Competition revs up on the practice fields at the AdventHealth Training Center for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as their preseason opener quickly approaches. The Bucs will kick off their preseason slate on Friday, hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers on August 11. The game will serve as a critical audition for many players looking to solidify a spot on the team's final 53-man roster. Every rep counts and the pressure accelerates. On Wednesday following Tampa Bay's 12th training camp practice, Head Coach Todd Bowles, cornerback Jamel Dean and running back Chase Edmonds fielded a plethora of questions on various topics. Here are some key notes from their respective addresses:
For much of the offseason, the head-to-head quarterback battle between NFL journeyman Baker Mayfield and third-year player, Kyle Trask, has occupied headlines. As of now, both Mayfield and Trask are listed as co-starters on the preliminary depth chart, prior to the club's first preseason matchup on Friday against the Steelers. The contestants will be used interchangeably, each getting a chance to start. Todd Bowles confirmed on Wednesday that it is Mayfield's turn to command the huddle on Friday at Raymond James Stadium. Trask will start the following week on the road against the Jets, following two joint practices in New Jersey. Their performances in the preseason games will be crucial in determining the final decision.
As NFL teams vie to build a foundation for the upcoming season during training camp with scheme installs and fundamental refinement in a perpetual rigorous schedule, rookies begin to get their feet wet. Outside linebacker Yaya Diaby, the Bucs' third-round draft pick in April (No. 82 overall), has flashed his athleticism and instincts on the grass. At Louisville, Diaby hit career-highs in 2022 with personal bests in sacks (9.0) and tackles for loss (14). With explosiveness to attack gaps, Diaby set the tone. In Tampa Bay, he has continued the trend, making his presence felt by disrupting the backfield. He is expanding his toolkit by learning the nuances of dropping into coverage to make plays on the ball and rushing from the 5-technique spot. Diaby certainly has tantalizing traits and being able to channel an effective speed-to-power conversion will take his game to another level.
"He has speed, and he has power, so that gives him two sets of tools right there," Todd Bowles remarked. "Obviously, the hand placement, you've got to work [on] some. He can get off the ball, he has a good power rush, and he has a good speed rush. He just has to mix the two up and get his hand placement down. Really, the effort is there, so he's got all the tools to be a very good pass rusher – he's just got to put them together."
Tough decisions loom for the Bucs' architects as the NFL's cut-down date arrives in less than three weeks.Trimming a 90-man training camp roster down to a 53-regular season roster is no easy feat, but the hardest part for a coaching staff is being forced to cut a player who has the talent to play in the league. There is a 'numbers' aspect to the business and players must take advantage of opportunities during the preseason - an exhibition-styled live-action game – to cement a coveted spot. For many, dreams hang in the balance of three crucial games. The tension is palpable and veteran cornerback Jamel Dean shared his advice for those clawing for a position with the Buccaneers.
"Don't worry about playing too tight," Dean stated. "Just play loose. Have fun – at the end of the day, it's all about having fun… You've been playing football maybe your whole career, your whole life, and you've played college football so there's no difference – there's probably more fans in college – the only difference is now you're just in the spotlight where you're considered a professional now. But just go out there, do what you've been doing for all your years."
As training camp continues, excitement builds for the Buccaneers new offensive system under the direction of Dave Canales. The system will feature more movement in 2023 to marry the run and pass game, including outside and mid zone, designed quarterback runs and scrambles, misdirection and jet sweeps to open up the play-action game. The goal will be to get playmakers in space to generate yards after the catch. Similar to Kyle Shanahan's system in San Francisco, the offense will feature multiple looks from the same concepts, keeping defenses off balance. Several players have voiced their elation for the revamped run scheme, with Chase Edmonds becoming the latest on Wednesday.
"I love the outside zone scheme," Edmonds smiled. "I feel like that is one of the best running styles in the NFL. It stresses the defense … I think we have a really good offensive line for it, as well. The thing I love most about the offense is mirroring, everything mirrors each other. So, outside zone builds off the naked [variation of the bootleg with no pass protection] and the boots and that helps us out with the play-action pass to set up the pass game."