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April 26, 2014 @ 5:42 pm
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5 Observations From Bucs' Initial Mini-Camp In Smith Era

Written by Scott
Scott Reynolds


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Tampa Bay conducted its first three-day mini-camp of the Lovie Smith era last week. What five things about the Bucs offense and defense stood out to PewterReport.com's Scott Reynolds? Find out right here.
Tampa Bay’s first mini-camp in the Lovie Smith era is in the books and there were plenty of interesting observations about the Bucs’ new offensive and defensive scheme, the team’s personnel and some interesting nuances about the way Smith conducts his practices. PewterReport.com was on hand for all three days of practices at One Buccaneer Place and has made the following five observations:

1. McCown Is The Real Deal At Quarterback For The Buccaneers
As good of a fit as Josh McCown was in Marc Trestman’s offense in Chicago last year, evidenced by the fact that he completed 66.5 percent of his passes for 1,829 yards with 13 touchdowns and just one interception in relief of Jay Cutler, he has the chance for being an even better fit in Jeff Tedford’s offense in Tampa Bay. Based on upon what PewterReport.com saw in Tampa Bay’s three-day mini-camp, Tedford’s quarterbacks need to have four attributes.

The first of which is accuracy, and McCown looked like he was auditioning for NFL teams at a college pro day. His completion percentage in 1-on-1’s, 7-on-7’s and 11-on-11’s was likely over 80 percent. Now a lot of McCown’s passes were very short in nature with receivers running smoke routes and running backs running flare passes, but he was on the money with his throws on all three days.

The second attribute is intelligence. McCown had complete command of the offense and looked like he has been operating in this scheme for years during the initial mini-camp. The third attribute is anticipation, and McCown showed unwavering confidence to throw the ball to a spot where the receiver is going to be whether it’s a short, intermediate or deep throw. There’s never hesitation during McCown’s wind up and he has shown the confidence to let ‘er rip.

The fourth attribute is mobility. Despite being 34 years old, McCown still has elite athleticism. He moves around like he’s approaching 25 – not 35 – and has plenty of mobility to execute the rollouts and waggles in Tedford’s system.

Getting a first look at Tampa Bay’s offense, if the Bucs draft a quarterback early the best fits for this system and it’s quick-release, high-percentage passes and option routes are Fresno State’s Derek Carr, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garappolo and SMU’s Garrett Gilbert.

2. Tampa Bay’s Offense Is Ahead Of The Defense At This Stage
It’s not uncommon for defenses to be ahead of offenses in spring football – whether it’s at the college or NFL level – due to the time it takes to get the timing down between quarterbacks and receivers in the passing game. That was not the case during the Bucs’ first mini-camp last week.

It wasn’t just McCown who looked sharp for Tampa Bay’s offense during the three-day mini-camp. The entire offensive unit looked sharp. The revamped offensive line looked quicker and more athletic than a year ago without 31-year olds Donald Penn and Davin Joseph.

The running backs showed great quickness in hitting the holes, which were big, and getting to the second level. The backs also did a very good job of catching the ball out of the backfield and turning up field for extra yardage.

The tight end position looks much improved from a year ago. Tim Wright has added 10 pounds to bulk up to 235 and looks like he’s ready to pick up where he left off. Wright led all Tampa Bay tight ends last year with 54 catches for 571 yards and five touchdowns. Brandon Myers adds another pass-catching, route-running tight end to the mix, and Tom Crabtree and Luke Stocker are back from injuries that stymied them a year ago.

Tampa Bay’s wide receivers put on a clinic during the mini-camp, with nearly every receiver having a couple of big plays in the passing game. Veteran Vincent Jackson is already in sync with McCown and had a sensational debut in Tedford’s offense outside and in the slot on occasion. There was plenty of speed on the field, and newcomers Louis Murphy, Tommy Streeter, a 6-foot-5, 215-pound sleeper, and Lavelle Hawkins really flashed some play-making skills. Holdovers Chris Owusu, Skye Dawson and Eric Page also showed the ability to create separation and pick up yards after the catch.

“Not many were on the ground,” Smith said. “We have been [airing it out], plus just the tempo of guys not getting tired and continuing to run. Our tempo has been pretty good. Again, our glass half-full, we wanted to see something like that. This is a good start, couldn’t have drawn up the start any better. To play receiver, in general, there’s a lot that you have to do. Telling you a little bit about the shape our players came in, ready not only to run forever and run a lot, but the mental preparation and all that.”
McCown looked sensational throwing the ball in mini-camp, and it’s easy to see why he was named the early starter. Mike Glennon, last year’s starter for 13 games during his rookie season, isn’t a bad fit in this offense. But you get the sense that if the Bucs select a quarterback early in the draft that Glennon could be dealt immediately for a 2014 or 2015 choice because Mike Kafka showed he could execute the offense as the team’s No. 3 QB.

Even though the Bucs defense had only installed two coverages, Cover 2 and Cover 1, there were far more completions and big plays surrendered by the defense during the three-day mini-camp than one would expect. Pass breakups and interceptions were few and far between, but it should be noted that the starting safety tandem of Mark Barron and Dashon Goldson was missing due to minor injuries.

3. Tampa Bay’s Running Back Stable Is Loaded With Capable Rushers
It wasn’t just McCown and the receivers that put on a show during Tampa Bay’s three-day mini-camp at One Buccaneer Place. Martin came back from injured reserve and didn’t show any ill effects from the missed time due to a torn labrum in 2013. While Martin caught the ball well out of the backfield and showed a good downhill burst through the offensive line, he did have a fumble on each day of the mini-camp, which was a bit concerning.

As well as Martin looked last week, Bobby Rainey was the best looking back during the mini-camp. Rainey caught every pass thrown his way, which was quite a few as Tampa Bay’s running backs are very involved in the passing game. Rainey has even better quickness and burst than Martin has, and could steal some reps from him during the regular season if he shows well in training camp and the preseason and picks up where he left off last year as Tampa Bay’s leading rusher.

With Mike James not participating due to his continued rehab of a broken left ankle that ended his rookie season prematurely, Jeff Demps got extended reps as the third-string running back. Demps’ world-class speed and elusiveness is eye-opening. By leaving track behind and focusing on football this year, Demps is positioning himself for playing time at running back and slot receiver, in addition to returning kicks.

With so much talent at the running back position, it’s highly unlikely that Tampa Bay will be drafting another halfback. Also, don’t be surprised to see the Bucs have three running backs with at least 400 yards on the ground in Tedford’s run-first offense, led by a 1,000-yard running back, likely Martin.

4. The Buccaneers Are Already A Well-Conditioned Football Team
As a whole, the Buccaneers are very much in shape already with the exception of a select few, notably defensive end Da’Quan Bowers. During a hot, three-day mini-camp in April, the players seemed to handle the rigors of a very up-tempo practice schedule that ran 2.5 hours without any dehydration or cramping issues.

“It’s 80-plus temperatures around here right now, so it’s good to see how the guys work,” Smith said. “With the emphasis that we’ve placed on being a fast team, running to the ball defensively, playing hard offense and all of that, you have to condition the body for all of that and we’ve done that. We had two weeks of offseason program and from what (head strength and conditioning coach) Dave Kennedy tells me it’s been pretty impressive.

“The guys came back in pretty good shape, which is important and what we’ve seen out there; it’s not like we’re easing in, we have a two and a half hour practice and it’s up-tempo and thank god we haven’t had any major injuries or anything like that. The guys are just running. We haven’t had players cramping up and that’s tough, that’s pretty impressive in the offseason, in April to be putting guys through this. I’ve been very impressed with the condition the players came back in.”

Smith is no different than his predecessors, Greg Schiano and Raheem Morris. Every Bucs head coach wants to use the heat and humidity to his team’s advantage, especially since the hot, tropical conditions extend deep into October in the Tampa Bay area. But the practice tempo with what Smith deploys, which hasn’t been seen since the Jon Gruden era, ensures that this Bucs will be well-conditioned and well-prepared come September.

“If I was a team coming in here, if I was Carolina, I’d be really concerned about that heat down here,” Smith said of Tampa Bay’s 2014 season-opening opponent. “They say it really gets hot. When I was in Chicago, I talked about the cold always and late [in the season] it was pretty cold. Down here that heat is tough, cramp up, there’s a lot of things that happen and we want them to think that way.”

5. Smith’s Practices Feature A Few Interesting Nuances
It was Tampa Bay’s first mini-camp of the Smith era, but it didn’t look like it. The Bucs looked like a well-oiled machine, and that’s a testament to the preparation by both the coaches and the players.

Smith and the coaching staff brought out the walkie-talkies right away and began to use them to call plays in. That helped create the up-tempo practice environment he wanted to achieve on offense and defense.

“It’s a part of – really if you look at it you should probably do that more,” Smith said. “You’re trying to simulate what happens during the game and that’s a part of the communication in letting the players hear and that’s both sides of the ball. Of course offensively we’re doing that, we’re also doing it with our defense, and linebackers are just getting used to hearing those calls coming in. Again, simulating as many game-type situations as you possibly can.”

Another practice feature that really stood out was having defensive players pick up every loose ball on the ground as if it was a fumble – even incomplete passes.

“I just don’t think you get takeaways by chance, that they just happen,” Smith said. “No, it’s got to be a mindset. As you watch our practices, we treat an incomplete pass like it’s a fumble, so we’re getting something out of that. I want defense to constantly be thinking about the ball, picking it up and running with it. That should be just a staple [thing] – the story should be if you don’t see us doing that in practice. Then we aren’t doing our job.”

Bucs cornerback Rashaan Melvin, who impressed during the mini-camp, liked the genius approach of not wasting any opportunity to recover fumbles, especially with incompletions in practice.

“I definitely agree with it,” Melvin said. “We understand the importance of picking up fumbles and scooping and scoring. Our philosophy is to score on the defensive side of the ball. Whatever we do in practice – whether we intercept it or if a ball hits the ground as an incompletion, we scoop it up and score. That’s going to prepare us for the games when the ball is on the ground and the Bucs will come up with it.”

Last modified on Saturday, 26 April 2014 22:37

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  • avatar

    Too bad to hear more negative news about Bowers. It's good to hear that McCown and the receivers were lighting it up. I still think the Bucs are thin at WR, despite the good first day.
  • avatar

    I can't believe he showed up to camp out of shape for the second year in a row...
  • avatar

    well it seems that the new buc era is here everything is positive-go bucs
  • avatar

    Im getting tired of reading about Bowers being out of shape. I am excited about the potential rotation of DEs we have with Gholston, Johnson, Clayborne and Bowers but thats dependent upon him being in shape. Cut out the late night ice cream and focus on your job. Also after looking at our needs I think most can be filled later in the draft given the depth of WRs, LBs and OGs in this draft. That said I think theres a very legit chance the Bucs take Manziel at 7 if he falls and they are as high on him as the reports have indicated. The mistake Lovie made in Chicago was not getting a franchise QB and then drafting in the teens and 20s didnt allow him the opportunity to draft the difference maker he needed at QB. We are in the top 10 and if Manziel name gets called I dont think ill be shocked. Go Bucs!
  • avatar

    Any Michael Smith sighting at the mini camp?
  • avatar

    I've never been a Bowers fan. The Tampa paper stated that his excuse for not being in shape is that he is nursing a knee injury...don't know how much truth there is to that.
  • avatar

    If Bowers being out of shape, Martin fumbling and the defense still learning the details of this defense is the only bad news out of this first camp I think we're in great shape. I am off the Bowers bandwagon because he has never really produced in the regular season and this is the 2nd non-injury year that he came in out of shape. I may be a Mike Williams apologist but he has produced. Again, is Martin carrying the ball high and tight like Schiano taught him? There is plenty of time to tighten the screws on defense.
  • avatar

    Hey Mr Incredible, the most important thing about Donald, or anybody else we draft that is NOT a QB, is that they will play right away and possibly even start. We need a starter or player with our first two picks. They have to come in and contribute right away to the team, to help with our overall improvement. I think that Lovie and Light both know that we can not draft a player in the first two rounds that will be sitting on the bench. They have stated that they want to win now, and you can not do that if you pick players that will not be helping the team this year. If we pick a QB this year, it should be a mid-round pick or later. Can't wait to see what we do! Go Bucs ! ! !
  • avatar

    After reading the article again I believe we are going to have a team that will wear down the defense and have eleven players run to the ball on defense. We might not win a lot of games but we.are going to be a hard team to beat. If we can block for McCown he will have a good year. Before I read this article I thought the Buc's might be a 6-10 team but now I believe they could possibly be 8-8 or 9-7 and that is before the draft. It's great to hear how the team came to camp in shape (except for a guy named Bowers ) maybe we can turn the heat into home field advantage once again. Have not been this excited about a season since the years of Sapp and Brooks on the field. On a side note... pushing the draft back into May is really a poor idea !
  • avatar

    Most positive article i've read in what seems like years. Yes, this Bowers thing is ridiculous. But if we can get 3 solid years out of McCown, we should take it and count our blessings. I don't think QB is a must have for us in this draft. Aaron Donald sounds much more exciting to me than a rookie QB.
  • avatar

    Great article again, Scott. I think the year Josh spent coaching in High School is also helping the Bucs because all the receivers know the playbook and are already in sync with Josh. I have read a report elsewhere that Josh has been working out privately with all his receivers and they have helped each other master Tedford's playbook since it was issued on April 7th. Josh can not only carry this team to a SB before he retires; after he retires he has my vote for QB Coach immediately! However, we also need a first round QB with all the talents you nailed in your article so that Tedford and Josh can prepare him to be the QB for the Buc's dynasty ahead. That future is for real to, which you just got little glimpse of. The Bucs need to trade Glennon as soon as they get their QB they want right at the draft and get an extra pick which we need.
  • avatar

    Good article Scott. It makes sense that the Offense would out perform the defense in a non contact atmosphere. McCown appears to be a Jeff Garcia repeat meaning that a team doesn't have to have a franchise QB to win games. I'm thinking in this draft we are drafting either a DL or OL in round 1.
  • avatar

    I just hope to heavens they don't draft another Clemson DE ...EVER!!!!
  • avatar

    No doubt in my mind that Aaron Donald will be the Bucs 1st pick unless they trade down. With PR articles previously about WRs on the Bucs, & some good FA signings to date, there MAY be fewer holes to fill than many of us realized. It appears from most draft prodnosticators that Garropolo will be there in the 2nd round. For those who say McCown is an aged veteran journeyman who has only showed 5 good games in his entire career, let an old-timer tell you about the recently deceased Earl Morall. He spent 21 years in the NFL with 6 teams, not doing much (51% completions), but led the Dolphins to the only undefeated season in history in 1972. I'm not saying the Bucs will go undefeated or that this is 1972; but just saying that he was one of several QBs who were written off as no-talent journeymen...not enough space to discuss Curt Warner & Rich Gannon here!
  • avatar

    Great article Scott, I think were gonna be pleasantly surprised by McCown this year. I have a weird feeling were gonna take Aaron Donald with our first pick, I honestly think we can wait on quarterback until later in the draft
  • avatar

    Great insight in this article. Sad to hear about bowers..just more reason to draft Aaron Donald. McCoy, McDonald, Donald, and spence inside with Johnson, Clayborn, and gholston on the edges would turn a perpetual weakness into the teeth or of D. I hate all this talk of getting rid of Glennon. He inherited an 0-8 team with horrible schemes and threw 19 TDS and 9 int while throwing 40 times a game. He can be a career reliable backup or be a starter for a year or two down the road. Sure he doesn't have a lot of athleticism but he has great pocket awareness and I've seen him take some hard hits
  • avatar

    Great news regarding McCown. Guy has all the tools he's a young 34 with very little mileage. I'm pumped!
  • avatar

    Any observations on Michael Smith?
  • avatar

    Bowers aside, this is a VERY positive article! The professionalism of Lovie and his staff has obviously already rubbed off on the players. I cannot help to be excited about the coming season. Don't forget, the South is always competitive from top to bottom. Well, it seems the Saints, Falcons and Panthers had better be ready for the 2014 Buccaneers!
  • avatar

    Encouraging. I think it was only one time in the entire Freeman era where PR talked about the offense and QB looking in sync during the offseson. Maybe McCown will be our Warner/Gannon after all...
  • avatar

    There is no excuse for Bowers reporting in out of shape. It disrespectful for him to do so each year and shows a lack of commitment to his profession. I guess he needs a 9 to 5 job earning 30 k a year instead of the wealth he is stealing by his observed attitude. What a waste of potential will be his legacy that he leaves behind ....... Finding commitment to the game and professional attitude individuals should always be features we look for in candidates for this team! Go Bucs, hiring Lovie Smith and Jason Licht appears to be the prescription to success!
  • avatar

    Scott, have you heard anything about McCown holding practices outside of 1 Buc prior to last weeks OTA's? Also who is DT Everett Dawkins from FSU? It was mentioned McCoy was coaching him up, any talent there? FSU fans know about him?
  • avatar

    Encouraging indeed, scubog! At this point, all indicators are pointing up. We will have a good draft (no matter who we pick in the first round) and as you suggest exceptional choices of UDFAs. I've heard that this draft is so deep due to the large number of underclassmen coming out, that UDFAs this year would have been 5th or 6th round picks last year. And don't forget, we have 13mil in cap space to attack a second free agency that starts after the draft as some good but overpaid veterans will be released in favor of less expensive draftees. With what I've seen so far, encouraging is the perfect way to describe my Bucs!
  • avatar

    Bowers out of shape AGAIN leads me to believe it's not asthma but just plain old being lazy. This will be Bowers last year or they will trade this deadbeat during the draft.
  • avatar

    Encouraging. Maybe our roster isn't as weak as some think. In two looooooong weeks we'll be able to critique the draft choices and undrafted priority free agent signings. Many will immediately anoint them stars or busts. Coulda, woulda, shoulda will be words used in nearly every posting as we amateur GM's second guess the decisions made in the Buccaneers war room. The media and others will actually give grades; which I find absolutely hysterical. I remember the 'C' given to Sam Wyche's last draft class in 1995. Seems there were skeptics that Sapp and Brooks would pan out given their deficiencies. Traded down from # 7 to # 12 and landed two Hall of Famers. Hmmmmmm, wonder if history can repeat itself. Now if Jason Licht can bamboozle a QB needy team into coughing up a first round draft pick for Mike Glennon like Richie McKay's fleecing of the Colts in 1996 for Craig Erickson, I'll be impressed. Heck, I'll be happy with a third. Maybe from Denver.
  • avatar

    Bowers out of shape again? They should check him for asthma.
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