Photos from Sunday's training camp practice at One Buccaneer Place.
If the battle for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' third-receiver job was just between Louis Murphy and Kenny Bell, then it wouldn't be much of a competition right now. Murphy started training camp on the active/non-football injury list after suffering an off-field ankle injury, while Bell has returned from an offseason hamstring tweak to look explosive during the first two days of camp.
READ: STANDOUTS FROM PRACTICE
Of course, that battle is not open to just two men, nor is it the only competition that will shape the Buccaneers' receiving corps this season. That was obvious after practice on Sunday when a question about Bell almost immediately took Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter in another direction.
"We really like what we see from Kenny," said Koetter. "We like all those young receivers. I mean, how about Rannell Hall out there today? Rannell was making plays left and right. Those rookie receivers, we've got some good young guys. They're going to push those older guys for jobs here."
Hall, for the record, is an undrafted rookie out of Central Florida who signed with the Buccaneers in May. Bell is also a rookie, but his name came up in the draft and he was almost immediately labeled a "steal" in the fifth round. Since Bell possesses great speed and is a strong route-runner, and since the two starting spots would seem to be locked down by Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans, it was natural to think the Nebraska product could make an early impact as the third receiver. That was a job filled quite ably by Murphy in 2014.
But Murphy watched from the sideline on Sunday, and on Saturday night when the Bucs got in a late and abbreviated practice after a day of heavy rain and lightning. Bell had a very good day on Sunday but Hall may have been even a bit better. It was the UCF rookie, after all, who was called the day's "MVP" by Koetter.
Hall appreciated the comment but was careful not to let it go to his head.
"Just the main thing is to come out here every day and progress and get better, do better than yesterday," he said. "Of course there are going to be some M.E.'s and M.A.'s out there, but we want to progress throughout the days of camp, as a whole unit, as a whole offense, and go from there.
"M.E.'s" are mental errors and "M.A.'s" are missed assignments, and they're the two dreaded pitfalls for all players in camp, especially rookies. Bell admitted to some of the same issues after Sunday's practice but will study them in an effort to make himself a better player.
"Obviously when you have a good day you get some confidence going," he said. "But like I've said this entire process, this is my first training camp, it's my second day, really, practicing at camp in the NFL. So I would never be boastful about it. Tonight I made mistakes and I've got to prepare harder for tomorrow."
Bell's most eye-catching play – one that drew some of the day's loudest cheers from the standing-room-only camp crowd – came on the third snap of the first full-team offense-vs.-defense period. It was an intermediate-range pass in the middle of the field that rookie quarterback Jameis Winston zipped through traffic and Bell caught before darting out of the back of the defense. That's a particularly good sight for a player who might be operating out of the slot quite a bit.
"I have to be [able to make plays in traffic]," said Bell. "If I want to make this football team, I have to be. The NFL's not just line a guy up and run as fast you can down the sideline. There's a lot of things I need to improve on. Catching balls in traffic is something that I would like to work on, and it's something I got a little better at today."
That wasn't Winston's only strong pass of the day, and third-year quarterback Mike Glennon had some very nice moments, as well. That certainly helped the rookie receivers get into a groove.
"They were pretty sharp today," said Hall of the Bucs' quarterbacks. "They're always on their Ps and Qs. We have a great coaching staff, and also the veterans on the team set the tempo of the whole offense. Once the quarterbacks have a good day, everything else follows along with that.
Additional notes from the second day of Buccaneers training camp:
- For the second straight day, third-year lineman Garrett Gilkey was given most of the first-team work at right guard. He lined up between right tackle Demar Dotson and center Evan Smith, with Logan Mankins and rookie Donovan Smith filling out the left side. **
Smith took over at left tackle after second-year player Kevin Pamphile ran with the first team on Saturday night. Smith and guard Ali Marpet were the Buccaneers' two second-round picks in April, and sooner or later the team expects both to be protecting first-round pick Jameis Winston. Neither will simply be handed a job, however, and the right guard position in particular appears up for grabs at the moment.
"We're working three or four different guys," said Koetter. "That right guard is an open competition. Garrett Gilkey is working with the ones right now but Ali's in there, Ali Marpet's in there. And Kadeem [Edwards] is also in there, 73. Those three guys are kind of battling for that spot right now."
- By naming Winston the starting quarterback at the start of training camp, the Bucs' coaching staff ensured that the rookie would get the amount of work he needs to be ready for the regular season. Koetter estimates that the first-string QB gets about twice as many snaps as his backup. But putting Winston in charge of the offense from Day One also gives the young player a chance to develop as an on-field leader.
"That's important, that he's in a leadership position right off the bat," said Koetter. "Even though he doesn't have to be our best leader, he has to be a leader because of the position he plays.
"I want to see him run the show. I want to see him tell Evan Smith to shut up a couple times. [Laughs.] No, Evan's a great leader in there, as is Logan Mankins. Just his command of it. Can he get it from the coach-to-quarterback system, can he get it in his ear, step in that huddle and run it like an NFL quarterback? He's off to a great start."-
Speaking of team leaders, much was made during the offseason about veteran guard Logan Mankins noticeably stepping into that role. It's not a particularly surprising development. The trade that brought the six-time Pro Bowler to Tampa from New England just before the start of the 2014 season thrust him into a difficult position in which much of his focus had to be on learning the offense. A full offseason in Tampa and time to work with his line-mates allowed his natural leadership qualities to come out, and also made him much more comfortable in the offense heading into camp.
"It's nice that the whole group's been together for a while now," said Mankins. "We had a whole offseason together and now we're getting a whole training camp together. It just feels a lot better than last year.
"Last year definitely motivates me, but I think it was just the whole process, to be here for the whole offseason, be with the guys, know the offense and be able to put everything I had into conditioning. I didn't have to worry about learning everything, about anything else except football, so it was a lot different."
- Only three players were held out of practice on Sunday, and two of them were dealing with issues when camp began. Murphy, as mentioned above, is working through an ankle injury that has him on the active/non-football injury list, while defensive tackle Akeem Spence is on the active/physically unable to perform list due to an ailing back.
The one new addition to the injury list is safety Chris Conte, who practice on Saturday but "nicked" a hamstring, according to Head Coach Lovie Smith. Smith doesn't expect to be without the veteran defensive back, an unrestricted free agent acquisition from this past March, for long.
"Shouldn't be anything major, but we'll hold him out for a while," said Smith.