The perpetual cycle continued on Friday at the AdventHealth Training Center during Day Three of training camp for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Several veterans took a designated rest day including quarterback Tom Brady, inside linebacker Lavonte David and wide receiver Mike Evans. All were in attendance but did not participate. In a variety of positional drills prioritizing bend, shedding blocks and pass rush counters for respective position groups, players enhanced their craft. As some players vie for a spot on the final 53-man roster and others strive to cement a full-time gig, many are beginning to emerge. Here are the top takeaways from the podium on Friday, providing insight on standouts.
Several new faces headline the Buccaneers' overdose of talent in the receiving corps, including former Atlanta standout Russell Gage Jr. Tampa Bay faced Gage many times in the NFC South rivalry and in practice donning a Bucs' jersey, he continues to give the defense fits.
"[Russell Gage] has really been the one to stand out," Head Coach Todd Bowles remarked. "I don't think we've covered him yet. He's been doing a good job the past couple of days. Again, we're out of pads but he's a guy that flashes and shows quickness and fluidity."
As Gage continues to gain chemistry and optimize trust with Brady, his stock rises. He can stretch the field vertically with speed to create separation and has the agility to generate yards-after-catch on screens and win on intermediate routes. During his four-year tenure in Atlanta, Gage amassed 2,065 yards on 193 receptions and nine touchdowns. Gage continues to make an impact on the field as a passing game catalyst as he absorbs the playbook installs and alignments. Despite a new system, the goal is the same.
"I know what they want out of me," Gage said. "I know they want me to win; win in routes, win at the top of routes, win at the line of scrimmage, so it's that simple."
Winning has certainly materialized for Gage. His versatile skillset has been on full display out on the practice fields, bolstering the Bucs' receiving corps. With a plethora of talent at the disposal of Byron Leftwich, opponents will have to pick their poison. Utilizing double teams will open opportunities for other playmakers to arise. With arguably the greatest quarterback of all time under center and a multi-faceted prowess, Gage has breakout potential in 2022.
Nick Leverett referred to Robert Hainsey as "one of – if not the smartest player on the team." Both are competing for the starting center job following Ryan Jensen's injury. Todd Bowles confirmed that Jensen will miss at least two months – perhaps more depending on what doctors find - creating a vacancy and big shoes to fill. Jensen was the anchor of a Bucs' offensive line that gave up the fewest sacks in the NFL last season. That begs the question, who will protect Tom Brady and direct traffic at the line of scrimmage? With Super Bowl aspirations, an alternate plan unfolds in Jensen's absence. The current depth is unproven, but coaches and players alike have praised Hainsey's football IQ and cerebral approach to the game.
The Bucs drafted Hainsey in the third round out of Notre Dame last season and despite playing solely tackle in college, he transitioned to center to develop as a successor to Jensen. Hainsey has played 31 offensive snaps and has a unique opportunity to earn a full-time job at center. He stressed his level of comfortability in snapping the ball as the game has slowed through his lens in Year Two. Gaining repetition at communicating shifts and blocking assignments will foster Hainsey's growth. Now, he will aim to translate the information gleaned from Jensen to the field.
"The way Ryan approaches the game every day, and every day is with a mentality that he is the best on the field, and he usually is," Hainsey stated. "Being that guy, you see it throughout the game and in the locker room and in locker rooms across the NFL, I think that means something; that carries a certain level of respect. He's that guy that is not going to let you get away with anything…I'm not Ryan Jensen. That is not who I am trying to be but the chip on his shoulder that he plays with, if I'm out there, I think I want to have a little bit of that myself. I owe that to him and whoever is out there owes that to him – to continue that presence, the type of player and man he is on the field."
Antoine Winfield Jr.
Entering Year Three, Antoine Winfield Jr. is ascending. As creative packages are added to the secondary with the addition of Logan Ryan and Keanu Neal, Winfield Jr. has taken a step forward. A jack-of-all trades, he can do it all: play in the slot, over the top of the defense or seal the edge against the run. Winfield's instincts have flashed throughout camp, including an interception on Thursday. The acrobatic grab drew eyes, including the recognition of Bowles.
"Win's big thing is, he understands where his help is now," said the coach. "He's always going to be a playmaker. He's always going to be ready to play, he'll hit, he'll catch the ball. Understanding where his help is and taking advantage of situations is what he's really been focusing on and we're happy with where he's at."
It is pivotal for any defensive back to communicate well with secondary teammates as the unit determines the pass strength of the opposing team. As a play breaks down, knowing the primary assignment and role for fellow backs and where the safety help is located is crucial to limit big plays from occurring. Winfield continues to elevate his craft and the results are showing on the field at practice.