- After CB Danny Gorrer stood out on Tuesday, CB Rashaan Melvin took his turn during Wednesday's practice
- Melvin's diving interception during a two-minute drill came at the very end of a grueling two-hour workout in the heat
- The Buccaneers are seeking to learn how to finish games strong, especially under difficult conditions
Shortly into Wednesday's practice, just after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers moved from the first period into the second, the lightning-proximity alarm on the back of One Buccaneer Place sounded. The field was cleared for safety, delaying practice by about 15 minutes.
The stray lightning actually came after a heavy downpour that preceded practice and created a very steamy atmosphere at team headquarters. Despite all of that, there was very little cloud cover for most of the two-hour workout, so Buccaneer players found themselves sweating through another demanding June test.
Just minutes before those two hours concluded with a long air horn blast, second-year cornerback Rashaan Melvin made the play of the day. Trying to turn back the offense during a two-minute drill, Melvin found himself near the right sideline, covering wide receiver Chris Owusu, who had been catching everything in sight. Owusu slipped making a cut, just as the timing pass zipped over his prone body. Reacting instantly, Melvin dived over Owusu and intercepted the ball, catching it with his arms outstretched, fully horizontal to the ground.
It was a remarkable play regardless of circumstance, but even more impressive given how difficult it can be to summon that sort of explosive movement after two grueling hours in the sun. Consider this, too: Thanks to minor injuries to cornerbacks Alterraun Verner, Johnthan Banks, Mike Jenkins, D.J. Moore and Deveron Carr, Melvin was taking a far higher number of practice snaps than usual.
After practice, Head Coach Lovie Smith said his defense should feel good about what it was able to accomplish in those important two-minute drills on Wednesday. Melvin said it was part of the process of learning how to finish games, and Smith agreed.
Second-year CB Rashaan Melvin (28) ended a two-minute threat with a diving interception late in Wednesday's mini-camp practice
"You guys see the way we practice: guys are stripping the ball right up until the end," said the coach. "It's about taking the ball away. To a man, they'll talk to you about that. There's nothing like finishing. Talking as the head football coach of our defense, that's a great job, to finish the game off like that. But again, if we talk about ball security and winning the turnover ratio, offensively we've got to give ourselves a chance, got to protect the ball."
Smith noted that a high percentage of NFL games are decided by a score or less, with many of them coming down to a winner-take-all showdown in that two-minute drill. The Bucs can increase their chances of prevailing in such battles, especially in Tampa in September and October, if they can play as hard in the 60th minute as the first.
"We practice out here every day in the heat," said Melvin. "We play football in the heat. That's a part of being a Tampa Bay Buccaneer, understanding that we're going to play football games in the heat. You see a couple guys out here making plays on the ball, trying to fight through the tiredness and the fatigue. We know that's going to make us a better team overall. Not just my interception but Bradley McDougald intercepted a pass too and definitely showed that we can play when the game is on the line.
"It's this defense as a whole. We're just coming out here and talk about making plays on the ball and getting turnovers. Fortunately, we were able to come up with a couple today, and that's always good to get the offense the ball so they can go down there and score like we expect them to do."
Melvin's late-practice interception wasn't just a matter of overcoming physical fatigue, it was an exercise in focus in the face of mental fatigue. His diving pick was impressively athletic, but he had to be in the right position to make the play first.
"It's just understanding the game of football," said Melvin. "It's offense, two-minute, they want to get the ball out of bounds. They'd been running comebacks all practice, and fortunately I was able to get a jump on the ball, make a good catch and get the ball for our offense to end the game. It was a good play, and I'm looking forward to making a lot more plays like that."
Melvin had at least two interceptions during Wednesday's practice. Since no intentional contact is allowed during offseason practices, strong catches by receivers and takeaways by defensive backs are two of the more effective ways of judging a player's performance. On Tuesday, cornerback Danny Gorrer had a very strong day; on Wednesday, it was Melvin who stood out.
"We have a lot of guys that can play and compete at cornerback, and all over the field," said Melvin. "We just come in and try to help each other out. I mean, we know it's a competition, and obviously everybody can't make the team, but we're just pushing each other to go as hard as we can. It's just hard work, trying to be the best we can be every day."