View photos from the second day of the Buccaneers' 2018 Rookie Mini-Camp.
A quarterback can stand out in virtually any sort of team practice. A big arm or a pinpoint pass is evident whether the throws are going to uncovered receivers or through a tight window of the defense. Likewise, a receiver can catch a coach's eye with a leaping catch, and a running back can show off his sharp cuts even when no one is trying to tackle him.
It's not that simple for some of the other players on the field. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are holding a rookie mini-camp this weekend, and as is the NFL rule for all offseason work, they can't put their players in pads or have them hit each other. For the guys in the trenches, that tends to eliminate much of what they would do on a normal full-speed snap. Linebackers and defensive backs might flash with an interception, but they can't really show off how well they can hit when only making phantom tackles on air.
Still, within the framework of what is allowed this weekend at One Buccaneer Place, some players are managing to impress the coaches. After Friday's field session, Head Coach Dirk Koetter indicated that he had seen some intriguing talent among the 30-odd players in camp on tryout contracts. That could lead to a few roster additions in the days ahead. And on Saturday, Koetter mentioned a few ways in which the Buccaneers' draft picks – who already have safe spots on the 90-man roster – had made a noticeable impression.
For instance, offensive lineman Alex Cappa, plucked out of Division II school Humboldt State in the third round, is already proving to be a quick learner. That's particularly important in his case because the Buccaneers' envision him providing depth all over the offensive line. The scouting report on Cappa leans heavily on descriptors like "mean streak," but he can't really show that off until the pads go on. For now, he's impressing with his mind instead.
"He's sharp, very sharp," said Koetter. "That's one thing – when you don't have the pads on, the thing you can learn about these guys is how sharp they are and how quick they pick up, how naturally football comes to them. He's one that definitely fits in that category."
The pads don't go on until training camp, so for now the offensive and defensive linemen will continue with their shadow-boxing. That might get a little tedious for some of the veteran big men who have good grasps on the playbook, but there's still plenty of value in it for a rookie like Cappa who can work on his footwork and knowing where to be.
"It's a lot of obviously just learning the offense, learning the vernacular and everything like that," said Cappa. "Just being exposed to more every day and trying to learn. I think everybody wants to wear pads. It's good though; it makes it more mental, which is good and you can focus on the details."
There's a little freer rein in the secondary, where defensive backs can mirror route-runners and try to get between them and the football. There's no press coverage, though, which is what second-round cornerback Carlton Davis primarily played in his last two seasons at Auburn. He'll get a bigger dose of off coverage with the Buccaneers, so this weekend's work is actually a good early test for him. So far, he's passing that test with flying colors.
"After looking at the tape last night, Carlton probably had one of the best days on defense of anybody out there yesterday," said Koetter. "He did a good job. We already knew he was a good player in press coverage, but we wanted to see him play some off coverage as well. He did a really good job. His form tackling – for football on air – was good. We were fired up about the way he played yesterday."
Davis did learn off coverage earlier in his time at Auburn, so the base of knowledge was there. This weekend gave him an opportunity to bring it back to the surface, and he's pleased with the transition so far.
"So, just coming here, it takes time to just getting back to playing off and get comfortable with it," said Davis. "So, it wasn't a huge step for me, but I guess I am back acclimated with it and I am comfortable now."
Some teams around the NFL have taken to using their rookie camp as a teaching-only opportunity, eliminating the actual on-field practices in order to reduce the possibility of injury. The Buccaneers obviously see the value in getting on the field, and they'll be out there again in the weeks to come, albeit none of it mandatory for the players. Most choose to participate, and the offseason program will be even more productive now that the new rookies will be joining in with the veterans. After one more week in Phase II of the NFL's offseason setup, Phase III and OTAs will begin on May 22. For now, the Buccaneers are making the most of their three days with the rookies only, even if they can't truly approximate real football.
"Of course there's always stuff that stands out," said Koetter. "There's always stuff that stands out, both positive and negative. We're excited about the draft picks. The guys that we keep on top of the draft picks, they get to stay here for the next five weeks, so they'll be working with the vets on Monday and this is just kind of the kickoff to that."