Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Four First Impressions from Rookie Camp

Kenny Bell runs sharp routes, Kaelin Clay presents a small target to defenders and Donovan Smith is ready to face the heat at left tackle…Some snap judgments from the Bucs' weekend mini-camp.

Check out photos from Day 2 of Tampa Bay Buccaneers Rookie Camp on May 9, 2015.

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No, four hours of practice is not enough to determine how much impact the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' rookie class will have in 2015. That's especially true when it's only rookies on the field and half of them are tryout players.

Still, those four hours of practice at the team's weekend rookie mini-camp did give us our initial up-close glimpse at the talents of every Buc newcomer from Jameis Winston to Joey Iosefa. And that allowed us to make some snap judgments.

First impressions may not always be accurate, but they can be hard to shake. Here's hoping that, four months from now when the regular season begins, we still feel the same way about these four first impressions from rookie mini-camp.

First Impression #1: Kenny Bell is going to get open.
Actually, the first thing we noticed about Kenny Bell is that the former Nebraska receiver still has a very loyal following of Cornhuskers, and those 'Huskers really want the Buccaneers to get him the ball.

How do you fill in those blanks? Be prepared to hear this a lot:

That could prove to be a very good idea. Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans are going to remain the twin centerpieces of the Bucs' passing attack, obviously, but another big-play weapon could help quite a bit. Bell had a few drops over the weekend (and he was far from alone in that regard, especially on Friday) but he also ran some extremely sharp routes during one-on-one drills against defensive backs. Bell got open deep and underneath, suggesting he could make a difference in both the slot and as a deep threat on the outside.

In addition to Jackson and Evans the Bucs also return Louis Murphy, an effective third receiver in 2014, and second-year tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who is expected to be a bigger part of the passing attack this year. There are only so many passes to go around, and Bell might need an adjustment period. In the long run, however, he has a chance to become an important contributor for the Buccaneers. 'Husker fans would like to see that happen right away.

First Impression #2: Kwon Alexander is fast
Again, it's important to keep in mind that the weekend camp only gave us the opportunity to judge these newcomers against other rookies (and a handful of first-year players). When LSU linebacker Kwon Alexander joins the Buccaneers' veterans on the practice field later in the month, he may find himself a step or two behind Lavonte David, at least in the early going. Not only does David have all-pro-caliber speed and instincts but he's had a year to learn Lovie Smith and Leslie Frazier's defense.

Among his fellow rookies, however, Alexander stood out with his speed in the linebacker-only drills. He also showed the type of non-stop pursuit the Buccaneers want out of their outside linebackers.

Speed isn't the only tool a linebacker needs to excel in the Tampa Two, but it's important and it can't be taught. Our snap judgment is that Alexander has that tool; if he can pair it with the type of play diagnosis that allows David to get so much out of his own quickness, the Bucs' defense could have two heat-seeking missiles in the middle of their defense.

First Impression #3: Kaelin Clay presents a very small target to would-be tacklers
Utah wide receiver Kaelin Clay, the Buccaneers' sixth-round pick this year, may need more time than Bell to find a role in the offense, but he could have the kick return job nailed down by opening day. That was definitely the Bucs' plan when they drafted Clay, who scored four times on punt and kickoff returns in 2014.

Clay is listed at 5-10 and 195 pounds, but good luck to opposing defenders getting a shot at most of that frame. Judging from his kick return reps over the weekend, Clay has a low center of gravity and great balance, allowing him to make quick cuts while low to the ground. That makes it more difficult for pursuers to find him when he makes those cuts behind blockers.

Clay even gets low when he's fielding punts. By the time the ball settles into his hands on some occasions, it is only a foot or two from the ground.

Winning the Bucs' return job would earn the rookie a roster spot and give him time to develop as a pass-catcher. He showed some signs of being able to do that, too, over the weekend.

First Impression #4: There's at least one person who is convinced that Donovan Smith can handle left tackle in the NFL.

That person is Donovan Smith. The Bucs believe the 34th-overall pick in the draft can protect Jameis Winston's blind side, too, but it doesn't hurt that Smith is so confident.

"I have the power, the feet, the skill set and athleticism to play left tackle," said the rookie from Penn State. "I'm very smart as well."

If things go as planned, the Bucs will be entrusting at least two of the most important positions on the field – quarterback and left tackle – to rookies. Confidence helps at any position, of course, but it seems particularly important at those two spots.

"You have to have an attitude to play on the offensive line in general, but I think there is a little extra on us because you are protecting the blind side of the quarterback," said Smith. "So you have to have a little more attitude and confidence in that. So yeah, definitely."

Smith is going to have to deal with such quarterback hunters as J. J. Watt, Ryan Kerrigan and Jason Pierre-Paul during the first half of his rookie campaign. It appears as if he's not frightened by the prospect. What does scare the six-foot-six Smith?

Moths. Seriously.

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