As long as it took to get started, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' training camp is now rushing to the end.
After the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the entire NFL offseason program, teams began returning to their respective headquarters at the very end of July. A lengthy acclimation period that included condensed versions of the usual phases of the offseason program preceded the first padded practices on August 17. Two weeks later, the Buccaneers are heading into the last week of camp, with the regular-season opener just around the corner.
The final official camp week began with a practice on Sunday morning that did not go particularly well for the offense. Perhaps suffering from a hangover from their outstanding work in Friday's scrimmage, followed by an off day on Saturday, the offense failed to match the energy level of the defense and will make that a point of emphasis on Monday and the rest of the week. The Bucs will once again practice every morning in the coming week; Arians has not yet decided if it will end with another live scrimmage on Friday.
View some of the photos from Buccaneers Training Camp practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.
The Buccaneers restricted the flow of information from last week's scrimmage even more than it has from typical camp practices this year, which underscores a point about how different this camp has been than any before. Due to the late start and the lack of offseason practices, the team has had to focus more on actual installation and game-planning for upcoming regular-season games. That adds an extra layer of urgency to this final week of camp; an actual game week begins in just seven days, with the Saints waiting in New Orleans on September 13.
"It's coming fast," said quarterback Tom Brady after Friday's scrimmage. "I think today was a good indicator for all of us that it's right around the corner and we're going to have to tighten some things up so we can be ready to go against a great football team in a couple weeks."
That game is sure to draw much attention as it will pit the two leaders in passing yards and touchdown passes in NFL history. It will be Brady's first game under center for the Buccaneers after 20 years in New England, and he'll be opposed by the equally-ageless Drew Brees.
"We're going to be tested by a great football team and a team that's been great in this division for a long time. We're going to have to be sharp all day and everything we do from here on out has to be with an intense focus on doing just that. We've been through enough camp, we've made the mistakes – we have to start building on all the different mistakes that we made and really start tightening a lot of things up and get us in a good position so we can play with a lot of confidence here in a couple of weeks."
While they prepare for the Saints, the Buccaneers will also be taking care of some more traditional camp business: Sorting out the depth chart to find the best 53-man combination for the regular season. That process is also near the end; at the end of this week, the Bucs will be required to reduce their rosters to 53 players, though they can then subsequently form a 16-man practice squad. The deadline for that broad cut is this coming Saturday, Sept. 5, at 4:00 p.m. ET.
While the Buccaneers' starting lineups are relatively easy to predict and there is good veteran depth at most spots, there are still jobs up for competition as camp rolls to an end. As Arians has said on several occasions during the last two weeks, the final spots will almost surely come down to which players can help on special teams. To that end, Arians mentioned a couple of young players who may have helped themselves in the scrimmage in that regard. They included two undrafted rookies in safety Javon Hagan and outside linebacker Cam Gill, as well as first-year man Quinton Bell, a seventh-round pick by the Raiders in 2019.
"Special teams wise, I thought Hagan had a nice coverage on a kickoff, then the heat got him," said Arians. "Cam Gill looks like he's heavy-handed and has a good pass-rush, too. Bell, he was flying around pretty good. The normal guys that we've had – Dare [Ogunbowale], Kevin [Minter], [Anthony] Auclair and some of those guys – they were all fine. Of the young guys, those three guys. [Chappelle] Russell needs to step up a little bit."
The Buccaneers are also looking for a kicker to step up, too, as that very important decision needs to be made this week. It is currently a battle between incumbent second-year kicker Matt Gay and first-year man Elliott Fry, though Arians acknowledged that the Bucs had given tryouts to a couple other kickers as well. After working in the offseason to simplify his form a bit, Gay is confident he can provide the consistency the Buccaneers are looking for at the position.
The Buccaneers are usually coming off their fourth and final preseason week when they run up against the roster-limit deadline. This year, there are no preseason games, and training camp runs right up to those cuts. That and the offense's quest to rediscover its form after a sluggish Sunday could make this one of the most intense camp weeks in recent Bucs history.