Midway through the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' second 2016 training camp practice, wide receiver Adam Humphries pulled a slick double-move on an opposing cornerback to get open deep down the right sideline. Quarterback Mike Glennon, who had faked a handoff to the left and then rolled to his right, spied Humphries right away and dropped his right shoulder as he prepared to release a deep, arcing pass.
That move necessarily brought Glennon's left shoulder up, a little nugget of information that safety Keith Tandy – playing deep centerfield – absorbed almost without thinking about it. That key, and his quick reaction to it, was one of the factors that allowed Tandy to make what Head Coach Dirk Koetter would later call, "the play of the day."
To the typical observer, who would likely have been following the ball, the play looked like a sure 60-yard touchdown that was denied at the last second by the streaking Tandy, who arrived just in time to leap between Humphries and the ball and knock it away.
“That was a great play by Tandy," said Head Coach Dirk Koetter. "That was good for Mike Glennon to see that we may have hung it just a little too long. That’s a tough throw, that ball’s about 50 yards down the field. But for Tandy to show his range like that, that’s unusual that an NFL safety will overlap and make that play, so that was a really nice play, maybe the play of the day.”
For his part, Tandy wasn't completely satisfied with the play because he didn't intercept the pass. And, again, that came down to the little details that – while nearly invisible to the average onlooker – are key to a safety's craft.
"He ran a double-move," said Tandy, describing what he saw as the play developed. "I wasn't standing there; I was in the middle of the field so I sort of saw it out of the corner of my eye. I settled my feet a little bit, and I wish I hadn't settled my feet because I would have gotten there a little quicker and made the pick. I jumped and made the play – it was definitely a good play.
"Yesterday, we picked something up on film from the offense. We were kind of jogging to the middle of the field to get a read. They said, 'Make sure you sprint there, get your depth, and that way you can come downfield and make more plays. Once I saw Mike Glennon's shoulder come up, I knew he was going to throw it far, so I turned to see where Adam Humphries was and tried to cut him off, knocked the ball off."
Tandy is heading into his fifth NFL season after signing a new deal with the Buccaneers this spring before he could hit unrestricted free agency. That in itself was a significant accomplishment for the former sixth-round pick in 2012. Of the seven players the team selected that year, only three eventually got a second contract with Tampa Bay. The other two are running back Doug Martin and linebacker Lavonte David, and the reasons for their new deals are patently obvious.
Tandy, by contrast, doesn't yet have a Pro Bowl or any particularly gaudy statistics on his resume, and yet the Buccaneers were very motivated to keep him in the fold. The reason, in essence: Whatever Tandy has been asked to do over the last four seasons, he has done well.
That starts on special teams, where he has played extensively and reliably in each of his four seasons. During that time, however, he has also periodically gotten opportunities to play on defense, sometimes in sub packages and sometimes as a spot starter, and the Bucs have never regretted having him on the field.
RECAP: DAY 1 OF TRAINING CAMP
Last year, for instance, Tandy was involved in 30% of the team's defensive snaps, the vast majority of that coming during two season-ending starts after Chris Conte landed on injured reserve. All he did in those two games was rack up 21 tackles, two tackles for loss and one sack. Conte and fellow 2015 starter Bradley McDougald also re-signed with the team this spring and, as camp begins, continue to run with the first team. Tandy is almost certain to contribute on both defense and special teams once again in 2016, but he also continues to battle for a starting job.
Pictures from the Bucs' first training camp practice of 2016.
"I think for everybody out here – I know at least for me – the goal is to start," he said. "What you do is, every day you go out here and you prepare like you're going to start. Then when I go to special teams I prepare like I'm going to make a Pro Bowl on special teams, be the best special-teamer out here. You take that approach every single day and make sure you don't make the same mistakes every day. You gradually get better and at the end of training camp, at the end of four years, you realize, 'Man, I really know a lot!'"
That knowledge, and the ability to collect so many little pieces of helpful information in a few seconds, is the end result of four years of NFL experience. It's also a database that Tandy continues to build.
"That's one thing I've always taken pride in, knowing the details," he said. "I don't want to just know my job, I want to know everybody's job. I don't want to just know, 'Okay, the corner's going to be here.' I want to know, what's the corner's footwork? That's going to help us both out – I know exactly where he's going to be and he knows exactly where I'm going to be. I know where my help is at so I can play this leverage and force it to my help. That's how you make more plays."
Pictures of Buccaneers fans at training camp on Thursday, July 28.
Now Tandy is in position to pass on some of that knowledge – and tricks on how to process it – to such rookie safeties as Ryan Smith, Elijah Shumate and Isaiah Johnson. The former is a fourth-round pick who is moving from cornerback to safety, a conversion that Tandy himself made upon hitting the NFL. The latter two are undrafted free agents who will surely soak up any offered help as they try to make the team. Tandy talks to them frequently on the sideline about keys like the ones he used to make the aforementioned play.
"It's a lot more to say than it is to think about," he said. "When you're out there on the field, you can actually think about 10 different things in about two seconds. That's what I try to keep telling the young guys – Smitty, Shumate and Johnson – when you get a play, think about all these keys real quick. It's a lot to talk about. When I tell them it takes about 15 seconds to say it all, but on the field when you're in coverage it's, 'Boom! This, this and this.'"
That's how it went down for Tandy as he created a moment that will play very well in the post-practice video review sessions. Consistent plays like that one could eventually lead to some first-team reps, and which would in turn be another step in his efforts to win a starting job.
"That's on the coaches," said Tandy. "I just know every time I'm going to try to give them the best I can and make every play I can, and make them have to make a difficult decision."