-We got to hear from representatives from all phases of the ball during Wednesday's media availability, not only talking to Head Coach Bruce Arians via Zoom, but Special Teams Coordinator Keith Armstrong, tight end Cameron Brate and inside linebacker Lavonte David.
Coach Arians addressed one of the concerns of every team in the league. That is, with the absence of a preseason, there is limited time and ways to evaluate younger talent. Coaches have been open about the fact that veteran players may win out because they're more of a known versus unknowns in rookies. Arians and his staff are doing the best they can in their evaluations of a lot of young talent here during training camp.
"Like I've said every day, it's those younger guys – it doesn't get any easier," Arians said. "They've got to show up in practice – some of them are starting to show up in practice [with a] consistent level of play, not just a flash in the pan couple of days [but] a consistent level of 20-something good days. It's hard when you don't have games."
One of the places young players can shine, and earn roster spots, is special teams. That's where Special Teams Coordinator Keith Armstrong weighed in.
"Obviously, it's going to slow it down, so you have to anticipate some things," said Armstrong of the lack of offseason and limited preseason when it comes to special teams evaluation. "I think really early on in the year you're going to have to lean on your veteran players to be able to get this done. Going in to that first game – maybe the second and third game, as well – I think you're really going to have to lean on a veteran group. So, when I talk about a core group, I'm talking about the punt unit, especially. You're going to want to have some veteran players in there because of the lack of contact, the lack of preseason games. You don't get a chance to see who can actually go play, so it does slow your evaluation down."
Armstrong also talked about a hot topic in the Bucs' current kicking competition between 2019 fifth-round pick Matt Gay and newly acquired Elliott Fry. Both players have gone back and forth so far this camp and Armstrong welcomes the healthy competition.
"I think the competition is close – I think it's real close," Armstrong said. "I think with Matt, the thing I learned is he's got to learn to be consistent. That's what we're looking for and that's hard to do. That's what wins and he's got to learn to be consistent. When I come away from last year, you can't make the 60-yarder and miss the 45. You've got to learn to be consistent – they all count. They count for three [points], but it's three. It's three that we need and we want. Coming away, that's what I think I learned from that. The competition is really tight. Both have good legs and [Elliott] Fry is giving him a run for his money. They're competing back and forth and it's a good competition."
Special teams is what will complete the trifecta of a puzzle that is the 2020 Buccaneers. With the major acquisitions made this offseason, and the nature of said acquisitions, you could say there's a sense of urgency around the building.
"I think that's pretty spot on," said tight end Cameron Brate. "Brady has raised the expectations. Having a guy like Tom in here leading the team with the success he's had in his career definitely raises the expectations that we have for ourselves. I wouldn't say it's about letting Tom down – we look at the expectations as a positive. We're going to have more eyes on us – a chance to show the country who we are as players and as a team. I think it's super exciting for us to have those expectations and it's going to be a great opportunity."
And what that opportunity looks like remains to be seen. There are a lot of those expectations on the team, like Brate said, and it isn't limited to the offensive side of the ball. The question is how much the players are playing into those expectations.
"With the stuff that we've done defensively last year and then what we've brought in offensively this year, you would say you would want to [think about the postseason], but I can't do that just because all that stuff – that's just last year and we haven't even played a game yet with the new guys," said inside linebacker Lavonte David, splashing some cold water on the hype around the Bucs this preseason. "All I try to do is focus on what I have to focus on right now and that's for us to get better day by day. That's something that we definitely emphasize and that's going to be an all-guy effort week in and week out. There's been a lot of teams in the past that we had a great roster that I played on and it didn't work out the way we wanted. We have to be able to put everything together and then, at the end of the season, we'll see if we're in the postseason or not. Like I said, it looks good right now, but we have to play a football game first."