The Headline From Camp Today: Bucs Receivers Must Stop The Drops
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We’ve ranted and raved about the Bucs receiving corps all training camp, and for good reason. It’s the most talented pass-catching corps in the NFL, with elite talent at wide receiver and tight end to go with depth across the board. Even facing a good secondary in practice, the Bucs receivers win the vast majority of the time.
In fact, the one thing that threatens to derail the group is something completely self-inflicted: drops. It’s been an issue in practices, to the point that Bruce Arians even called it out a week ago. It was also an issue on Saturday night against the Bengals, as the Bucs dropped five passes out of 38 attempts. That’s a drop rate of over 13 percent, an embarrassingly high number.
Bucs RB Leonard Fournette – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
In Tuesday’s outdoor practice, the offense was again marred by drops. Leonard Fournette, who probably leads the team in drops during practice, added two more to his offseason resume. One was a little on his back hip, but it hit both hands and should have been caught. The other was a perfectly placed ball in wide open space and he just dropped it.
Fournette is far from the only one, however. Tyler Johnson dropped two balls on the day, one of which was a well-thrown back-shoulder pass down the seam by Blaine Gabbert. Johnson was 2 yards deep in the end zone when he dropped that one, one play after Mike Evans dropped a touchdown from Brady.
Last year, Tom Brady had 33 passes dropped. That was the second-worst mark in the NFL, behind only Ben Roethlisberger’s 38. The team dropped another 12 passes in the playoffs, hitting a drop rate of nearly 13 percent (!!). They navigated the mistakes and won a Super Bowl, but it almost didn’t happen because of a 5+ drop performance against Washington in the Wild Card round.
The Bucs receiving corps can get open against anyone, win vertically with speed, make contested catches and dominate in the red zone. But catching the ball consistently has reached the point where it is a concern. This pass-catching group can be as productive and dominant as they want to be, but the mistakes need to end. The occasional drop will happen, but the Bucs cannot be leading the league in drops and expect to repeat as champs.
This team committed to putting self-inflicted mistakes behind them last year. Now it’s time to hold their loaded group of pass catchers to the same standard.
Bucs Players Out Of Practice
OLB Cam Gill, S Raven Greene, C Donell Stanley, RB Troymaine Pope, WR Travis Jonsen, C Robert Hainsey and S Jordan Whitehead remained out of Tuesday’s practice. TE Tanner Hudson missed practice with a brace on his right wrist. TE O.J. Howard also had a scheduled day off as he works his way back to full strength.
Newly signed offensive tackle Jake Benzinger was at practice wearing No. 77.
• Jaelon Darden dropped the only kickoff or punt return I’ve seen a Bucs player put on the ground during camp. Granted, it was a very tough ball to field and he scooped it up right away, but that’s the first muff of camp.
Bucs OLB Joe Tryon – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
• Joe Tryon was giving everyone a run for their money in practice. He forced an egregious hold by Brad Seaton on one rep, then almost beat Tristan Wirfs a few plays later. Wirfs ran the rookie past the pocket with an incredibly athletic recovery, but it’s clear Tryon is starting to become a force. I can’t wait to see how he plays in the next two preseason contests.
• Carlton Davis has quietly had an outstanding camp. When he’s given up receptions in man coverage, he’s consistently been right there to contest the catch. And throwing screens and smokes against him remains a fruitless endeavor. On a bubble to Scotty Miller, Davis erupted through T.J. Simmons block, threw the receiver back into Miller and still knocked the ball down with his one free hand. Elite defensive play.
• Another big day for Jaelon Darden. He caught a few big gains from Brady throughout practice, and another rope from Gabbert for a chunk play. Darden has the coveted combination of speed and quickness from a smaller receiver. It might help him become a deep threat and a YAC guy over time.
• One receiver who hasn’t put the ball on the ground very often in camp is Scotty Miller. The efficient pass-catcher made a great adjustment to reel in a rainbow toss from Gabbert for a touchdown, directly after Evans and Johnson had back-to-back drops. Miller hasn’t had a ton of targets in camp, but he’s made the most of them when he has.
Bucs QB Blaine Gabbert – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
• This was probably the best practice from Blaine Gabbert I’ve seen, and he still had two dropped interceptions. Tryon let a pick go right through his hands when dropping into coverage during the first team period. Later in practice, Javon Hagan jumped a route, but dropped the interception.
Gabbert had several excellent throws however, including a three-completion series where he zipped chunk gains to Darden, Jerell Adams down the seam and Jaydon Mickens on an out route. Moments later he found Cyril Grayson for a sliding catch past the sticks. Gabbert wasn’t helped by several drops, but he threw the ball very well to all levels of the field.
• One of the most exciting plays for Bucs fans during camp had to be Brady hitting Ronald Jones down the sideline for a big gain on a wheel route. Despite a safety coming over the top, Jones made a great concentration catch to complete the play. We didn’t see anything like that from Jones last year. Fournette continues to start over Jones, but there has been no comparison between the two in practice. Jones is clearly better.
• Don’t look now, but Rob Gronkowski is starting to heat up. The Bucs veteran tight end reeled in a tight window throw from Brady between multiple defenders early in practice. Later Gronkowski got open down the seam, but Antoine Winfield came over just in time to force the incompletion. After a strong Monday practice, Gronkowski looks like he’s hitting his stride in time for the season.
Jon Ledyard is PewterReport.com's newest Bucs beat writer and has experience covering the Pittsburgh Steelers as a beat writer and analyzing the NFL Draft for several draft websites, including The Draft Network. Follow Ledyard on Twitter at @LedyardNFLDraft
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