View photos from the Buccaneers' 2018 Training Camp practice with the Tennessee Titans in Nashville, Tennessee.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tennessee Titans shared the field Wednesday morning for the first of two joint practices at the St. Thomas Sports Park, but they didn't really share a field until about 30 minutes in.
Utilizing three side-by-side full-length gridirons, the Buccaneers and Titans stayed in separate groups for warm-ups and a series of individual-position drills. The first overlap came in the third period, which was a series of position-vs.-position, team-vs.-team challenges. And in the drill that pitted the Buccaneers' wide receivers against the Titans' cornerbacks, DeSean Jackson set the tone right away.
On his first rep of the one-on-one drill, the speedy Buc wideout got deep on Titans cornerback Malcolm Butler and didn't have to break stride to haul in a long pass from quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Moments later, Tampa Bay wide receiver Mike Evans got into the act with a sharp route and a catch over the middle, also against Butler.
"Yeah, they were sharp, they were sharp," said Buccaneers Head Coach Dirk Koetter of his two receivers. "It started right off the bat in one-on-ones; they came out smoking. Just naked eye, I thought Mike had a really good day. DeSean didn't get quite as many opportunities, but when he did he looked good. It should be no surprise; those guys are good players."
Indeed, Evans was a clear standout throughout the two-hour practice, making a number of big plays, including one of his signature sideline grabs on which he plucked the ball out of the air over two Tennessee defenders. One of the NFL game officials working the practice confirmed that Evans got two feet inbounds on the play.
Of course, while Evans and Jackson were catching eyes on one field, the Titans' offense was going against the Buccaneers' defense two fields away. There were undoubtedly good moments for both teams and, as Koetter pointed out, some drills clearly favor the offense, so a certain level of success is expected. Still, it was encouraging to see Evans and Jackson look so effective against a different group of defenders, including a cornerback group that includes Butler, Logan Ryan and 2017 first-round pick Adoree' Jackson. Ryan did stand out with several pass break-ups of his own.
"When it's one-on-one, the offense should win," said Koetter. "There's no pass-rush. That's an offensive drill. It evens out when you get to 11-on-11. They've got good corners, we've got good receivers – it's fun to watch those guys compete."
Evans and Jackson take most of their snaps with the first-team offense but on Wednesday that still meant working with two different quarterbacks. Koetter noted that Fitzpatrick was given the reins of the starting group in an early 11-on-11 drill but that Winston took over later in a move-the-ball period on a separate field.
Winston has been logging snaps with first, second and third-team groups throughout camp as the Buccaneers try to prepare for a season that will begin with a three-game suspension for the fourth-year passer. Fitzpatrick is slated to start those games, but the Bucs need to give Winston a significant amount of time to prepare because he won't be able to work with the team during those three weeks.
Thus Winston has thrown plenty of passes to every receiver on the overstuffed 91-man roster. It's pretty clear, though, that he likes having Evans on his side when it's time to face some tough competition in the opposing secondary.
"First of all, I've just got to thank the Titans for letting us come out here and compete against them," said Winston. "I think it's so much fun playing against different guys. And when you've got guys like Mike and DeSean playing against Malcolm Butler and the new [cornerback], 25 [Jackson], oh my God, he's incredible. It was just good to get out there and compete.
"Those DBs with Logan in the nickel, they're really good. They have a really good defense. I have a lot of respect for those guys. I'm blessed to have the guys that I have on the offensive side to go out there and compete against them."