We've made it through the first week of OTAs and things are starting to click amongst the team. Though practice kind of favored the defense earlier in the week, as players are getting more comfortable in the system, the offense has balanced it all back out as of Thursday. Overall, the receivers looked crisp and seemed to be on the same page during scrimmage drills. The defense still had their share of great plays. You can hear guys talking more and more on that side of the ball – working cohesively to battle what the offense is presenting. The players head out for a long weekend before coming right back next week to do it again.
Here's a few observations from Thursday:
-There are a couple things to note from the very beginning of practice in watching quarterback drills while special teams work is going on simultaneously. First, when quarterback Nick Fitzgerald said that he was up for being a contributor on special teams, he meant it, because he was with on the other field at the beginning of practice before joining back up with his fellow signal callers. Side note: take a look at the photo above for some of the drills on special teams - this one obviously aimed at blocking kicks. Secondly, the quarterback drills looked extremely impressive. The trio of Jameis Winston, Blaine Gabbert and Ryan Griffin would run one direction before being signaled to throw to a receiver on the other side of the 'field.' It wasn't a cross-body throw, it was a cross-momentum throw. Do you know how hard that is to do? Your body is heading in one direction, yet you muster up enough intertia to throw the ball in the opposite direction – and accurately, too. It's presumably to simulate a scramble situations where the open receiver isn't on your side of the field and if you connect on those throws, there isn't a lot an opposing defense can do about it.
-Wide receiver Bobo Wilson looks to have taken a step forward with his mechanics. He was praised a couple of times on his route-running throughout practice and looked sharp when making catches.
-Another receiver that looked sharp was rookie Scotty Miller who was stealing catches from defensive backs all morning. He may be on the smaller side, but his ability to be in the right spot and make catches in tight windows has been readily apparent. There were a couple of times I was sure the defensive back had gotten in front of him to deflect the pass only to see Miller behind him with the ball in hand.
-Something funny, albeit inconsequential, that happened was on tight end O.J. Howard's release during one particular play. As the ball was snapped, he yelled at his defender as he started his route. It was just one quick, indiscernible shout, but it shows how hard both the tight ends and receivers are running their routes even though it's still just the offseason.
-Speaking of how hard guys are playing, it goes across the board. Every play, even after it's called dead, you can see the running back still running down the field or the receiver who caught the ball still making his way to the end zone. Players are finishing plays, every play. The effort and enthusiasm really does stick out.
View the best photos from the third day of Bucs OTAs.
-Communication in the defense is key in more ways than you think. Yes, you have to be lined up correctly and you have to understand your role and what's going on around you, but sometimes you also need a reminder to just be smart. The offense was trying to draw the defense offsides in scrimmage drills with a hard count and you could hear linebacker Kevin Minter, who has been in Todd Bowles' defense before, telling the defensive line not to jump. Sure enough, they didn't bite. He tapped one of the linemen as well to tell him to move into a different position based on what the offense was showing. It's a clue as to how cohesive and concerted the defensive effort is in this scheme.
-Another encouraging sign was rookie linebacker Devin White talking to some of the defensive linemen, making sure they understood his calls from the previous play and getting feedback on what he had been telling them. He may be a rookie, but he sure doesn't act like one.
-Taking the ball away is an emphasis for the defense, too. During individual drills, each position group was on a rotation of various drills, each getting a turn at a drill in taking the ball away. It paid off for the secondary today. Cornerback M.J. Stewart had a good read on a play to the slot and jumped up to grab a piece of the ball for a great pass deflection. After a couple deflections of his own, cornerback Ryan Smith nabbed himself an interception today.
-Derrick Brooks was on hand to take in practice today from the sidelines. He had a nice little linebacker moment with current middle man Lavonte David, as he gave David a nice pat on the helmet after on particular play.
THE BEST THING I SAW:
These rookies, man. This time it was outside linebacker Anthony Nelson's turn to crush the hopes and dreams of a quarterback and receiver when he got through to the backfield quickly* (*key word since there's no contact) and got in front of the quarterback to bat down a pass. He jumped to do it, too and let me tell you that a 6-7 linebacker jumping up for a pass deflection looks every bit as impressive as it sounds.