Sunday’s training camp practice for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was the first of the year with some sort of pads on. To this point, each of the previous practices featured players in just shorts and shirts. But, this morning the players donned their shoulder pads for the first time – also known as “shells.”

When you don’t see names like Mike Evans, Jameis Winston, Gerald McCoy or Lavonte David in the headlines of a practice day, that doesn’t mean the practice was a boring one. It just mean that some of the non-household names were the ones stealing the show.

There are 90 players on this roster, and each one of them wants to call himself a Tampa Bay Buccaneer by the time September rolls around. Some are more guaranteed of that honor than others, and for those who find themselves on or near the cusp, days like today mean everything.

Conte Came To Play

Chris Conte has never been a general fan favorite – it’s hard for most safeties to be.

Unless you’re someone like Earl Thomas, Harrison Smith or Eric Berry, the bad plays can often outweigh the good in the minds of most fans, even if there’s more positives. That’s been the story for Chris Conte. For instance, Conte had an incredible pick-6 against the Bears last year, and after coming back from injury, had what should have been a diving interception in Week 17 against Carolina. But fans don’t remember those plays nearly as much as they do him getting torched down the middle by Cardinals wide receiver, John Brown, or looking helpless against Amari Cooper of the Raiders.

Safety Chris Conte – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

I’m not saying Conte has been close to Pro Bowl caliber, but a lot of what happens in the secondary is about other players doing their own job paired with good communication – especially for safeties. If that doesn’t work, it has a tendency to make the wrong guy look bad. Conte has had his fair share of bad plays, but not all of the groan-worthy mishaps can be pinned on him, even if he’s the closets guy in coverage.

In year two of defensive coordinator Mike Smith’s scheme, we’re seeing the defense get off to some hot starts in practice. Conte has been the starting strong safety with Keith Tandy as the free safety next to him. Yesterday Conte had a fantastic pass break up deep down the field on Mike Evans, and today Conte followed that up by getting himself a nice diving interception.

Safety was thought of as a position where the Bucs needed the most help this offseason. That’s why they brought in J.J. Wilcox, who was our practice MVP yesterday, and drafted rookie Justin Evans in the second round. Now, instead of a mystery of starting roles for all the wrong reasons, all four of those safeties are playing well in the early parts of camp.

Somehow safety went from one of the biggest areas of concern to an even talent field, at least early on. Conte’s early encouraging performances have contributed to that.

Can You Spare A Nickel?

Going into camp, here’s what we knew: Vernon Hargreaves wasn’t going to play in the slot like he occasionally did in year one, Jude Adjei-Barimah was the starting nickel corner at the end of 2016, the team really liked rookie Javien Elliott’s potential, and Mike Smith brought in an old player of his, Robert McClain, to compete and bring in a veteran presence.

Those thoughts have changed some, or at least been modified, three days into camp. First, this is much more of an open competition than we might have thought it was. For starers, while playing on the second team, McClain had himself a nice pick-6 in practice yesterday. But, he wasn’t the only nickel back with a nice play under his belt. Elliott got in on that party, too.

That play, along with a few others, must have really impressed the coaching staff, because today Elliott was the one starting at the nickel cornerback spot with the first team.

The Bucs were going through different forms of down and distance this morning than they were on Saturday; yesterday was mostly short yardage situations that didn’t call for a nickel back in the game, and today was more of third and long.

Elliott filled in as the nickel back with the first team, McClain was the nickel back on the second team, and Adjei-Barimah was actually an outside cornerback on the second team.

It appears the coaching staff is changing things up on a daily basis to try to get the best feel for their players – which is smart. We’ll continue to monitor who gets reps where at such a crucial position.

Speedy Reedy

During one of the first wide receiver drills, Bernard Reedy dropped an easy pass with no coverage. We thought it was going to be a long day for him after that. But, things turned around for him in a hurry.

For starters, as the team was running through kickoff return plays for the first time, Reedy was the second player in line to field kicks. To me, that shows confidence in him. Then, after that, we had the play above in one of the 11-on-11 scrimmages.

Reedy was part of the final cuts in last year’s training camp and spent most of the season on the Buccaneers’ practice squad before being activated to the game day roster in December. For him to make the team, the Bucs would have to desire his type of player (a speedy, slot receiver who can play fast on special teams), and he would have to beat out fellow wide receiver, Bobo Wilson, for that last spot.

Flying McNichols

Talk about a quick turn around for rookie running back, Jeremy McNichols. During OTAs and Mini Camp, he was a non-participant. During the first day of training camp, he was the last player to get reps in drills and didn’t get any reps during scrimmages. The next day he saw a handful of snaps on the third team. Then, today, he saw work with a variety of different quarterbacks, which led to increased confidence and the play above.

We weren’t sure how quickly or even how much McNichols would be used with so many running back who have been given chances on this team still on the roster. But, it appears the coaching staff likes McNichols in the Charles Sims role and will give him the chance to take it if he impresses.

From the Notepad

  • Winston was still wearing a knee brace today. Expect him to wear it for the duration of training camp. He doesn’t appear to be limited by it at all, so we don’t think it will be going away.
  • The day after it was made known that defensive end, Jacquies Smith, would be missing more time, defensive end Noah Spence showed he’s fully capable of being the team’s go-to speed rush player by himself for a while. Spence was lined up on both side of the line, and had a couple plays were he straight dominated his offensive lineman. He looks even better than he did last year.
  • Chris Baker had his knees on ice today at the end of practice. Nothing major, but it’s worth noting.
  • Wide receiver DeSean Jackson was being used as a magic man today. They had Jackson running some double moves and combo routes, and even a wide receiver reverse, which had many people fooled.
  • Some of the reserve linebackers had splash plays today. Mississippi State rookie linebacker, Richie Brown, had an interception along the sideline, and linebacker Adarius Glanton should’ve had one of his own over the middle.

From the Stands: Fan Spotlight

Wide receiver, Donteea Dye loves life.

He’s almost always staying after practice to work on his timing and run extra routes with the quarterbacks, and he always has a smile on his face with the fans. After being the one who returned some of the kids to their parents after playing catch with them on the field, while signing autographs, a fan showed Dye a picture of him in a magazine that he had never seen before.

His reaction was genuine.

You could hear the excitement and happiness in his voice as he said, “I look big in that picture, boy. Shoot, that look nice.” Dye loves football, he loves people and he loves life. Anyone who’s spent five minutes with him could tell you that.

This fan spot light has two moments that I wanted to highlight.

Like he did yesterday, McCoy waltzed into the stand for his autographs. First of all I have to make sure I mention that after a few minutes of pandemonium, McCoy stood up, addressed the crowd and said, “As long as they don’t call me in because of lightning, I will sign for every single one of you. I’m not going anywhere.”

That alone is awesome.

But, what was even more awesome was the picture above where McCoy was asked to sign a sleeping baby – and did!

McCoy is one of the best people in the NFL to go along with him being one of the best players. That is so, so rare. Tampa is lucky to have him – and always has been.

Tomorrow is the day.

Tomorrow they put on full pads and let the real football begin.

We’ll see you bright and early.

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About the Author: Trevor Sikkema

Trevor Sikkema is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat reporter and NFL Draft analyst for Sikkema, an alumnus of the University of Florida, has covered both college and professional football for much of his career. As a native of the Sunshine State, when he's not buried in social media, Sikkema can be found out and active, attempting to be the best athlete he never was. Sikkema can be reached at: [email protected]
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4 years ago

I don’t know about other fans; but, I sometimes wonder what playerr/fans on this messageboard/ and maybe even PR thinks about some of my messageboard postings. Sometimes I like to say crazy things – kindof John Randle like, when he’s on the field. I’m just being rambunctious.

– when I first posted about Chris Conte, I had seen both his getting run over and his excellent pass defense. I had a little fun with him getting run over.

Alldaway 2.0
Alldaway 2.0
4 years ago

I think Reedy is capable of beating out Huff. Both are different players but both are competing as special team’s aces/#4 WR’s. McNichols is such a good pass catcher and Barber as a grinder that they should both make the team IMO. I am not a big fan of Sims, but I am willing to give him time to showcase his skills again. Dye is an interesting case, because he is athletically gifted but his understanding of his offense has held him back. It is good to hear that he is working extra to remedy this. If he is called… Read more »

Reply to  Alldaway 2.0
4 years ago

I would consider trading Sims and hopefully pick up a six rounder for him. The more you see him, the more you realize there’s nothing special about him except he’s another one who has trouble staying healthy. For me, he’s been disappointing as a third-rounder.

4 years ago

Ummmm…….somebody didn’t hear Dirk Koetter’s press conference today. At about minute 6:30 of his presser, Koetter offered praise that suggests Sims has much more job stability than one would think. Koetter said “At the very least, Charles is a really good third down back who is great in protection, really good on the perimeter, and is an excellent receiver – you saw that today. He got loose in the flat a couple of times and he can do something with it once he’s out there”. I may be one of the few people that supported the draft pick and still… Read more »

4 years ago

I just now watched Koetter’s press conference. The more I hear from him the more I trust him. He is a coach who is not “full of himself”. Every answer is well thought out not because he has rehearsed for it, but because he is on top of everything in the manner that a good head coach needs to be. He isn’t thrown by questions because he is knowledgeable about every player including the newbies. He obviously has command of exactly where the team is in regards to the process he want to unfold during training camp. He is not… Read more »