After their first training camp off-day, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers returned to the practice field on Wednesday with an effort that drew a decidedly neutral reaction from Head Coach Dirk Koetter. Koetter, who isn't known to sugarcoat his thoughts, called the practice, "good and bad both ways." Koetter also suggested a good reason why his team might have an uneven practice: Six straight days of installing the playbook might have a few of the younger heads spinning.
Every training camp has its ups and downs, of course, and every seemingly good moment for the offense is a potential problem for the defense, and vice versa. There have still been some unequivocally good signs during the first week of the Bucs' camp, and on Monday Koetter highlighted a handful of players who are off to a good start, including tackle Demar Dotson, running backs Doug Martin and Charles Sims, tight end Cameron Brate, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, linebacker Lavonte David, safety Chris Conte and cornerbacks Alterraun Verner and Brent Grimes.
Pictures from the Buccaneers' training camp practice on Wednesday.
On Wednesday, Koetter also volunteered one thing that the team as a whole – or at least the offense – has excelled at so far: the deep pass. And that's not simply a matter of long completions being the most visually obvious moments of success in practice (and the surest way to get a rise from the crowd); Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken has been keeping track.
"That is the best thing we've probably been doing right now, other than we did a lot better running the ball today," said Koetter of the long ball. "But consistently over six practices – Coach Monken charts our completions over 10 yards – it's probably the best thing we're doing on offense right now, which is a good thing."
Indeed, a certain number of "explosive plays" on offense is a big part of Koetter's formula for success and he wants Jameis Winston, his strong-armed quarterback, to take plenty of downfield shots. The Buccaneers had a strong rushing attack in 2015 and expect that to carry over into this season, and that combines well with long throws due to the threat of play-action.
As the offensive coordinator last year, Koetter directed an attack that started to unlock some big-play potential. Tampa Bay ranked fourth in the NFL with 77 plays that gained 20 or more yards. That's a bit misleading, however, because it includes a league-best 20 rushing plays of that length. If one pushes the bar up to 25-yard completions, the Bucs drop down the rankings into a tie for 28th, with 26 of them. Given that the deep ball was considered a strength of Winston's coming into the 2015 draft, and that he's got a great downfield weapon in Mike Evans, the Bucs expect more explosive plays in 2016.
Winston and Evans, in particular, have been seeking a better connection in their second year together, and the third-year receiver thinks they are finding it.
"It's only been six practices so far, but it's already showing," said Evans. "We know where he's going to throw the ball , like I said. We're thinking before the play starts. Now that we're in the second year of this offense, we're playing fast. [Winston] knows where we're supposed to be. Based off what coverage, he know where we're supposed to be. It's been great so far."