Pictures from the Bucs' training camp practice on Friday.
Chris Godwin found the month of July to be quite different in the NFL than it was during his Penn State days, and not just because of the oppressive Tampa heat. Used to being around his college teammates all the time, he had to adjust to that NFL lull that occurs between the last mini-camp of the offseason and the start of training camp. He had to find new ways to manage his time.
Apparently, the break did nothing to slow down the momentum Godwin had built up during a notably impressive offseason. The rookie receiver was one of the standouts of the Buccaneers' first training camp practice, catching everything in sight and making a pair of circus catches. On the second one, he reacted to a ball that was tipped at the line of scrimmage, jumping high to deflect it again and then spinning to catch it on the descent.
"I was just trying to stay with the ball," said Godwin. It was a reaction."
Quarterback Jameis Winston would like to limit the acrobatics his receivers have to go through to catch his passes, though tipped passes will never completely go away. During the offseason, he said he was working on being more precise with his passes so that receivers didn't have to "do the dirty work for him." Still, tipped passes are never going to be erased completely from the game, and Godwin knows he and his fellow receivers have to help out the quarterback from time to time.
"No doubt about it – as receivers, it's your job to be the eraser," said Godwin. "If anything goes wrong within the first portion of the play, it's our job to go up and make the catch wherever that ball is. We as a group, we take full responsibility on that. We recognize that it's on us."
Godwin wasn't the only pass-catcher to impress with his hands on Day One of training camp. Wide receiver Adam Humphries made a sliding catch of a pass a bit behind him. Tight end Cam Brate reacted quickly to haul in a back-shoulder throw on the sideline. Rookie tight end Antony Auclair made a noteworthy catch down the seam between two defenders, as did wide receiver Derel Walker. Rookie wide receiver Bobo Wilson leapt high to catch a hard pass in traffic. After some early drops, it was a strong day for the passing offense, but Godwin knows there will be plenty of competition from the defense in the weeks to come.
"It's always great when you can go up against great competition," said the rookie. "We have a lot of great defensive backs, so every time we come out here it's iron sharpening iron. As a competitor, you've got to love that."
And, as you would expect, Head Coach Dirk Koetter cautioned against reading too much into a single practice.
On Godwin: "Yeah, he did in OTAs as well. Again, it's day one. Let's not set our course for the whole season based on an hour and a half in shorts."
And on the offense's day as a whole: "We are in shorts. It's hard for the defense to show up. Bobby made a nice play on the interception. We are supposed to be staying away from the quarterback right now, so we had that one snafu on that play. But when we get going in pads, the defense will have some one-on-one pass rush, some one-on-one run blocking and that will all start to take shape."
Still, it was an encouraging start for Godwin, in keeping with the good impression he made in May and June. The third-round pick may not have a well-defined role in the offense yet, particularly with Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson sure to play extensively and Adam Humphries reprising his slot-receiver role. If Godwin has more days like Friday, the Buccaneers will be sure to find ways to get him on the field.
"It's always good when you can make an impression for your teammates, just kind of show them all your hard work in the offseason," said Godwin. "But we had a lot of guys out there making plays; I think you guys saw how [good] this offense can be. It's exciting."
- The Buccaneers started training camp with 90 of their 91 players on hand and ready to practice, including international exemption Eric Nzeocha, a linebacker who will spend the season on the practice squad.
That's the good news. The less welcome news is that the 91st player, defensive end Jacquies Smith, is not going to be able to practice for a while.
"Yeah, we are real healthy," said Koetter. "We are fortunate to be in a good spot health wise, other than Jacquies Smith. I mean, he had a setback. He's going to have a little procedure done this afternoon done on his knee, and he is [going to] be out here for a few weeks. We hope to get him back at some point."
Smith is trying to return from a knee injury suffered in the first game of the 2016 season. He was placed on the active/physically-unable-to-perform list before the start of training camp, which preserves the later option of putting on the reserve/PUP list at the start of the regular season. During the offseason, Smith re-signed with the Buccaneers by agreeing to the qualifying offer that made him a restricted free agent.
Smith had 6.5 sacks in 2014 and another 7.0 sacks in just 12 games in 2015 but he played only one defensive snap last year before his injury. The Buccaneers had hoped he would be a significant part of their edge-rushing rotation in 2016, and that is once again the hope for 2017. First, Smith must overcome his current setback and rejoin his teammates on the practice field.
- The Buccaneers practiced in front of a packed grandstand on Friday morning as fans flocked to One Buc Place to take in the first public practice of the year. While the offense was responsible for most of the day's crowd-pleasing plays, cornerback Robert McClain also caused a stir when he intercepted a short pass on the run in the right flat. It would have easily been a touchdown in a live game.
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McClain was operating out of the slot on that particular snap but he says he is getting reps both inside and outside. He would appear to be one of the prime competitors for the nickelback job, along with Jude Adjei-Barimah and Javien Elliott – but he could also give the defense good outside depth behind starters Brent Grimes and Vernon Hargreaves.
It was obviously good for McClain to make a good impression on the first day – Koetter referenced that play in his post-practice media session – but hopes it's just the beginning of a strong training camp.
"We have a long training camp to go; this is Day One," said McClain. "I'm just trying to tally up as many good days as I can. I'm just trying to do anything I can to improve on what I can improve on, and to help the defense improve. This is Day One. I'm excited about making that play but I've still got to improve and make more plays."
That helps, but just my experience in the league helps also. There's not a lot of magic in defense and offense anymore. The offenses and everything have been the same for decades and decades. Routes are the same. It's just personnel that changes, really. The years I've played in the league have helped me adapt to different defenses I've been on.