Thursday’s practice was deservedly cut short, again by a successful field goal attempt to get a little pressure on the kicker. Where it was kicker Matt Gay that booted the OTA-ending 50-yard kick last week, it was Cairo Santos who sent the team home early on Thursday. There was one period of split-team work with the offense on one field and the defense on the other. It was a glorified review session of the major installs during camp. Then, three horns blew, Santos hit his kick and in the span of 20 minutes the team broke to enjoy their time off before training camp begins in late July.
-Though there wasn’t much to take away from practice, there is a whole lot to be taken away from mini-camp as a whole. The first thing Head Coach Bruce Arians reflected on was the ‘amazing’ work ethic of the team as a whole.
“I was really pleased with the beginning until now, we’ve made the progress I’d hoped we’d make,” Arians said. “Are we there yet? No, but I like where we’re at right now. The work ethic in this group is amazing. Everybody shows up, everybody works, everybody has bought in and that’s all you can ask as a coach.”
-That work ethic was evident throughout, but after 10 OTA practices, mini-camp was a chance for the team to start putting their new scheme all together and that’s when the fun began. The team seemed to be having so much fun these last couple days. The offense and defense were chirping back and forth to each other in practice. Players were yelling out to their teammates on the field in drills and egging them on. After big plays, entire units came off the sidelines to celebrate. All the while, you also saw one-on-one conversations with coaches and amongst themselves as they digested what they’ve spent this offseason learning. If I found myself laughing from the sidelines, I can’t imagine how much fun the guys were having between the white lines.
-The 2019 draft class is poised for a big impact on this team if this offseason has been any indication. You’ve heard about how well the rookie defensive backs are doing. Cornerbacks Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean, along with safety Mike Edwards were getting their hands on the ball and more importantly, putting themselves in positions to make plays. It shows a true understanding of the system, which is impressive for even veteran players at this point. It’s especially good news for the secondary given that their ‘veterans’ in Vernon Hargreaves and Ryan Smith are just 24 and 25, respectively. But that accounts for just three of the Bucs’ eight draft picks.
Wide receiver Scotty Miller has impressed across the board. While he is by no means a one-to-one fill-in for the departed Adam Humphries, he seems to have hit sights set on Humphries’ workload, even if it doesn’t come the same way. Miller’s calling card is his speed, but what has been most surprising has actually been his range. He’s been lined up over the field and caught balls in traffic that I thought were sure incompletions. The slot is a hard place for receivers, given that they’ll inevitably be asked to block and take a few more hits running more routes underneath in linebacker territory. The 5-9, 176-pound Miller didn’t shy away from it, though. As far as outside routes where Miller gets a step on a defensive back, forget it. It’s a game of tag from the line of scrimmage and Miller is going to win that every time.
Then there’s kicker Matt Gay, who is engaged in quite the specialist battle with kicker Cairo Santos. It may have been Santos’ day to end practice early like I mentioned above, but Gay did it on Friday to end OTAs. Each kicking period the team has consists of both kickers getting their shot at kicking from various distances, one after the other. It’s tough to tell who has the edge but Gay’s kicks simply boom. It’s impressive and he’s been accurate at the same time.
There’s Anthony Nelson, who seems to be fitting right into the outside linebacker role from his college days as a 4-3 defensive end. The thing about Nelson is he’s smart. Like, really smart. He has been able to pick up the scheme extraordinarily quickly and is often working extra with fellow outside linebacker Carl Nassib. In addition to his intelligence, Nelson’s athleticism really can’t be overlooked either. He moves more fluidly than expected and in a position that requires just a little more athleticism than he’s used to, that’s good news. His combination of smarts and agility could make him a great asset on the outside of this defensive line.
Terry Beckner Jr. was the team’s seventh-round pick but physically, he’s impressive. He plays with a lot of fire and his coaches have had great things to say about how hungry he is. Now that the playbook is starting to sink in, he got back to his inherent ball awareness and was even able to get his hand on a pass to break it up yesterday. He could be a very solid depth option on the defensive line and has a great veteran cast to learn from, especially with the addition of Ndamukong Suh to the defensive interior.
And yes. There’s Devin White. It’s hard to even put him in with this group for the simple fact he doesn’t look like a rookie out there. He’s relaying calls to the defense in practice. He’s calling out what to watch for from the sidelines. He’s huddling up with veteran Lavonte David. He was drafted to be a leader and he’s already started to deliver. Not to mention his play. Yes, he has leadership qualities that aided in his top-five selection in this past year’s draft but let’s not forget this dude can PLAY. He’s aggressive and fast and smart. He’s everything you need the Mike linebacker to be in this defense and he looks like he’s having so much fun doing it.
-Now that we’ve run down all the drafted rookies, there were some younger rookie receivers that got great opportunities this week. There were also a couple veteran wide receivers that were brought in to compete for a spot, as well. When asked if any of them, like wide receiver Malachi Dupre, did enough to stick around through camp, Coach Arians was non-committal. I will say, Dupre had a couple great catches yesterday during two-minute drills. Arians has made multiple comments about the team still not being close to a finished product and that there will be shuffling before and during training camp before the team gets down to its final 53.
“If there’s a better player than what we’ve got, we’ll swap ‘em out,” Arians said. “That’s not just 90, that’s 53. Just because you’re in September, there still might be someone else you like a little bit better. You’re always churning the bottom of that roster and your practice squad looking for guys. You get set in stone and you’re stuck.”
-Interior defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh joined the team this week for the first time since being officially signed last week. Learning a new scheme can be daunting for some players, but for a veteran like Suh, it’s routine.
“I don’t think it’s that difficult,” Suh said. “The biggest thing is you have to get in your playbook and if it’s something you care about, you’ll make the time to figure it out.”
Given that there isn’t contact, it’s not like Suh could show flashes of his infamous power and agility during these past three days but his presence has been felt. Him on the line forces the offense to have to make some tough decisions on who to block. I can’t stress enough how much of an opportunity that creates for guys like Vita Vea, for instance. If you’re double-teaming (or even triple-teaming) Suh, who’s got Vea? Or Beau? Or Gholston? If you’re worried about blocking the interior, you’ve got no one leftover to take on guys like Carl Nassib and Noah Spence. Or, if you do, they’re more than likely a tight end or running back. Can you say mismatch?
Coach Arians couldn’t really offer anything specific on Suh’s impact in shorts, but training camp is going to be a lot of fun.
Until then, y’all.
THE BEST THING I SAW:
Obviously, Santos hitting the kick to send the team on their break. It also got me out of the heat. See you for training camp!