Check out photos from the second day of mini-camp at One Buccaneer Place.
It's safe to say that the least known players on any NFL team's 90-man offseason roster are the rookies who signed as undrafted free agents. Most come in with a low profile, needing to establish an identity in order to have a shot at sticking around. For Boston College linebacker Josh Keyes, that extends all the way to the pronunciation of his last name.
It looks like it would be pronounced 'keys,' but it's actually pronounced 'kize.'
As in 'disguise.'
Keyes may be actively in the middle of throwing off his UDFA disguise, here in the broiling afternoons of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' mandatory mini-camp at One Buccaneer Place. He has made a number of eye-catching plays on the practice field since signing with the Buccaneers just after the draft in early May, but he topped them all with an interception during Tuesday's practice that was so good Head Coach Lovie Smith decided to use at as a teaching point.
During a morning meeting with the full team on Wednesday, Smith showed tape of Keyes' interception and then asked the room if anybody knew who Josh Keyes was. The 'kize' pronunciation threw most of his teammates off.
"Coach was like, 'If you know who Josh Keyes is, stand up.' Some guys stood up. I looked around like, 'Who's Josh Keyes?' He stood up – he's in the room and nobody even knows. Coach's point was, you've got to make plays to be known. He's been making plays all offseason and nobody really knew, but yesterday he made such a spectacular interception that now, when I see him today, every time I see him it's like, 'What's up, Josh?' But he's actually been making plays all offseason."
The 6-2, 223-pound Keyes played four seasons at BC and started at strongside linebacker as a senior, earning third-team All-ACC honors. He had 16.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks in 23 games over his final two collegiate campaigns, though his work on the Bucs' practice field suggests he can make a difference in coverage, as well. The Bucs spent a fourth-round draft pick on LSU linebacker Kwon Alexander, who has adjusted well so far, and the team likes its current depth at the position, but Keyes is at least giving himself a chance.
"It's good to kind of validate what we've seen with a play like that," said Smith of Keyes' Tuesday interception. "But just his movement [stands out]. We talked about Kwon picking up stuff, too, but for a linebacker coming in he's done the same thing but he came in as an undrafted free agent. We didn't know how to pronounce his name at first, but now K-E-Y-E-S is 'kize' to me. We're anxious to see…you have to hold on a little bit with linebackers, like you do with linebackers, [because] we haven't seen them in pads. I'm anxious to see that."
At the very least, Keyes has gained a little name recognition.
That wasn't the only topic being discussed after practice on Wednesday. Here are some additional thoughts from Coach Smith and several Buccaneer players:
HEAD COACH LOVIE SMITH
(On the challenges rookie linebacker Kwon Alexander faces)
"It's hard for a young player at any position, but we've been playing Kwon at Mike linebacker a little bit, and that really is – making all the calls and all that good stuff. He's picked it up well. We do like his athletic ability; that's why we drafted him. We had him ranked pretty high as a linebacker. We didn't think we would have an opportunity to really get him here, but we're pleased with what he's done. A lot of information has gone his way. He needs that break now to kind of digest some of the stuff we've given him and get ready to come back. He's going to help us a lot this coming season."
(On the leadership shown by guard Logan Mankins)
"Just everything you're looking for in a leader. I'm talking about a guy that is going to set the right example, say things that need to be said at the perfect time. We haven't voted for captains yet, but it's safe to say he's going to be one. Guys just naturally move into those positions and you need the respect of the players and when he talks, of course, everybody listens. He's a great listener, too, so he's the perfect guy you want in that role."
(On the development of defensive end Jacquies Smith)
"When you pick up a player like that as late as we did, you know, after – didn't go through any of the offseason with us, training camp, but came in right away and contributed in a big way. We like him and think his best football, of course, is ahead of him. He can rush on the outside. (He's) had a good camp, hasn't missed anything. (We are) excited about his second season with us."
(On what he likes about linebacker Josh Keyes, other than an interception made at yesterday's practice)
"It's good to kind of validate what we've seen with a play like that, but, just his movement. Him, we talked about Kwon picking up stuff, too, but for a linebacker coming in, he's done the same thing. But he came in as an undrafted free agent and, again, we didn't know how to pronounce his name at first, but now K-E-Y-E-S is 'Keis' to me. We are anxious to see. You have to hold on a little bit with linebackers, like you do with lineman. We haven't seen him in pads – anxious to see that."
(On the importance of the middle linebacker in Tampa Bay's scheme)
"It's very important. It's the Mike and Will (linebacker). Which one is more important? Was Hardy Nickerson less important than Derrick Brooks? Eh, you know. Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs – a tandem that I've had in the past, you need both of them. They're going to play most of the time. We normally don't take them out. Some teams go to dime when you match up, (but) they (the Mike and Will linebacker) are going to be up on the field always, really, with us. So, yes, very important. Once we get going, he'll be able to check out of blitzes, put us in the right call, a lot of things we ask of him."
(On whether training camp practice will take place in the afternoon)
"We haven't come out with that yet, have we? We're getting ready to come out with it. We can't, of course, have it done, that's why I forgot you all didn't know it yet. We're going to change it up a little bit. We have a couple morning practices, but, for the most part, we still play at the same time, so for the most part we are going to practice during the heat of the day. That's why, for minicamp, for the players to see exactly what time we're going to be practicing and kind of start getting used to that."
(On the rain not having been a factor for afternoon practices at last year's training camp)
"We were lucky, of course, except for the first practice. We're going to deal with it. We're talking to people who can predict the weather better than we can and we may adjust a little bit. Eventually we're going to have light (rain) or something like that and it won't' affect us very much, but hopefully we'll get lucky again this year."
(On whether he expects the battles for left tackle and right guard to carry on through training camp)
"No doubt. Again, we like what we've seen right now, but, for the lineman – all of the positions really start then. It's safe to say Gerald (McCoy) is going to start for us and play a lot of ball, some of the guys, Logan (Mankins) and some of them. But, yeah, we need to see what they can do. But right now, running around in shorts, we're encouraged."
(On whether he has seen a leader on the offensive line like Mankins)
"Oh yeah. I've been around great offensive line leaders. My last stop there was no better leader than Olin Kreutz. You need that. You need it with the defensive linemen and of course we have it with Gerald, and of course Logan as the backbone of what we do."
(On the competition at running back and where Doug Martin fits)
"Again, as we talk, we don't decide much running around in shorts, but Doug has been what we thought he would be. But there will be good competition. Charles Sims, Bobby Rainey, Mike James – all those guys feel like if we need them to be the bell cow, they can do it. And we think they can."
DEFENSIVE TACKLE GERALD MCCOY
(On the heat at today's practice)
"Warm? No, this is Tampa and it's going to get warm. Day 2, definitely seen an improvement from yesterday. I think yesterday was warm. Actually, yesterday was really hot. I think it kind of got to the guys a little bit. That was emphasized today in team meetings. I'm pretty sure each side of the ball, by the coaches that the energy level has to be up on the second day and I think it showed today."
(On knowing the defensive system this year compared to last season)
"Definitely, if anything mentally, just knowing what coach expects. The big part of last year was trying to do it the way coach wanted it. He brought in guys this offseason that have played in this system that know how he wants it done. Then you have guys that have a year under their belt with Coach (Lovie) Smith's system, how he likes to do it. I think coming in we can hit the ground running. The rookies we brought in and the younger guys they can just get on board. We know how to lead them now. Last year we didn't know how to lead them because we were learning it ourselves, but I think in that aspect we've grown."
(On the flexibility defensive tackle Henry Melton brings to the defensive line group)
"Everything. Henry used to be a running back, defensive end and now he is a defensive tackle. He can play three-technique, nose guard, five-technique, six-technique, whatever you need. He's that type of guy. It's rare to find that kind of guy. We have a couple guys in the room like that. A guy of his caliber and his talent that has a Pro Bowl under his belt is going to be huge for us."
(On who of the undrafted rookies has impressed him)
"Coach (Smith) showed a guy today and it was funny (laughs). He made an incredible catch. Josh Keyes, he made a play on film. Coach was like, 'Does anyone know who Josh Keyes is? If you know who Josh Keyes is standup." Guys stood up and we looked around like, 'Who is Josh Keyes?' He was like, 'Hey Josh, stand up.' He stood up. He's in the room and no one even knows. Coach's point was, you have to make plays to be known. He's been making plays all offseason and nobody really knew, but yesterday he made such a spectacular interception that now every time I see him I'm like, 'What's up Josh?' He's actually been making plays all offseason."
(On being a mentor to quarterback Jameis Winston)
"The thing I told him is to just be a rookie. Don't try and come and turn the franchise around your first year. You are still a rookie. You are still young. You haven't played a snap in the NFL. Being the first overall pick, a lot comes with that, but you can't do it overnight. I mentioned Peyton Manning. Peyton Manning still has the rookie record for interceptions, but now he's Peyton Manning. You just have to be patient and just be a rookie. Let the "rah rah guys" be the "rah rah guys." That's me, Clinton McDonald, Lavonte (David) doesn't do much talking, but he talks with his play. Vincent Jackson, let those guys do that. You just play your role and he has done that. He has done that very well."
(On the huge expectations of being a top draft pick)
"It's definitely huge. I can speak from the worst of the worst. Getting hurt the first two years to being labeled a bust to people calling for your head to now people saying, 'He's always been good.' Yeah, right. I can speak from both sides. That's why I told him to just be a rookie. Enjoy the process. You just have to be patient. You have to be thick-skinned though. It's the NFL, it's a man's game. Not because all these grown men are playing, but you have to react to things like a man. You can't bring your feelings in the NFL. You are going to get attacked. It's going to happen. You are the first overall pick. You have to be perfect, otherwise you're not good enough. That's how it works. You've got to be patient, stay focused and just do things the right way."
(On defensive end Jacquies Smith)
"He's a completely different guy from last year. When he first came in we would do individual and he would look a little unorthodox and kind of uncoordinated and just kind of couldn't get it. Well know, he looks like he has been doing it for 10, 15 years. Completely different guy. His knowledge of the game and the things he has to do, especially at the right end position. He is versatile. He can play both sides. Just the aspect of him growing as a player, mentally and physically, is a completely different guy."
(On middle linebacker Bruce Carter)
"He's been out for a little bit, dealing with his injury. He had surgery, but he's healing up and he hit the ground running. He jumped right in, very loud with his calls. You never have to worry about him giving you the right or left call or getting the call to you. He's leading by example, just how he comes to work every day, how he prepares, how he focuses, how he gets guys in the huddle, gets us out, gets us all lined up. He's going to be huge for us, definitely."
(On if there is a particular aspect of his game he wants to focus on before training camp begins)
"Just my overall knowledge of the game. Just knowing what is coming at me. I've grown every year, but this year I have to take it to a different level. I've been meeting with (defensive line) Coach (Joe) Cullen about different coverages – Why we do this, why we do that, who's behind me? I talked to the linebackers – Why are you here? When this happens, what are you doing? If you know what everyone is doing, you can play a lot faster because you know, 'Alright, now I can take a risk because I know this guy is going to have my back on this particular play.' If you know you facing Drew Brees, if you know you are facing Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, you know what they are capable of, what they can and can't do, what they like to do, their tendencies, the snap count, different things I have noticed with before they snap the ball, whether it's run or pass, that type of thing. Really for me it's going to be the mental part of the game."