-Week one of OTA practices is in the books. It was the start of Phase Three in the offseason program where players were able to get on the field with their coaches for structured practices. The workouts are completely voluntary but over 40 players were out on the fields of AdventHealth Training Center Tuesday through Thursday.
The coaches are paying attention, too. During Rookie Mini-Camp, the playbook was laid out as the Bucs' newcomers got introduced to their new systems. What they learned then was again put to the test this week.
"Now it's about, 'You should be able to retain it. Now play – show us what you've got on tape,'" said Head Coach Bruce Arians. "These practices for [defensive backs], wide receivers [and everybody] other than offensive linemen and defensive linemen – this is very critical practice [time] for you to make the team."
One player who has been around but not able to get on the field quite yet is first-round pick Joe Tryon. The former Washington Husky stuck with his outside linebacker position group all throughout practices and has been paying attention in meeting rooms, though. His coach, Larry Foote, remains encouraged as what Tryon will bring to his unit.
"Well, he definitely passes the eye test," said Foote. "He's got all the height, weight measurements. Just watching him on film the guy is 6'5, he can bend, he can move. He's got a great motor, plays with high energy and just his DNA jumps off the tape. Loved the way he plays and he's going to fit in with what we're trying to build here [with] his mentality. He should have no problem fitting in. Just looking at his size, you can do a lot with him. He's agile, so Todd Bowles is in the kitchen right now cooking up some stuff for him."
Not only will Tryon fit into the outside linebacker rotation, but his versatility can also be used on special teams. Coordinator Keith Armstrong had a very strong comparison for Tryon and what he sees in him so far. He also had a good evaluation of some of the Bucs' other 2021 draft picks.
"You love everything about Joe [Tryon] – great athlete, smart, can run, [has] size, physical," said Armstrong. "I remember years ago in Chicago I had a guy by the name of Brian Urlacher. They let me use him for four weeks in training camp and every preseason game. Then right after that fourth preseason game, they're like, 'Hey, he's no longer covering kicks.' You love everything about [Tryon]. He's a really sharp kid. I think that he could fit in punt, punt return, kickoff coverage, field goal block, etc. Obviously as you look at his tape at the University of Washington, he has played a ton of different roles on defense out there, so obviously he is a sharp kid and can do it. I think he could do a hell of a job. Out of the two young linebackers, both do a nice job. They have their own particular assets. One is really fast and can run in [Grant] Stuard. Then K.J. [Britt] will hit you dead in the mouth. They both play with a lot of energy, tough kids. I like what I see there. They're doing a really good job. [Jaelon] Darden does a hell of a job getting under the football and catching punts. It has only been off a JUGS machine right now, and they're in shorts, so I don't want to go into it too deep and send anybody to Canton or anything, but he does a really good job of catching the ball. You don't hear it when it's being caught – he's got soft hands and he's sudden when he catches the ball, so he has done a nice job."
Of course, all this evaluation of even the players that have gotten on the field should be taken with a grain of salt. They're in shorts and t-shirts, after all. Phase Three prohibits contact so it's hard, in the case of Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles, to be all-out impressed with guys. Once the pads come on, he'll have a better idea how to fit everyone in. Currently, he's working on how to help his defense get even better from their dominating performance last year. He's not resting on the laurels of a Super Bowl win and sees plenty of room for improvement.
"Looking at the cut-ups with the other coaches, we've got to have a lot more growth from everybody," Bowles said. "I think they made the most growth in coming together as a unit. It wasn't just the back end and the front end working separately. They came together at the right time. The [mental errors] has cut down. They got used to seeing each other and how to play. A couple guys learned how to play with some nicks and bruises and learned how to be professional about that. You get on one of those rolls and they come together. Looking at the tape, we have a lot of things that we can do better that we're going to look at. We want to do better at all facets – front, middle and back end. We're going to get to those tapes, we're going to look at them when they get in here and get to work. We've got a lot to take care of."
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