True offseason practice has come to a conclusion at AdventHealth Training Center. When the team gets back from their extended break, it will be full speed ahead into Training Camp and then before you know it, the regular season. That’s our story anyway, and we’re sticking to it.
Now that OTAs and mandatory mini-camp are in the rearview mirror, Senior Writer/Editor Scott Smith and I thought we’d reflect on what we’ve witnessed so far of the 2019 Buccaneers. Though there were many encouraging things to take in during practice, like the hype around running back Ronald Jones or the arrival of Ndamukong Suh, we’re going to try to narrow it down a bit. We’ve each compiled a top-five list of moments that stood out to us. Join us down offseason memory lane, won’t you?
Scott’s Top 5
1. Devin White's Lightning-Fast Start
The Buccaneers selected LSU linebacker Devin White with the fifth overall pick in the NFL Draft on April 25, and his first appearance on a professional practice field came 15 days later, on May 10. However, that practice was populated almost exclusively by rookies, including several dozen tryout players, so it would make sense for White to stand out.
It was an altogether different matter four days when the Buccaneers began their run of OTA practices and White was dropped into the middle of their starting defense. White snared an interception in the very first OTA and then seemingly got his hands on at least one pass every day that week. It was a very fast and very encouraging start for a young player the Buccaneers are going to count on immediately to produce big plays.
2. Breshad Perriman Gets Behind the Defense
During that same opening OTA, the Buccaneers' offense also produced a welcome sight. Specifically, Breshad Perriman, a potentially critical addition in free agency, provided the highlight.
Perriman ran a 4.30-second 40-yard dash at the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine and, with that speed combined with a 6-2, 212-pound frame, was unsurprisingly snapped up in the first round of the subsequent draft by Baltimore. Injuries slowed him in his first few years however, and Perriman found himself with a new team, the Browns, just four seasons later. There, he resuscitated his career with a strong second half that included a string of big plays and a 21.3-yard per-catch average.
After trading DeSean Jackson to Philadelphia, the Buccaneers were in the market for a field-stretching receiver, and Perriman took their offer after the Odell Beckham trade made Cleveland's receiver room more crowded. The Buccaneers will hope that Perriman can succeed in pulling coverage away from Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, and hopefully catch some long passes along the way. That will rely on Jameis Winston improving his deep-ball accuracy, which Head Coach Bruce Arians insists can be done. In that first practice, Perriman got behind the defense three or four times and one heady played pulled in a 45-yard "touchdown" pass in the right corner on a ball Winston dropped in perfectly.
3. Dueling Kickers Bury the Pressure Shots
Seeking to stabilize a position that has been a trouble area for years, the Buccaneers re-signed veteran kicker Cairo Santos after his encouraging cameo last season and then doubled down with the drafting of Utah kicker Matt Gay in Round Five. Santos and Gay will head into training camp in an open competition for the job. Gay has a big leg and was very accurate in two years for the Utes; Santos has a track record of success in the NFL.
The most important part of that upcoming competition will be the preseason games. It's difficult to simulate the real pressure of an in-game kick on the practice field, but Arians did so for his two kickers, on two separate occasions, by putting their teammates' fates in their hands. Or their right legs, really.
Arians lined up Gay for a 50-yard try roughly midway through the 10th and final OTA workout on the last day of May, telling him that a successful kick would end practice early. The rookie split the uprights. A week later, Santos got a similar assignment – his was 48 yards but it was also indoors while Gay had made his off the turf of the indoor facility. Santos was true with his kick, too, chopping the final mini-camp practice down to just 20 minutes. Both kickers made their teammates happy and both will start their camp battle on a good note.
4. Rookie DBs Flash in Final Week
Wide receiver Chris Godwin is only a third-year player, but he's been conducting himself like a veteran virtually since the day he arrived in Tampa. At this point, he does have more experience than most of the players he's lining up against in practice. Recently, Godwin discussed the team's young defensive backs and noted that they had come in wide-eyed but, over the course of three weeks, settled in quite well.
That was evident during the final mini-camp. The abbreviated practice on Thursday might have been the last workout, but the final fully-developed practices were Tuesday and Wednesday and the young defensive backs were running wild. Arians praised the team's three draft picks – cornerbacks Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean and safety Mike Edwards – and that was unsurprising given how often they showed up in that last week. Murphy-Bunting capped it with a two-interception day on Wednesday.
5. Nick Fitzgerald Starts Shaping a New Role
The Buccaneers had three veteran quarterbacks before the draft but still signed former Mississippi State standout Nick Fitzgerald after he went undrafted. Fitzgerald was a dual-threat QB for the Bulldogs, throwing for 6,200 yards and 55 touchdowns in four years while also picking up 3,600 yards and 46 scores on the ground.
Fitzgerald may need some time to develop into a successful passer at the next level, but he might be able to buy that time by doing a whole lot of things other than passing. He arrived in Tampa fully onboard with the idea of trying his hand at multiple positions in addition to quarterback. It's possible he could develop into a Taysom Hill-type, who provides New Orleans with depth at quarterback but also adds significant value as a Wildcat runner, occasional pass-catcher and special-teamer.
Sure enough, Fitzgerald was seen getting extensive playing time on special teams in practice, his orange quarterback jersey sticking out among the red and white shirts. He also ran routes as a tight end and occasionally helped out the scout-team defense. What the Buccaneers and Fitzgerald are attempting to do will be challenging for the young player, but it's good to see him and the team committing to the effort.
View the top photos from the Bucs offseason practices.
Carmen’s Top 5
So, this was pretty easy for me. I’ve been recapping each day of practice throughout Phase III and at the conclusion of each article, I created a ‘Best Thing I Saw’ that day section. Here are my favorites:
1. Vita Vea is Athletic
This happened on the very first day of OTAs and it was incredible. So, the offense decides on a swing pass to Peyton Barber on the outside. Easy enough, right? Sure as can be, Barber grabs the ball in stride but gets run out of bounds by none other than Vita Vea. Yes, interior defensive lineman Vita Vea. It was ridiculous. Vea chased Barber all the way down and although it happened right in front of me, I’m still not sure what I witnessed. All of a sudden, I just saw the 300-plus pound Vea barreling toward my direction and heading off Barber for just a short gain. And to top it all off, Vea just trotted right back to his position and lined back up. Casual.
2. Rookie Cornerback Jamel Dean is Already Good When it Counts
The very end of a practice during OTA Practice #7, the Bucs’ offense was in a two-minute situation, no timeouts, needing a touchdown to win the game. The defense did a good job in keeping the offense in-bounds, forcing them to hurry back to the line to get another play off before time expired. They ended up doing it with time to run one last play but it was a floater pass to the back left corner of the end zone where rookie cornerback Jamel Dean was waiting underneath his receiver, nabbing himself an easy interception to end practice and win the game (and the day) for the defense.
"Dean had a game-winning interception right at the end of practice," Arians said. "All those guys are getting their hands on balls but I think a majority, 95 percent of our turnovers, have come from rookies in practice and they're going against our best guys."
3. Dean Gets a Pick! Edwards Gets a Pick! Murphy-Bunting Gets a Pick! Everybody Gets a Pick
Scott mentioned this too, but there’s no way it doesn’t make it into my Top 5, too. I admit, I cheated on the second day of mini-camp and used a bunch of things, more specifically, a bunch of interceptions, as my best thing I saw. I honestly stopped counting. Rookie Sean Murphy-Bunting, who was left out of the pick game yesterday when his fellow rookie drafted defensive backs in Jamel Dean and Mike Edwards each got one, nabbed himself not one but TWO interceptions today. The first came as he easily read the receiver’s route and beat him to his position where the ball was thrown quickly. Corners coach Kevin Ross turned to the rest of his group on the sideline after Murphy-Bunting made the play and said, “Make plays, make money!”
Murphy-Bunting’s second pick then came to end the offense’s two-minute drill hopes toward the end of practice. It was again a clean ball that he just sniped out of the air well ahead of the receiver.
As if those two plays weren’t exciting enough, cornerback De’Vante Harris had one, too. Harris dropped into coverage, giving what his receiver thought was a cushion before creeping back up when he saw where the ball was likely going and cutting in front of the receiver to grab the ball. Cornerback Ryan Smith had one, too, but it was on a desperation throw that probably should have been called a sack anyway. It was still a great catch and came after he had a great pass breakup yesterday.
“With the number of balls they’re touching, the communication – I’m hearing a lot of communication and like I said, we’ve got a five corners, three or four safeties and now I think we have three rookies, that’s a unique situation," Arians said of the secondary. "I don’t give a [care] if they’re rookies, these guys can play. They’re getting their hands on a lot of balls. They’re doing things that veterans do, because they listen and their smart. The veterans are helping them out and they’ve got very good coaching.”
4. Second-year Cornerback Carlton Davis is Proving a Quick Study
This one requires some context. Second-year cornerback Carlton Davis came off a play during Practice #5 of OTAs shaking his head to corners coach Kevin Ross and admitted that he had given the receiver too much room. On the very next play, Davis appeared to have learned from his mistake when he positioned himself well enough to be able to undercut the receiver’s route and ended up intercepting the pass with room to run. You could say he’s a quick study.
5. Rookie Safety Mike Edwards Will Be Scary in Time
One of a few, rookie safety Mike Edwards was coming in on a blitz, never took his eyes off the quarterback and as soon as he went to throw, Edwards got UP and smacked the ball down during seven-on-seven on Day #2 of OTAs. If this were the NBA, it would have been on a poster. The ball stood absolutely no chance and it was incredible to watch.