As in many other industries or facets of life, youth is valued in the National Football League. You'll hear about the never-ending quest to find 'young talent' coming out of the college ranks that can make an instant impact on a team. The Bucs are no exception, with General Manager Jason Licht emphasizing building his teams through the draft for myriad reasons. This offseason, however, was a bit of a departure Licht and his staff, who not only brought in a stellar draft class, but during free agency brought in multiple already-established players with experience – in most cases, Super Bowl experience. It has, in turn, paid dividends so far in training camp with regards to the overall work ethic and mentality of the team.
The offseason additions of players like defensive ends Jason Pierre-Paul and Vinny Curry or center Ryan Jensen have bolstered Tampa Bay's veteran presence on the roster. Each guy brings his knowledge and experience from his respective former team that he is now sharing with his Buccaneer teammates.
And boy, are these guys sharing.
In Wednesday's practice, and as Scott Smith mentioned, JPP went one-on-one with right tackle Demar Dotson in pass rush drills. Given Dotson is still easing back into practice following an offseason knee surgery, Pierre-Paul ended up getting the better of him in the drill. Instead of leaving it there, he pulled Dotson aside and told him things he didn't like to see as a defensive end, therefore essentially telling Dotson how to beat him. The two went back and forth in order to better each other.
It isn't just the new veteran players that are helping to better those around them, either. You can routinely find defensive tackle Gerald McCoy staying well after practice in the Florida sun coaching up some of the younger defensive linemen. And we aren't talking just five or ten minutes after. These extra sessions have gone into the half-hour territory on more than one occasion through the first six practices of camp. The willingness to stay after and increased work ethic across the board is something that Head Coach Dirk Koetter attributes to the fact that a lot of what were the young guys who came in through the draft aren't so young anymore. And it's a good thing.
"I just think that our leadership is emerging through the ranks of our team," Koetter said. "Those guys that Jason [Licht] drafted in that first draft – those four guys, the four starters – those guys are now not the young guys anymore. They're the vets and I think as you get more veteran leadership on your team or you bring in guys from other teams that have seen that work, that's going to increase. And it is great to see because none of these guys are required to stay out."
Though not drafted in that first draft by Licht, Quarterback Jameis Winston is one of those players that has always been one to continue his work well after the final whistle of practice. He and tight end Cameron Brate were notorious for their extra reps last season in order to get their timing down. It paid off as Brate was one of Winston's favorite targets last season and tied him for the team-lead in touchdowns by the end of the year. This week, both Winston and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick have been seen working with some of the more veteran receivers after practice like DeSean Jackson and Mike Evans. But Winston has also taken the time to get in extra work with some of the younger receivers. He was out with Bobo Wilson, Freddie Martino and rookie Justin Watson the other day throwing different routes and coaching up the young guys after they ran.
"The receivers who don't normally get reps with Jameis, of course they're dying to stay out here and get extra reps," Koetter said. "I think it doesn't hurt that a lot guys have seen the success Cam (Cameron Brate) has had as a guy who's really stayed after and developed a chemistry with Jameis."
Another guy that has been working a little extra with Watson has been DeSean Jackson. The 11-year NFL vet has seen a lot of potential in Watson and has made sure to pass on his experience and knowledge as the young receiver attempts to make a roster where his position isn't hurting for depth.
"He's a big physical body, another guy to have on our roster similar to Mike Evans," Jackson said of Watson. "He's just young. I'm just trying to give him some extra tools to put in his toolbox to be able to come on the field and be successful. Guys like that coming from college, it's a lot for them to learn. He definitely has the intangibles and learning skills to want to be better. I'm just helping him with releases and technique, schemes, just to help him be better on the field when he's running his routes."
So while youth is still exciting and valuable in this league, don't overlook what veteran presence and experience can do for a team. The Bucs are starting to find that out firsthand.