Pictures from the Buccaneers' training camp practice on Saturday.
The ninth day of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2017 training camp was a little bit like the first eight. Just more so.
It was certainly hotter. After working through a run of rainy days, the Buccaneers had their time in the sun on Friday and Saturday, and the latter day was the most oppressive, from a weather standpoint, of camp so far. As much as the team does to protect its players and keep them hydrated on muggy days, two hours in the Tampa August heat is difficult to endure without serious fatigue.
The Buccaneers may not always want to subject the players to the heat – the enormous indoor facility rapidly rising to the south of the practice fields is an indication that the team wants an option to escape the sun – but when they do it becomes a worthwhile test.
"Four straight days in pads – we talked to these guys about the struggle, and fighting through the struggle," said Head Coach Dirk Koetter. "Your body learns the most when it's under duress. They pushed through today. I'm sure they'll be corrections in film this afternoon. Day off tomorrow, back at it on Monday."
The newcomers to the team likely get the most out of being exposed to a typical Florida summer day. Penn State wide receiver Chris Godwin probably didn't experience many similar days training in Happy Valley. Godwin has been a daily standout during the early part of training camp (as he was during the offseason program) and he had several more notable plays on Saturday, particularly during red zone drills. However, the rookie receiver, who has had pretty much nothing but good days as a Buc, discovered another hurdle he has to overcome en route to what could be a big role in the offense.
"Chris is doing well," said Koetter. "Now, we lost a couple guys that couldn't finish practice today because of various things. I thought Chris wore down a little bit at the end of practice. You've got to remember, that guy's a rookie. We're trying to push him hard. He's a good football player but he got a little bit tired at the end today."
If it was a day that required "pushing through," then the players got a nice boost from the biggest and most raucous crowd of the summer, perhaps of any summer since the team brought training camp back to team headquarters in 2009. Fans began lining up well before dawn and the stands were packed minutes after gates opened at 8:00 a.m. The chants began before the gates opened and grew louder once the stands were full.
"It was good," said wide receiver DeSean Jackson of the fans' support. "They were out here since like 7:00, 7:45. We heard them from the meeting room, so we knew today was going to be a very energized day. They came out here and supported us. We appreciate their support so we put on a little show for them so they'd have fun, then got down to the business."
A large portion of Saturday's crowd identified with a growing group called the Stick Carriers, based on a postgame speech Koetter made last season paraphrasing Teddy Roosevelt's famous quote about foreign policy, "Speak softly and carry a big stick." Koetter took a moment at the beginning of practice to speak with the crowd and lead them in a similar chant.
"The crowd was fantastic. Are you kidding me?" said Koetter after practice. They did a great job. That was a lot of fun. That was a lot of fun, and hats off to the 'Stick Carriers.' They did an awesome job today."
WATCH: SATURDAY'S PRESS CONFERENCES
The attendance on Saturday was so large that the team allowed fans to come onto the grass, roping off an area behind the middle field and between the first two fields. They watched a team that still has close to 90 players involved in practice, thanks to a good run of injury fortune in the first week of camp. Saturday's practice was another productive one because the team has not been slowed by health issues or allowed itself to be distracted by Hard Knocks cameras or anything else.
"Well, injuries for sure – we're very fortunate right now – knock on wood if there's some around here – we're very blessed," said Koetter. "As far as no distractions, we talk to guys, there's only distractions if we let them be. I think that's a sign of the leadership of our players. They've been a big part of that."
- The chants of the Stick Carriers turned into a roar early in practice when Jackson made a pair of catches in the end zone during a red zone drill.
The addition of offensive weapons like Jackson, one of the NFL's premier big-play receivers, and first-round draft pick O.J. Howard is one of the main things that has led the positive buzz around the team. On Saturday, the packed grandstands couldn't wait to cheer on Jackson, as they hope to be doing repeatedly on Sunday afternoons.
"DeSean had a great day," said Koetter. "He got off to a fast start. You know, one of his best plays, I don't even know [if it was noticed] because it was over there on the sideline in that last period. He caught that quick out, broke that tackle and he was gone. So, big day for DeSean, fun to see."
Jackson raced down the right sideline and beat one pursuing defender to get to the end zone on the play, which was likely expected to gain 10 to 12 yards. Instead, it was more like 50, and it served as a reminder that Jackson doesn't get all of his big plays by getting behind the defense and catching long passes. He's also a great source of YAC, or yards after the catch, which is something the Buccaneers' offense was sorely lacking in 2016
Since he entered the league in 2008, Jackson has ranked fifth among all NFL wide receivers with an average of 6.0 yards after the catch per reception. Remarkably, he also ranks seventh in that span in yards at the catch (commonly noted as Y@C), and he's the only receiver to rank in the top 10 in both categories in that span.
As for his two red zone touchdowns, Jackson knows that quarterback Jameis Winston has a lot of options to consider when the offense gets close to the goal line. The Buccaneers, who scored touchdowns on roughly 52% of their red zone trips last season, want to get that number up to 60% at least in 2017.
"Any time we get that close down there, it's a little harder because the field gets smaller," he said. "But we had some great plays in there and Jaboo made some great throws."
- The Buccaneers will play their first preseason game in six days, traveling to face the Cincinnati Bengals next Friday, August 11. Since starters usually only make a limited appearance in the first game, it will be a chance for roster hopefuls on both teams to show what they can do.
Of course, young players can find those same opportunities on the practice field, too. As he noted in one of the first clips released by HBO for the upcoming Hard Knocks series, it's important to be ready for such chances to separate from the pack. Koetter repeated that message on Saturday after practice.
"Absolutely, we talk to them about it all the time," said Koetter. "Everybody has opportunity but not the same opportunity and you don't know necessarily when they're going to come up, so you've got to make the most of them."
Pictures of fans at the Buccaneers' training camp practice on Saturday.
In the meeting from which the above clip derives, Koetter tells the team's rookies that, "Luck is the time when preparation and opportunity meet." On Saturday, the coach pointed out one player who has obviously taken that message to heart.: undrafted rookie cornerback Maurice Fleming.
"You don't see it, but if I look out my office about seven o'clock every morning, it's still kind of dark, he's out there behind the shed doing drills on his own," said Koetter. "There's a guy that's waiting for his opportunity. You can see that he's a tough guy and that he's a hitter. It's going to be fun to see him next week in Cincinnati, see what he can do, because he's definitely going to get a chance."