Phase III is here! It's now the first time offense and defense can really play against each other in practice, though there are still no pads and therefore, no contact. It's also the first time that the 90-man roster is all together – including the new rookie class. The indoor facility was buzzing with an overwhelming sense of relief from players who are itching to get closer to real football. It isn't quite there yet, but we're getting closer. I can see training camp on the horizon.
-Sure enough, there were two practices going on even with the move indoors because of thunderstorms rolling through. There was the rookie/reserve field and then veteran/first-team field, which included the rookie defensive backs, linebacker Devin White and defensive end Anthony Nelson. Head Coach Bruce Arians structures practice like this so that every player can get reps and can get tape, which he says serves as their resume. Coaches now have the opportunity to go back and review how every single player performed in practice and it helps reserve players in the long run because they've been getting reps every week if they're called on during the season due to injuries or other situations.
-The rookie DBs, who stood out during rookie mini-camp, still managed to shine against tougher and veteran talent in the first day of OTAs. Jamel Dean, Sean Murphy-Bunting and Mike Edwards were all with the 'first-team' in practice, shuffling in and out depending on the defensive calls. They ran step-for-step against Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Breshad Perriman.
-Rookies Devin White and Anthony Nelson had good days themselves, as well. Nelson moved well and seemed to work a lot with Carl Nassib on the sidelines or when they were lining up. White nabbed himself an interception in just the second play of the day. Veteran linebacker Lavonte David, who is now lining up next to him had some great insight into White and his performance this early on.
"Something about those LSU guys," David said. "All of them bring a certain type of energy, certain type of swagger and we're glad to have him here. He is happy to be here. He's more than ready to step in and contribute right away. The first day, he's flying around and caught an interception on the second play of practice, so that's a big positive sign. He's happy to be here and the first day, he is talking. For a rookie to come in and be talking like that, it's really amazing to see, so the sky is the limit for him most definitely."
Something about those LSU guys, indeed. David is definitely a 'quiet leader' as Coach Arians puts it. He leads by example more than by what he says. That works out just fine given how much White is already communicating. It's exactly what the Buccaneers need out of their rookie linebacker. They need someone to contribute in that spot right away and White seems like just the guy to do it after only the first practice of OTAs.
-Beau Allen has stepped up among the defensive tackles and seems to be emerging as the group's leader. During individual drills, he was calling things out and helping his teammates all while still asking questions to his coaches. The defensive line is broken up during individual drills between defensive tackles and outside linebackers, who were previously classified as defensive ends in the Bucs' old 4-3 scheme.
-Former defensive-end-turned-outside-linebacker Demone Harris looks like he's making the transition well. Though it's early, and Harris bounced between the practice squad and 53-man roster last season, he looked very sharp in individual drills for the outside linebackers today. His body type is maybe even more suited for the role he's now in and I think he might be one to watch through training camp.
-The deep ball seems to be coming along in the early stages. Wide receiver Breshad Perriman escaped down the sideline and into the end zone where quarterback Jameis Winston dropped a dime in the back right corner for a touchdown. Perriman is a big receiver but he's also extremely fast and looks like he'll be every bit the deep threat who can stretch the field as the Bucs thought he would.
-Not one to be left out, wide receiver Mike Evans had a long catch, too. Lined up on the outside, he cut in on a post route where Winston hit him as well for a touchdown. One thing that is very readily apparent is the fact that this offense isn't shying away from big plays and the deep ball is part of the foundation.
-Running back Ronald Jones got involved in the passing game as well as got more work at running back. He had a couple good catches underneath and ran through 'tackles,' which yes, aren't actually tackles with no contact, but he finished each play and looked comfortable.
THE BEST THING I SAW:
This was incredible. So, the offense decides on a swing pass to Peyton Barber on the outside. Easy enough, right? Sure as can be, Barber grabs the ball in stride but gets run out of bounds by none other than Vita Vea. Yes, interior defensive lineman Vita Vea. It was ridiculous. Vea chased Barber all the way down and although it happened right in front of me, I'm still not sure what I witnessed. All of a sudden, I just saw the 300-plus pound Vea barreling toward my direction and heading off Barber for just a short gain. And to top it all off, Vea just trotted right back to his position and lined back up. Casual.
View the best photos from the first day of Bucs OTAs.