-For the final OTA practice on Friday, the Bucs were again indoors to get a break from the heat. The indoor facility provides a safe haven in that regard, though practice inevitably gets a little condensed with just one field to work with versus the three outdoors.
-The side of the ball that seemed to benefit from the efficiency was the defense. They were simulating pressure and breaking up passes all afternoon. There was a lot of creative 'pressure,' too (again, without contact). It came from all over the field and kept the offense guessing.
-Being the last practice of OTAs, Head Coach Bruce Arians made a deal with the team with about an hour to go: if kicker Matt Gay makes a 50-yard field goal, the rest of practice is canceled. Talk about a pressure situation. Make no mistake, that’s done completely on purpose. It’s the best way to simulate actual pressure on a kicker but the rookie delivered and sliced the uprights down the middle to the resounding cheers of the entire time, who get a much-needed break until mandatory mini-camp kicks off on Tuesday.
THE BEST THING I SAW (TODAY):
The team was running seven-on-seven drills, which just omit the trench dwellers on the field and let the linebackers and secondary go up against the skill position players on offense. Remember that players like Carl Nassib are now classified on linebackers, so he was on the field and he made it known by... just being Carl. He dropped into the underneath zone and when he saw the ball about to be let loose, he put his hands up and got a piece of a pass over the middle to break it up. Nassib is 6-7 so him raising his arms was legitimately all it took to take away that middle route by the offense. It was so nonchalant that no one saw it coming and the entire defense that was watching from the sidelines started going nuts.
View the best photos from the 9th day of Bucs OTAs.
Since it’s the last day of OTAs, I figured I’d add a bonus section of overall takeaways from Phase III of the offseason program.
-First off, the biggest thing is the energy the team has without being able to strap on pads. You can sense the anxiousness and the eagerness is palpable because the potential is evident with this team. The coaching staff has brought a fresh perspective to even the veteran players and everyone is looking forward to getting pads on to see how the new scheme actually looks when implemented. I, for one, can’t wait to see this ‘attacking’ defense start hitting.
-A big reason for the energy is the rookie class, I think. These first-year players have shined throughout OTAs. It was their first dose of NFL football and many took advantage, especially the defensive backs. Guys like Sean Murphy-Bunting, Jamel Dean and Mike Edwards made play after play, showing they belong already.
"Defensively, just throw the rookies out the window because they're exceeding expectations already," Arians said.
-Wide receiver Scotty Miller is another rookie who has stepped up. Size be damned, Miller finds a way to make the catch. His cuts on his routes are crisp and he is QUICK. What I didn’t expect is how effective he is in traffic. Granted, there isn’t a lot of real traffic when defensive backs can’t make contact, but Miller seems to be able to take advantage of the windows he’s given, and his hands have proven reliable so far. It’ll be fun to see how he does when the pads come on.
-More on the rookies… first-round pick Devin White is fitting right in with his defense and yes, I said his defense. He’s already assumed a vocal leadership role, which is exactly what he was brought in to do. You can see it not only as he calls the plays on the field for the defense but in the individual celebrations, he has with each of his teammates when they make a good play. He’s constantly talking, whether it’s calling out checks or just simple words of encouragement to his secondary or defensive line. And while he’s been the vocal one, he then very quietly will go over to the sideline and talk to his veteran counterpart in Lavonte David. It’s obvious he’s feeding off David’s experience. They’re constantly together with White picking his brain every chance he gets.
-More than I’ve seen in the past, the offense and defense seem to have a very pronounced rivalry as of late. They’re constantly chirping at each other in practice and it adds to the overall energy. I think it trickles down from the coaching staff, who are just as competitive with each other, if not more so, than the players. It’s probably a testament to how long the staff has known each other. These relationships, and therefore competition, are deep-rooted.
-The wide receiver group looks like it is going to be just fine for 2019. The wideout room was one of the Bucs’ best and deepest position last year and even with the departures of DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries, hasn’t taken a step back. They’ve added guys like Breshad Perriman and drafted the aforementioned rookie in Scotty Miller. Second-year receiver Chris Godwin is also looking forward to a bit of a role change that will see him line up all over the field and he’s a solid target. So much so, that Head Coach Bruce Arians stands by his previous statement of just how much work Godwin could get this season:
“I had high expectations," Arians said of Godwin. "And they're even higher now. He hasn't done anything to diminish what I thought he would be and as he learns how to play in that slot and read things a little bit more, he's made great progress, I think I'll stand by my 100-catch announcement."
Plus, the Bucs again will have the option of more 12 personnel packages because of two very good pass-catching tight ends. O.J. Howard is healthy, Cam Brate should be ready to go for training camp and Antony Auclair really impressed during OTAs with his hands. Used primarily as a blocking tight end last year, Auclair was loud and clear during practice that he can do more than that. He was much smoother and incredibly reliable with his hands this offseason.
-Perhaps the most improved group offensively is the running back room. Between Peyton Barber working on his pass-catching skills and second-year player Ronald Jones doing the same, all of the backs look to have taken drastic steps forward. It’s a little hard to tell with running backs given that there’s no contact and therefore the offensive line can’t open up holes and they can’t run through tackles, but the overall effort is different. They’re finishing runs even after they should have been tackled. Each one continues to run all the way down the field. I had one player tell me that was on purpose as a means of changing the mentality of the position group. That has to be music to Bucs fans ears, for sure.
-Defensively, Arians had some high praise for the guys at the last level of defense. The Buccaneers struggled in the secondary last season and it was a big area of concern that was addressed by adding those three rookie defensive backs in the Draft. That problem isn't exactly a problem anymore, according to Arians.
"The secondary," Arians answered simply. "I think we're really, really good. Carlton, Vernon, we knew we had two solid corners. We have five solid corners. I think Ryan came a long way. So yeah, I think earmarked as a problem set back in January, that's totally fixed. Just knock on wood they stay healthy."
-Mini-camp kicks off on Tuesday and after the three-day mandatory practices, players will be off from organized activities until training camp. And then the real fun starts.