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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Mini-Camp Notes: Red Zone Success

A collection of big and talented receivers and tight ends would seem to make the Bucs' offense potent in the red zone, and that was on display during Tuesday's practice…And other notes.

Check out photos from the first day of mini-camp at One Buccaneer Place.

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The first day of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offseason-capping three-day mini-camp was similar in structure to the voluntary OTA practices that occupied the three previous weeks. It was the same length – approximately two hours – and ran through most of the same pieces, from individual-position drills to special teams to seven-on-seven to full-team periods.

Within those typical periods of work, however, were opportunities to switch up points of emphasis, just as the team does from Wednesday through Saturday during an in-season practice week. On Tuesday, the Buccaneers focused on what are often the game-deciding portions of a game: two-minute and red zone.

With pads and contact still prohibited by the NFL's offseason rules, the two-minute drills that came early in practice were difficult to evaluate. The line of scrimmage was moved regardless of the play's apparent outcome and the drives led by both Mike Glennon and Jameis Winston ended in medium-range field goal attempts. In the red zone, however, it's a little easier to see when the offense has done something well. With the spacing getting tight, quarterbacks and pass-catchers have to be precise in order for a play to work.

"In the red zone, coverages get tighter and we like to score," said Winston, who ended the entire practice with successive "touchdown" passes to rookie wide receivers Rannell Hall and Kaelin Clay. Winston was helped by nice catches on both ends, but the passing by all three of the Bucs' quarterbacks (Winston, Glennon and Seth Lobato) was crisp during a long series inside the 20-yard line.

Tim Wright, the third year tight end participating in his first practice since the Bucs reclaimed him off waivers from New England last week, caught two passes near the goal line in the space of just a couple snaps. Both looked as if they would have been touchdowns in an actual game, assuming the quarterbacks is given adequate protection to throw. Wright thought the offense found a groove near the goal line.

"Yeah, we were clicking, doing well in the red zone," he said. "Guys were making plays, timing routes, just guys getting open and doing their jobs, and that's all you can ask for."

The first two completions in the red zone drill went to 6-5 wide receiver Vincent Jackson. The third catch was made by 6-5 tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins on a perfect back-shoulder throw in the end zone by Glennon. Wright stands 6-4. Second-year wide receiver Mike Evans didn't participate much in Tuesday's practice, but he's another 6-5 target. The Buccaneers' offense will surely find it more difficult to score in the red zone when the pads go on and the opposition starts hunting the quarterback, but the team's legion of big-bodied pass-catchers should help balance the ledger and produce some moments like the ones enjoyed on the practice field Tuesday.

Some additional notes from the first day of the Bucs' mandatory mini-camp:

Demar Dotson rejoined the team after electing not to participate in the last two weeks of voluntary OTA practices, and he was right back at the right tackle spot for the opening snaps of the first full-team drill on Tuesday. Dotson confirmed that his decision to stay away from the most recent voluntary work was related to his desire to get a new contract done with the team, but said he felt returning for the mandatory camp was the best way to advance that process. He also was eager to get back to work with his teammates. "That was the only way to keep negotiations going throughout these six weeks going into training camp," said Dotson. "It was hard [to stay away] because the other guys are out here working and every day that I wasn't out here I felt bad, almost like I was letting the team down. I want to get this thing behind me and help this team win."

The "starting" five that Dotson joined continued on to Kadeem Edwards at right guard, Evan Smith at center, Logan Mankins at left guard and Kevin Pamphile at left tackle. That combination is another illustration of how the coaching staff is trying out a large number of options at the five starting positions, and an indication that observations about potential starters should be taken with a grain of salt at this time of year. Tuesday's first group notably included the team's two 2014 draft picks, Edwards and Pamphile, while on other days the 2015 draftees, Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet, have taken the early snaps. Smith and Marpet were on the second line that took the field on Tuesday, with the former at right guard and the latter at left tackle. Patrick Omameh, last year's starter at right guard, joined that line at right tackle.

That first-team group of blockers lined up in front of Mike Glennon, who was first in the quarterback rotation on Tuesday as the coaching staff continued to alternate between Glennon and Winston in that role from day to day. The first full-team drill was a two-minute, move-the-ball session, with Glennon and Winston both getting one possession. The highlight of Winston's drive was two sharp passes to wide receiver Russell Shepard, the second of which got the ball in position for a field goal attempt. Head Coach Lovie Smith said that the team's approach of switching the first-team reps back and forth between Winston and Glennon was resulting in both players getting the right amount of preparation team. "We have a plan – I have a plan – and a part of that plan is for Jameis to get a certain amount of reps with certain guys," said Smith. "He's gone with the ones, he's gone with the twos. At the same time, it's not just about Jameis; we need to get our backup quarterback ready, too. We're getting a lot of guys reps right now on the plan that we had."

It appears as if the plan of alternating #1s is meant only for the offseason work. In training camp, leaders should quickly emerge at every position. "To me, you go through the offseason and they kind of let you know the rotation that we're going to have once we get to training camp," said Smith. "That's what we're working through. To me, it's not what group; you work with different guys. Quarterbacks throwing with all the receivers throughout – we want a lot of different combinations. We don't know who our starting lineup would be right now. Again, we're seeing the players we need to. Once we come back for training camp, then the depth chart will matter. We're trying to get to that point."

The Buccaneers make a point of training their potential nickel backs separately from the rest of the corners, with Senior Defensive Assistant Larry Marmie handling the nickel backs during individual-position drills. On Tuesday, Marmie was working with just two candidates out of the team's nine cornerbacks: Leonard Johnson and Isaiah Frey.  When the defense lined up in a nickel during the aforementioned two-minute drill, Johnson got the first snaps. Free agent acquisition Sterling Moore, considered a possible candidate for the nickel job, as well, worked with the outside cornerbacks on Tuesday.

During the mid-practice special teams period, the punting team worked on kicking out of the back of the end zone. While the drill was mainly focused on the punt team, three players took turns fielding the kicks: rookie wide receivers Kaelin Clay and Donteea Dye and veteran running back Bobby Rainey. As with a kickoff return drill last week, Clay went first in the rotation. Since special teams jobs can be critical to a young player earning a roster spot, it's also worth noting that the four players who got reps as the gunners on the punt team were Russell Shepard, Leonard Johnson, Brandon Dixon and C.J. Wilson.

During the open OTA practice last Thursday, third-year safety D.J. Swearinger could be seen running with the first team defense along with Chris Conte. On Tuesday, Conte took most of the first-team snaps again but was joined by third-year player Bradley McDougald. The competition for starting spots at safety among those three, Major Wright and Keith Tandy should be one of the more interesting battles in training camp.

Last week, Bruce Carter referred to fellow Bucs linebacker Danny Lansanah as the team's "interception master" during OTAs. Carter and Lansanah finished first and second in the NFL among linebackers in interceptions last year, with five and three, respectively. On Tuesday, Lansanah got his hands on another pass, picking off the first one thrown during a full-team drill. Though he cautions against reading too much into practice results before the pads go on, Smith said that he hopes the apparently higher instance of turnovers being created by Lansanah and company will become the norm. "This is all setting us up for how we're going to play in the fall. We are trying to create a culture where that's expected, and I think we're doing that. Some guys like Danny Lansanah did it last year and he continues to do it right now. Defensively, we're seeing a lot of good things we like right now. It will be good competition in training camp."

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