The Tampa Bay Buccaneers return to work on Tuesday after a players' day off on Monday that opened the third week of training camp. After one more two-and-a-half hour session of hitting each other, the Buccaneers will happily welcome the Miami Dolphins to the AdventHealth Training Center on Wednesday. The Buccaneers and Dolphins have scheduled two joint practices before their shared preseason opener on Saturday night at Raymond James Stadium.
Though we can't speak for the Dolphins, it's probably a fair bet that their players are as eager to go up against an unfamiliar foe as the Bucs are after two weeks of competing with their own teammates. The joint sessions on Wednesday and Thursday morning also offer both coaching staffs an opportunity to script certain scenarios and put their players into stressful scenarios.
With first cuts still a week away, each team will bring a 90-man roster to the field, which means a lot of rotating to get everyone reps. There are, however, some players on both squads who present significant challenges for their opponents. Here are five head-to-head battles that will be appointment viewing on Wednesday and Thursday.
1. Carlton Davis vs. Tyreek Hill
If Davis approaches these practices with the same intentions he has for the regular season, there will be no lack of intensity in his one-on-ones with any Dolphins pass-catcher.
"I want to dominate the league," said Davis after a recent camp practice. "I want to be the premier corner in the league. I want to be the most feared corner. I want to lead the league in pass break-ups [and] interceptions, and I want every NFL team to know that I'm an issue."
I used that quote in a previous post but couldn't resist surfacing it again here because, well, there's just no wiggle room in those words. Davis has already ascended into the ranks of the NFL's top cornerbacks, as evidenced by the lucrative new deal he got as a pending free agent this offseason, but his next step is not just a first Pro Bowl selection or some All-Pro votes. He wants to be number one, period.
He'll get a chance to go up against Miami's new number-one receiver, and it's an opponent with whom he's familiar. During the 2020 regular season, the Chiefs won a November game in Tampa as Hill went off for 269 yards and three touchdowns. That output wasn't all laid at the feet of Davis, but it certainly wasn't the best outing of his career. Davis was later instrumental in keeping Hill in check in Super Bowl LV, as the Chiefs didn't find the end zone once.
Hill has been the talk of the Dolphins' training camp so far, though he mentioned recently that he was tired of going up against Miami's top corner, Xavien Howard, who had been giving him trouble. Hill apparently got deep for several long receptions in Sunday’s practice, giving him some momentum heading to Tampa.
2. Joe Tryon-Shoyinka vs. Terron Armstead
Armstead was the Dolphins' other massive acquisition of the offseason, a free agency signing from the Saints brought in to anchor a line that has been one of Miami's biggest weaknesses in recent seasons. The Dolphins have practiced some "load management" with Armstead's practice time because he is returning from a 2021 knee injury, but he worked on Sunday and will likely not skip the valuable joint work with the Bucs.
Armstead went to the Pro Bowl in each of the three seasons before his injury-marred 2021 campaign and Buccaneer pass-rushers are certainly familiar with his strengths. He's massive but nimble, able to mirror the quick moves of shifty defenders off the edge. According to Pro Football Focus, Armstead has allowed pressure on just 3.7% of his pass-blocking snaps over the past seven seasons, tied for the best in the NFL in that span.
That's the challenge that awaits Tryon-Shoyinka, the second-year player who is stepping into a bigger role in 2021 and raising expectations with his strong performance in training camp. Though quarterbacks are off limits for obvious reasons and linemen aren't necessarily asked to go full-bore on every snap, Tryon-Shoyinka's speed around the edge has been evident on a large number of snaps.
After contributing in a number of roles as a rookie, Tryon-Shoyinka is being allowed to focus on being an edge-rusher this year and has primarily worked on the right end of the Bucs' defensive front. That will put him in the sights of the Dolphins' left tackle, which as of this season is Armstead. It's a great challenge for the Bucs' young defender.
3. Antoine Winfield Jr. vs. Tua Tagovailoa
The Buccaneers appear to have big plans for Winfield, their third-year Pro Bowl safety, in 2022 and he is in turn excited about the myriad of ways the team is planning to use him in the defense. Winfield will be moved all around the formation, including getting work in the slot, which will allow him to bring his wide array of talents to bear, as a centerfielder, a blitzer, a run defender and more. Of all the Buccaneers' defenders, Winfield will have the best opportunity to ruin Tagovailoa's day in different ways.
The fifth-overall pick in the 2020 draft – the same one that sent Winfield to Tampa in the second round – Tagovailoa is entering what should be a formative season. The Dolphins spent the offseason building around their young quarterback, bringing in offensive whiz Mike McDaniel as the head coach and adding, building up the line in front of him and adding the likes of Hill, Cedrick Wilson, Chase Edmonds and Raheem Mostert.
Hill has been very complementary about the performance of his new quarterback and the Dolphins could be tough to handle if they find creative ways to get the football into the hands of big-play machine Hill and the very shifty Jaylen Waddle. Buccaneers defensive backs are familiar with going up against some of the league's best receivers, of course, but will surely relish this different sort of challenge. Winfield will try to make sure Tagovailoa can't get the ball to those pass-catchers as cleanly as he would like.
4. Robert Hainsey vs. Christian Wilkins
The Buccaneers are looking for the best solution to replace injured center Ryan Jensen, a Pro Bowler and emotional leader on the field, and they are turning first to their third-round pick from 2021, Hainsey. The former Notre Dame standout, who played tackle in college, has taken the majority of the first-team reps at center since Jensent went down on the second day of camp with a knee injury that will keep him out until at least November.
Hainsey has been described repeatedly by coaches and teammates as a highly intelligent player who works very hard at his craft. Though he didn't play much as a rookie he did spend the year learning the center position and soaking up information from Jensen in practice. The Buccaneers had one of the NFL's best O-Lines in 2021, and the league's lowest sack rate allowed, but they will be starting the season with a new player at each of the three interior spots. Given how much the center communicates with the quarterback and the rest of the line, the unexpected transition at center might be the most important one.
Therefore, it will be interesting to see how the young blocker does against Wilkins, Miami's best down lineman on their defensive front. A first-round pick in 2019, Wilkins has improved every year and last year graded out as one of the best interior linemen in the NFL. He registered a career-high 4.5 sacks and also had 10 tackles for loss and 13 QB hits. Wilkins' pre-snap heat map on NFL Next Gen Stats shows that he lines up all across the Dolphins' line, so he may not be matched up with Hainsey on every snap but the two should get some one-on-one action at some point.
5. Russell Gage vs. Xavien Howard
Chris Godwin has returned to practice less than nine months after suffering a torn ACL but he has yet to resume team drills and probably won't do so this week against the Dolphins. Mike Evans tweaked a leg muscle late last week and might still be resting it throughout this week. That would nominally make Gage the Bucs' number-one receiver going into the joint practices, so it will be entertaining when he goes up against Miami's number-one cornerback.
Gage has been a hit in his first Bucs' camp, with Head Coach Todd Bowles pointing out how much difficulty his secondary has had covering him. Buccaneers DBs have repeatedly noted how sharp and unexpected Gage's routes have been. He has worked out of both the slot and on the outside, and it's in the latter spot he's most likely to run into Howard.
Howard has made the Pro Bowl in three of the last four seasons, including 2021, and he was a first-team Associated Press All-Pro in 2020. He is a ballhawk to the extreme, with 27 interceptions in just six seasons, including 15 over the last two years alone. He also has a whopping 36 passes defensed over the 2020-21 campaigns. He is particularly good when playing press coverage, which could be one way to stop Gage from getting open with his precise routes. The battle between those two at the line will be one to watch.