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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Unfamiliar Foe Gives Practice an Extra Edge

The Buccaneers weren't quite as sharp as hoped on Monday, particularly on offense, but they got exactly what they wanted out of a beneficial joint practice with the Jaguars in Jacksonville.

Pictures of the Buccaneers leaving on Sunday for their game against the Jaguars.

On the very first snap of the receiver/defensive back one-on-one drill in Monday's training camp practice, wide receiver DeSean Jackson beat his man off the line, sprinted deep and hauled in a perfect pass from Jameis Winston without breaking stride. The crowd was not pleased.

That's because most of the fans in attendance for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 14th practice of training camp were wearing Jaguar colors. For the second summer in a row, the Buccaneers traveled early to Jacksonville in order to get in a pair of joint practices with the Jaguars prior to the team's preseason meeting on Thursday night.

And so Jackson's big play, which would have brought a roar at One Buccaneer Place, went uncelebrated, as did deep-ball completions to Chris Godwin and Derel Walker minutes later. They will surely be appreciated later when the coaches and players are breaking down practice video.

Overall, the Buccaneers had less to celebrate on offense than they had hoped, as Head Coach Dirk Koetter gave that side of the ball a lukewarm assessment after the very warm two-hour practice on the turf fields situated next to EverBank Field. Tampa Bay's defense appeared to fare better against the Jacksonville offense on an adjacent field.

"Well, I'm only on one field so I don't get to see the rest of it until we get back to the hotel," said Koetter. "Offensively today it wasn't what we were looking for. But it's one day in practice and you learn from it and you get better next time."

Quarterback Jameis Winston, who had an impressive but not perfect outing in the preseason opener last Friday (he said the coaches gave him a B-minus grade) wasn't disappointed by Koetter's assessment of his crew on Monday. With the regular season rapidly approaching, he wants to be driven hard in order to be ready for the opener.

"Room for improvement everywhere," said Winston. "That's why I love our coach, man. He's a perfectionist, and that's the standard that we have to play to every day. We can do it, and he knows that. That's what coaches do – they push you to the edge. They push you because they want the best for you."

In a way, it's a familiar story. A year ago, Tampa Bay's offense struggled through the first of two joint practices in Jacksonville, then rebounded in a big way on Day Two. The Buccaneers and Jaguars will get together again on Tuesday morning, and while the players will wear shells instead of full pads it will still be a very intense two hours of competition. Last year's Day Two improvement was followed by a 27-21 Buccaneer victory in the live game that capped the week, with the visitors winning the yardage battle, 377-209, albeit with much of it coming from reserves.

"They're both good. In the NFL, if you're practicing in shells you're practicing full-speed. You just stay off the ground, which you're supposed to be doing anyway. Just different situations – we'll get two-minute in tomorrow, get a little bit more red zone work, but we'll do similar drills tomorrow. A little bit shorter."

Coincidentally, the Buccaneers' first touchdown in last year's game in Jacksonville was a short pass in the red zone from Winston to Mike Evans. In last week's 2017 preseason opener, Winston tried twice to hit Evans from the two-yard line at the end of a 92-yard drive but neither play was successful. That memory will probably still be fresh when the Bucs try out their red zone package against the Jaguars on Tuesday.

"Scoring in that red zone – me and Mike Evans can't get inside the two-yard line and not connect on two straight attempts," said Winston. "That's the only negative I take away from that game. Got to get better [passes]. Preseason rules – hopefully in the regular season we get a flag or something. At the end of the day, like me and Mike talk about all the time, it does not matter, you are Mike Evans, go catch the ball."

The Buccaneers did have a few other offensive standouts in Monday's practice, including rookie tight end Antony Auclair who caught a late touchdown pass, but the defense was responsible for more splash plays. Cornerbacks Ryan Smith and Jonathan Moxey each had tipped-ball interceptions and several Tampa Bay defensive linemen had impressive pass-rush reps on the one-on-one drill with Jacksonville offensive linemen. Second-year end Noah Spence and rookie defensive tackle Stevie Tu'ikolovatu were among the standouts.

Jacksonville coaches will certainly find strong performers of their own in their video breakdown. Calais Campbell, one of several notable defensive free agency acquisitions for the Jaguars, looked dominant in the other OL/DL session featuring the Bucs' blockers and the Jags' rushers, for instance. Unlike it is in a typical camp practice, every play isn't both a win and a loss for a team practicing against itself, but every rep is still very worthwhile. It's the uncertainty provided by an unfamiliar opponent that makes the joint practices particularly useful.

"We love practicing against another team," said Koetter. "The set-up is great, it's very organized by [Jacksonville Head] Coach [Doug] Marrone and his staff, the facility, the weather cooperated. So it's great to work against other guys. You find out how you adjust and how you do against other people.

"It's just different looks, unscouted looks. Normally on the script we have the plays and we have the defenses; here, we don't know what defense they're going to run and our defense doesn't know what play they're going to run. So there's no cheating on the script, you've got to play it as you see it."

In this particular case, the defense run by the Jaguars is one the Buccaneers need to figure out if they want to have a chance at unseating the reigning champs in their own division.

"It's really good because you get good looks," said tight end Alan Cross. "They run a Cover Three defense; Atlanta runs it. We play Atlanta twice, so that's two games right there we can get their defense [scouted]. It's really cool to come to somebody else's place and practice."

A review of Monday's tape could lead to a better performance against that defense on the second day, just as it did a year ago. Either way, though, the Buccaneers know they're going to get in another very good day of work.

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