The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' young defensive backs had a fine day of tipping and (maybe) intercepting passes in practice on Tuesday, and on Wednesday they were at it again. Rookie Sean Murphy-Bunting snared two interceptions in a workout that was held outside and was thus much steamier than the indoor effort from the day before. Second-year man Carlton Davis snagged one, as well, and fourth-year player De'Vante Harris – still only 24 years old but practically a hoary veteran in this group – took one out of the red zone in the opposite direction. There were a number of other contested passes along the way.
One reason that the offense has had a little trouble taking advantage of this young secondary in recent days is that its own ranks have been thinned. Mike Evans hasn't practiced in a couple weeks, Breshad Perriman was out for a few days and is still limited and tight end Cam Brate, a noted Jameis Winston favorite, has yet to return to practice while he recovers from hip surgery.
That has meant opportunity for some young players. When Head Coach Bruce Arians splits his practice into two to get more reps for everyone, the older and more established players go on one side and the younger, inexperienced players go on the other. Sometimes, an injury to someone in the first group means a chance on that side of the field for young players who were impressing in the second group. For instance, undrafted rookies Anthony Johnson and DaMarkus Lodge have seen some added time with the experienced group.
That's all fine and good, but the other side of the coin is the added difficulty level for the quarterbacks who are trying to figure out a complicated new offensive scheme. As Arians noted on Wednesday, that's tougher for Winston to do with Evans on the sideline, not creating easy separation for his quarterback. There is another receiver for Winston, however, one rapidly advancing into established veteran territory, who can make his life easier: Chris Godwin.
It's fairly clear that Winston trusts Godwin when he chooses to fire a pass in Godwin's way through a very narrow window between three defenders, one that requires incredible concentration and hands from the receiver. The two combined on just such a play on Wednesday, and it was one of the better moments for the offense in a red zone drill that also included some very obvious wins for the defense.
"We have to have trust," said Godwin. "Jameis has to have trust in us, we have to have trust in him or else this whole thing won't work. I would like to think that he can trust me some more. That's what we're doing, we're building trust – not just me and Jameis, not just Mike and Jameis but the whole receiving corps, tight ends included."
Arians clearly has trust in Godwin, and a lofty idea of the receiver's potential ceiling. He recently repeated a rather bold suggestion he had made earlier about what Godwin might do in his offense this year.
As he did the first time such comments were relayed to him, Godwin noted his appreciation but said it wasn't such numerical goals that are driving him on the practice field this offseason.
"I think it's cool to be talked about like that, but like I said before, those aren't really things I focus on," he said. "I feel like if I do, I'm focusing on the wrong stuff. The biggest thing for me is going out there and getting better every day so that when the games start I can be a guy that my team can rely on."
Godwin says the arrival of Arians and a new coaching staff, and with it a new system to be learned, has added an extra challenge this offseason, albeit a welcome win. There is new terminology to be learned and "intricate details" that apply to various routes and offensive concepts. Godwin called the installment of the offense "a work in progress."
"It's very tough, not only just the plays themselves but understanding the timing of everything, when you're supposed to be open, the progressions," he said. "It can be pretty challenging, but that's why we're coming out here and doing the hard work."
The practice ended on a good note for the offense, with tight end O.J. Howard leaping very high to make a catch just past the end zone in the middle of the field. It looked like Godwin might have been the actual target farther into the end zone, but he didn't mind his teammate getting the six points. It's already clear that Godwin is going to be a trusted target around the end zone, which means he will have an opportunity to put more points on the board when the games begin. He already saw his touchdown production jump from one as a rookie (on the Bucs' last offensive play of that season) to seven last year, and now it may go even higher.
"I always think I can be a red zone threat," said Godwin. "I think I can be a threat from wherever on the field. That's my goal, is to keep progressing as a receiver and be one of the top guys in the league. I've got a lot of work to do but I'm looking forward to putting that work in."