But there will be a learning curve as the two get used to their new team – and figure out just what to do with all those weapons. Of course, the defense will be learning the tendencies of their new quarterback and they are not under ANY circumstances allowed to touch him (I wouldn't want to be on the receiving end of that Bruce Arians tirade if you do), but there are still plays on the ball to be made. Should they figure out a way to disrupt Brady's rhythm and the hum of his offense, I'd argue that's pretty darn impressive – especially for such a young group.
I also think you have more players on that side of the ball ready to make the 'leap' Scott and I just talked about on Monday. You have defensive tackle Vita Vea, who had a quietly good season last year, looking to put more of an exclamation point on his game from the interior. Now second-year player Devin White should be entering the season healthy with a whole year of learning from veteran Lavonte David under his belt. Then there's the secondary, who is young, but now has some semblance of experience to build upon.
If you see so many of these players make tangible improvements to their game this year, I don't know how you say they didn't win training camp.
I have seen Buccaneer defenses win training camps. Oh, have I seen Buccaneer defenses win training camp. I saw the rise of the legendary defense of the mid-'90s to the mid-aughts, and there was definitely not an offense in that span that could match it day after day through a hot summer month. From 1996 through 2008 the Buccaneers' defense only ranked lower than 11th once, and in eight of those years it was top five. Meanwhile, the offense only ranked higher than 18th once, and never better than 10th. Those are just numbers, I know, and they reflect what happened in the regular season against other opponents, but it was the same story on the ground in training camp. Believe me.
Now, this looked like it should finally be the era for Tampa Bay's offense to dominate in August. The Bucs have been top-10 each of the last three years and have had an especially robust passing attack in that span. Meanwhile, the defense ranked last in 2017, 27th in 2018 and 23rd through the first half of last year. The summer of 2020 looked like it would belong to Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.
And then the defense had to go and turn everything around in the second half of 2019. By the end of last year, there was serious reason to believe that the defense had surpassed the offense as Tampa Bay's team strength. Not fair.
So am I going to side with Carmen and go defense? I AM NOT. I need this, man. I need a training camp where the offense makes me start dreaming of a ruthlessly efficient machine once the games arrive. I need that, and the man that is going to deliver it to me is Tom Brady. In Brady I trust.
The most glaringly obvious way that a defense can "win" a practice is to get a bunch of turnovers. Often, it's not particularly clear if a running play has worked or not because there's no real tackling and most backs just continue on to the opposite end zone. And it's also hard to tell how good the pass rush is when every quarterback hunter is, as Carmen noted, swerving out of the QB lane well before contact. But an interception is a very obvious win for the defense. Tom Brady has one of the lowest interception rates in league history, and while I have seen very little of him in person in practice (the Bucs did have some joint work in New England in 2013), I'm going to assume he's just as good at avoiding them in training camp.
So Brady says, 'No, sir,' to the Bucs' young bunch of interception-hungry defenders and otherwise puts it on the money to the likes of Evans, Godwin, Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate, Ronald Jones II, Ke'Shawn Vaughn…inhales... Scotty Miller, Tyler Johnson, John Franklin, Tanner Hudson, Bryant Mitchell, Justin Watson and perhaps another Running Back to Be Named Later. LOADED. Offense wins.