The Headline From Camp Today: Darden Stacking Quality Practices
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Rain and thunderstorms in Tampa forced the Bucs to practice in the indoor practice facility at the AdventHealth Training Center on Tuesday. Quarterback Tom Brady turned 44 today and didn’t practice, along with good friend and tight end Rob Gronkowski.
That meant it was Blaine Gabbert’s chance to shine at quarterback, but the veteran was up-and-down throughout the day. Still, Gabbert was easily the Bucs best quarterback at Tuesday’s practice, as rookie Kyle Trask failed to build on his strong Monday performance.
Fellow rookie Jaelon Darden, however, had no issue stacking outstanding practices together. One of the clear winners of the Bucs offseason program, Darden starred again on Tuesday. The first-year receiver caught everything thrown his way, showing the ability to catch the ball outside his frame. For a smaller receiver, that’s a very important trait to display.
Darden’s quickness has been a problem for almost every corner he’s faced. He bounces in and out of breaks, creating gaps of space for his quarterback to place the ball. That ability to separate has made Darden consistently successful, even against Tampa Bay’s better corners. The North Texas product may not be as fast as Scotty Miller, but he has more than enough speed to win deep, too.
The craziest thing about Darden’s hot start? We haven’t even been able to see his post-catch ability, which was arguably his biggest strength coming out of college. Because the Bucs haven’t done any live tackling, it’s been impossible to gauge Darden’s elusiveness. It’s a pretty safe bet that Darden will get a long look in each preseason game however, as those contests will be significant measuring sticks for the rookie.
The Bucs have Wednesday off before resuming practice on Thursday at the AdventHealth Training Center.
Bucs Players Out Of Practice
Bucs quarterback Tom Brady celebrated his 44th birthday by getting a veteran day off. Center Ryan Jensen returned to practice after missing Monday with a veteran day off, and rookie center Robert Hainsey missed practice today after filling in for Jensen yesterday. Also out today were tight end Rob Gronkowski, wide receiver Cyril Grayson, outside linebacker Cam Gill, cornerback Chris Wilcox and inside linebacker Lavonte David.
It was the second missed practice in a row for David, who practiced on Sunday, but missed Friday and Saturday’s practices, too. Arians made it clear after practice that it was clearly about preserving David’s body for the season.
#Bucs HC Bruce Arians says the only other veteran that he let have an extra veteran day was Lavonte David. He didn't want him on the turf. They schedule all off days out with the trainers and sports science staff. Today was mostly about the young players.
• With Brady out, this was a much slower, teaching-oriented practice with more reps for younger players. Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown all played limited amounts on Tuesday, leaving the door open for Darden, Tyler Johnson and others to impress.
As a result it was a strong day for Scotty Miller, who brought the biggest reaction when he juked cornerback Herb Miller after the catch, nearly breaking his ankles. Tampa Bay’s third-year receiver has had a quiet camp, but his impact per target continues to be outstanding. Miller looks improved as a route runner, which should bode well for his attempted expansion into a more complete receiver.
• At some point, you start to feel for young cornerback Nate Brooks. To say he’s struggled in camp would be putting it mildly, but even when he does something right, it ends up being wrong. Brooks read a route perfectly on the outside, breaking on a late Trask throw with ease for what should have been a pick-six. Instead the cornerback dropped the easy interception, drawing groans from the defensive sideline.
It has been tough sledding for Brooks and fellow rookie cornerback Cameron Kinley, even against the Bucs’ backup receivers. Miller and Dee Delaney haven’t fared much better, although they’ve been targeted far less. Antonio Hamilton hasn’t been great, but he’s probably in the driver’s seat for CB5 right now due to his better showing at cornerback than the others and his special teams experience.
• Everyone has been waiting for rookie inside linebacker Grant Stuard to make his first play in coverage during training camp, and it finally happened today. An ambitious seam throw from Griffin dropped in wonderfully to tight end Jerrell Adams, but Stuard poked the ball free at the last moment. While the pass bobbled between players, safety Javon Hagan collided with the duo to get the ball on the ground.
• After picking up five interceptions and a plethora of pass breakups yesterday, the Bucs safeties were at it again today. Yesterday’s practice hero Ross Cockrell made an incredible break on the ball to knock away a seam throw while being clotheslined. It was a little bit of a scary collision, but Cockrell bounced back up quickly.
It’s hard to say how much safety Cockrell will play when it counts, but the Bucs have done a great job recognizing his natural talents for the position. His instincts and route recognition look exceptional in coverage so far. I don’t know if he’ll ever be a full-time safety due to his size and limited ability in the box, but Cockrell is turning into a quality emergency option at the position.
Bucs S Antoine Winfield, Jr. – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
• Antoine Winfield, Jr. also had a strong day, picking off an overthrow from Gabbert early in practice. Later in practice as the first team offense attempted a third-and-goal from the 4-yard line, Winfield Jr. came flying in to knock away a quick pass on the goal line for Tanner Hudson.
• Ryan Succop hasn’t been visible or active during every Bucs practice so far this season, but he hasn’t been exceptional when he is out there. There’s no reason for alarm yet, but Succop began his Tuesday field goal session going 2-4 on kicks. He closed with two long boots that looked great however, so hopefully it’s just some normal camp adjustments.
• Where are the 1-on-1s? In the two days I’ve attended Bucs practices, there have been no OL/DL pass rush one-on-ones, no RB/LB coverage one-on-ones and no backs-on-backers. That’s limiting a lot of my observations to wide receivers, tight ends, defensive backs and quarterbacks so far. I’d love to get a better feel for outside linebacker Joe Tryon, defensive tackle Khalil Davis, Hainsey and others, so hopefully Thursday’s practice features a few of those drills.
• It wasn’t a great practice from third-string quarterback Ryan Griffin, but it was a huge improvement from yesterday’s disaster. Griffin tossed a strike to tight end Tanner Hudson for a big gain on his lone touchdown drive opportunity. Then he found wide receiver Josh Pearson behind the defense on a blown coverage to cap the drive with a score. Good response from the veteran, who is still receiving more reps over Trask during the second week of camp.
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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