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The Headline From Camp Today: Defense Comes Up Big In Battle Between Starters

Coming off the heels of a contract extension for defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, the Bucs’ defense was swarming during Thursday’s practice. The starters were swarming from the first snap, leading to hard hits, pressure on the quarterback and takeaways.

Bucs DC Todd Bowles

Bucs DC Todd Bowles – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

The performance began and ended with Devin White. Though he didn’t have a turnover, White put an exclamation point on the day with two hard hits on Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette as they were making receptions in the flat. White knocked them to the ground, leading to “oohs and ahhs” from the crowd. Neither player was hurt as they both got right back up.

The hits were one thing, but White also did a tremendous job stopping the run and making numerous plays at the line of scrimmage. He also did a great job of identifying what the offense was looking to do, including stopping a screen play in its tracks before it had a chance to get going.

The pass rush came in droves and from all different angles as well. Jason Pierre-Paul had a big practice, disrupting several plays in the backfield. He ended up with a sack and a tackle-for-loss on the day. Pierre-Paul’s eventual predecessor, Joe Tryon, tallied another sack in practice, while Will Gholston got in on the barrage of sacks as well.

We know Todd Bowles likes to dial up pressures in different ways, which is exactly what we saw on unblocked sacks from Lavonte David and Jordan Whitehead. Whitehead’s sack ended the first drive by the Bucs’ first team offense, forcing a punt. Maybe it’s a sign of things to come for the defense this season.

Throughout the practice, the defensive energy seemed to match the news about Bowles’ extension with the team.

“I’m excited,” Antoine Winfield Jr. said.  “As soon as I read the news I’m like ‘that’s amazing.’ He’s going to be here for my contract, so I’m excited for him to be here.”

“I love it here,” Bowles said after practice. “We got a great group of coaches that we put together. We got good players, they’re great to work with. I love the area and the camaraderie, it’s not about being a head coach, it’s about being the best coach and getting a chance to succeed and be happy. And I’m happy here.”

Bucs Players Out Of Practice

Bucs OLB Cam Gill

Bucs OLB Cam Gill – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Outside linebacker Cam Gill was out once again in practice, but the surprise was fellow outside linebacker Quinton Bell was out too. Bell hadn’t missed a practice before Thursday, but it opened the door for Elijah Ponder and Ladarius Hamilton to get more snaps.

Wide receiver Cyril Grayson Jr. and center Robert Hainsey both missed a second consecutive practice. Donell Stanley picked up reps at center with the second team.

Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowksi both returned after a maintenance day on Tuesday. But the big return came on the defensive side of the ball, as Lavonte David was on the field after missing three of the last four practices. Rookie cornerback Chris Wilcox made his training camp debut on Thursday, his first practice with the Bucs since getting taken off the PUP list.

Bucs Practice Notes

Practice started off in epic fashion, as it was military day at the Advent Health Training Center. Not only were active military members in attendance, but Para Commandos from SOCOM at the MacDill Air Force base parachuted onto the field. Before practice really got going, Gronkowski signed a ball for a military member and threw a pass to a kid in attendance.

OL/DL 1v1s

The return of OL/DL one-on-ones may have been the most exciting part of Thursday’s practice. The offensive line won the session handily, but Joe Tryon and Khalil Davis won their lone reps. Tryon beat Brad Seaton with a heavy punch before dipping around the tackle for the sack.

Tristan Wirfs, Ali Marpet and Alex Cappa did not lose a rep. Wirfs devoured Shaq Barrett and Anthony Nelson, while Cappa man-handled Ndamukong Suh on back-to-back reps. Will Gholston got nowhere with Marpet, who stopped his inside counter on the second rep. With Ryan Jensen snapping for 7-on-7, Donovan Smith could have completed the perfect run for the starters. But Jason Pierre-Paul beat him twice for sacks to end the starting OL’s portion of the drill.

Other standouts including Nick Leverett, who is looking like the favorite for the ninth offensive line spot. Leverett stood up Barrett and Nelson to win both his reps. Sadarius Hutcherson also landed a few great punches, including knocking Sam Renner to the ground. Hutcherson lost a few reps late however, getting too top-heavy and failing to stay connected when opponents countered.

Defense Starts Fast, Offense Finishes Strong

The starting defense made plenty of plays on Thursday, but the backups really kicked things off. During the first session of practice, cornerback Dee Delaney nearly intercepted a deep pass from Blaine Gabbert. The backups in the secondary would eventually come down with a pick late in practice, as Nate Brooks intercepted an ill-advised pass by a scrambling Kyle Trask.

Bucs WR Antonio Brown

Bucs WR Antonio Brown – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Brady and Gabbert got the majority of reps on the day. In the first half of practice, Brady looked unstoppable at times as the ball hardly hit the ground. His main target was Antonio Brown, who continues to dominate these training camp practices. Their timing together was on point, particularly on the deep ball. It looks like they’re in store for big season.

Other wide receivers that had a good day were Tyler Johnson and Jaydon Mickens. Johnson made multiple catches over the middle and was able to accelerate up the field after the catch. He’s getting open, but also making the tough receptions with defenders around him. Mickens made some very nice catches, particularly on one downfield pass from Brady after racing by Antonio Hamilton.

While the offense had their moments on the day, as the headline states, it was the defense that came up big. For a portion of practice, the Bucs offense attempted to drive the ball from their own 50, while the defense tried to force a stop. Tampa Bay’s first team offense was thwarted after a few first downs, when Whitehead’s third down sack forced a punt. David’s tackle-for-loss on first down and White’s instincts to drop a screen pass for a loss helped push the offense out of field goal range.

Then the Bucs second team offense was help to a field goal, as Gabbert had his second down attempt knocked down by a blitzing Herb Miller. On third down, Gabbert misfired on an out-breaking route to force the kick. Jose Borregales nailed the kick.

Ryan Griffin and the third team offense found more success against their fellow reserves. The unit matriculated the ball down the field before finally scoring on a quick throw from Griffin to Troymaine Pope.

The starters got another crack at the end zone, and drove the ball quickly down the field. Brady laced several completions to Evans, who made 3 catches to get the Bucs in scoring position. But Leonard Fournette fumbled away the hand off near the goal line, and the Bucs defense prevailed again. Fournette dropped a pass earlier in the drive, although White was all over him shortly after the ball hit his hands.

Tampa Bay’s offense had the last laugh, however, as Brady and Co. went 3-3 in the goal-to-go series to close out practice. Evans reeled in a contested touchdown catch between Jamel Dean and Antoine Winfield, before Giovani Bernard caught a quick slant from Brady to score. On the final attempt, Brady was well-protected and found Brown in the back of the end zone for an easy pitch and catch.

Tampa Bay returns to practice on Friday at 8:30 AM at the Advent Health Training Center.

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About the Author: Matt Matera

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1 month ago

For as good as this team is talent wise, I’m happy to hear that both sides of the ball are standing out. I’d be worried if the offense was owning the day all the time. The back ups on this team even excite me. This team seems to have incredible depth other than the obvious QB position. These practices are getting me so hype for the preseason like never before! Let’s go!

NC Greenbeard
1 month ago

I think you mean Tryon is JPPs eventual SUCCESSOR, not predecessor…
Anybody else nervously open these daily practice reports praying that nobody tore an ACL or any other serious injury? Let’s just get this season started!

Reply to  NC Greenbeard
1 month ago

I’m pretty sure BA is. That is why he is giving his vets a lof of days off.

1 month ago

It seems like a lot of Trask’s throws are ill advised. The new “Florida Man.”

1 month ago

Cappa “manhandling” Suh is impressive.

1 month ago

Thanks for the play-by-play practice breakdown Matt! It’s awesome to be able to get a feel for how things are going without being able to attend practices. I love PR…keep up the great work~!

Reply to  COBRAHD
1 month ago


1 month ago

I can’t wait to see Darden and Tryon rippin’ it up out there!! LET”S GOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!

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