Photos from the Buccaneers' OTA practice on May 24.
Coming into a new team can be a daunting task. Forget trying to learn the Buccaneers' playbook or locking down new techniques, it's hard enough just to find the bathrooms around One Buc. But this year's rookie class is already having an impact, more so than maybe a lot of them realize.
"All the rookies that are practicing are holding their own," Coach Koetter said following the third day of OTAs. "That's why you draft them. That's why you draft those guys."
Carrying their own weight has a domino effect on the rest of the team. Strictly from a football perspective, the less veteran players have to get rookies up to speed, the more they can focus on their own game; the better the rookies do in team drills, the higher talent level and bigger the challenge is as veteran players go up against their young counterparts.
Thursday, the defense especially stood out, making play after play. It was veterans and rookies alike. Second-round draft pick M.J. Stewart, taken this past draft, had an interception. Carlton Davis III, another second-round pick from 2018, had a fantastic pass break up where he leapt up to bat the ball down. It was enough to make other members of the defense take notice, including second-year safety Justin Evans.
"They all have [impressed]," Evans said. "Every one of them. As far as knowing the information in the meeting rooms, they get called on, they have to go up to the board and draw the defense and stuff and it was much better than I was at that time when I was here last year. So that's really impressive. Then on the field, they're here for a reason so they obviously can make plays, and have been making plays, so they've been doing really good. All of them."
Another effect the rookies can claim? Making the team more complete, according to Evans. With the younger guys making plays, it naturally elevates the level of play all around them. We're talking about 90 professional football players on the field, fighting for 53 spots. Competitiveness is a given and it's something that makes the team better as a whole. If younger guys can step up and contribute immediately, it only pushes the guys in front of and around them.
"It adds depth to it and it also makes everyone else complete," Evans said. "One guy sees one guy make a play and then he's going to want to make a play. Then another guy makes a play and that's what it was today, just play after play after play. You feed off the energy when someone sets the tone so that's all it is, just being competitive."
While competition may be a big factor in the energy on the field, so is the camaraderie and the relationships that develop between teammates. It's a conundrum that's really only found in the world of sports. Only within this world can you push your fellow teammate to be better (and sincerely want to see them succeed), while also being in direct competition with them. In the NFL, everyone is good. Every team has talent. But what separates the good from the bad? How well the team works together, despite those contradictory circumstances.
"Just more of a bond, really," Evans said about what he sees in the defense this year so far. "Coach is trying to work on being a complete team, so we're doing different things. We went in the indoor, we had a big team day, so he's just trying to make everybody bond together and that's what it takes to become a better team. Everyone has talent, so you just have to put it all that talent together."
More than putting the talent together is making the talent *work *together. Being a more complete team is a major point of emphasis for the Bucs and the rookies have seemingly been holding up their end of the bargain. By bringing that energy and playmaking ability, they have only aided their veteran teammates as the Bucs continue to develop their team chemistry this offseason.