When the Bucs organization drew up their plans for kicking off training camp several weeks back, they knew the possibility of rain existed. It is Florida after all. However, not too many people could have dreamed of a scenario where a tropical-like downpour could cause the team to have to send fans back home and hope for a redo on Sunday. But that is exactly what happened on Saturday. After a less-than-ideal opening to camp took place on Saturday, head coach Lovie Smith tried to find the silver lining in the mud, thunder, bus trip and almost five-hour rain delay.
“Not ideal conditions to start off training camp, but as I told the football team, the odds are we’re going to play a wet football game this coming season. So it’s always good – it’s different when you have to carry and throw a wet football, but it was a start. We set, not necessarily the tempo, but the standard, I guess you could say, (with) this first (practice). Saw some good things from a lot of players. We’re anxious to get back out on the football field tomorrow.”
Saturday’s sloppy weather led to some equally sloppy play at USF’s practice facility where Tampa Bay finally got on the field a little after 7 p.m, and the Buccaneers were able to open camp following a four-and-a-half-hour delay.
The coaching staff led players through an abbreviated session that featured receivers, tight ends and running backs catching passes from Tampa Bay’s three rostered quarterbacks before heading into 7-on-7 drills against defensive backs and linebackers.
Rookie starting quarterback Jameis Winston looked sharp during 7-on-7s, connecting on most of his throws and checking down to backs in the flats when necessary. As the rain picked back up and the team went into 11-on-11 mode, though, the accuracy of Winston and fellow quarterbacks Mike Glennon and Seth Lobato waivered. Balls thrown 15 yards and longer began to sail on both signal callers at times.
Hauling in the wet footballs began to give targets fits on balls slightly off-target, however third-year receiver Tavarres King and rookie Rannell Hall managed to turn in solid performances. The Bucs mixed up the rotation of receivers and tight ends running with the first-, second- and third-teams throughout 11-on-11 drills.
Looking to have a healthy, complete season after last year’s injury-marred rookie campaign, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins turned in an uneven performance Saturday. The 6-foot-5, 262-pound target showed off his hands grabbing a quick out from Winston early in the drill, and then later snagged a midrange pass as he streaked down the right seam. Mixed between were catchable but dropped balls from both Winston and Glennon, including one deep ball that made him clap his hands in frustration after it hit the turf.
One of the nicer receptions of the evening came on a Glennon-to-Hall hook up deep down the left sideline. The rookie out of UCF nicknamed “Speedy” battled tight coverage from veteran cornerback Mike Jenkins and managed to come down with the catch.
The starting five on the offensive line will be a topic discussed frequently this training camp and preseason and the Bucs chose to keep its duo of second-round draft picks off the first team Saturday. The starting unit during Day 1 of training camp consisted of Kevin Pamphile at left tackle, Logan Mankins at left guard, Evan Smith at center, Garrett Gilkey at right guard and Demar Dotson at right tackle.
The aforementioned rookies – Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet – ran with the second team at left tackle and right guard, respectively.
Defensive players began practice with position drills, trying to gain their footing on USF’s turf field with ball movement drills.
The secondary was split into safeties, outside cornerbacks and nickel cornerbacks each doing backpedaling drills within their group. Leonard Johnson and Isaiah Frey were the only two taking reps from the nickel spot, as Sterling Moore was working with Alterraun Verner, Johnthan Banks, Mike Jenkins and other outside cornerbacks.
With the exception of one drop by Bradley McDougald, there were no other glaring errors during this portion of practice – then came 7-on-7s.
On first-team defense was Verner and Banks on the outside, Bruce Carter at Mike, Lavonte David at Will, Danny Lansanah at Sam and McDougald and Chris Conte at the safety positions.
The rainy conditions were clearly tough for many players on Saturday. From a defensive perspective, there were a few bad dropped interceptions. From Kwon Alexander whiffing on a pass from Glennon that he instead tipped into Taverres King’s hands (King was all over the place during practice), to McDougald having one of Winston’s overthrows bounce off his chest, this definitely resembled an opening practice in the rain.
There were some highlighted moments from linebackers, though. Danny Lansanah made a great play to close in on a screen from Winston to Doug Martin and break it up. The 29-year old continues to fly around while taking first-team reps at Sam. Bruce Carter read Winston’s eyes on a slant and almost had a great diving pick before deflecting the pass. And Lavonte David showed his speed on one play, forcing Charles Sims to the sidelines for a gain of under five yards after the second-year pro looked for room off a screen.
Safeties were often rotating between first and second team, with McDougald and Conte lining up together and Major Wright and D.J. Swearinger. McDougald was often playing in the box while Conte was in single high during 7-7s and 11-11 base 4-3.
Second team defense included Moore and Jenkins at outside corner, Alexander at strong, Orie Lemon at weak, Jason Williams at middle and Wright and Swearinger back deep at safety.
During the 11-11s portion, Jacquies Smith and George Johnson lined up at right and left end, alongside Gerald McCoy and Clinton McDonald on first-team. And on second-team it was T.J. Fatinikun and Larry English with McDonald or McCoy rotating with Henry Melton.
Defensive line coach Joe Cullen was the most vocal person on Friday. You could here him screaming orders and trying to fire up his unit throughout the evening. At one point he yelled at Fatinikun to “move his feet.”
At one point after coming off the field, reserve linebacker Khaseem Greene threw his helmet out of frustration with himself.
During the second half of practice, Lovie Smith was a little irritated by the fumbled snaps (which happened about 10 times), and could be heard yelling “next play,” while trying to get his team to forget and move on. Smith said later that they were sloppy at times, but needed the practice in the rain and to get some first day mistakes out of the way.
The Bucs wrapped up their first practice by working on special teams.
Incumbent kicker Patrick Murray and newcomer Brandon Bogotay took turns booting field goals from varying distances. Both kickers nailed all six of their opportunities, with the deepest coming from 49 yards.
A short kick return session followed and six different players went back deep for run-backs: Kaelin Clay, Kenny Bell, Hall, Donteea Dye, King and Dominique Brown. All of the potential return men are rookies except for King, who’s entering his third year in the league. Dye, Bell, Brown and Hall each went back twice to receive kicks.
Smith talked after practice about the team deciding to use the facilities at USF.
“This is a good option for us if we can’t use our facility,” Smith said. ‘I mean, we were close (to using the facilities at One Buccaneer Place). As much as not having a facility, running out of daylight a little bit is really what kind of got us today. We’ll just keep all options open. The odds are we’ll get our practice in some kind of way tomorrow, though.”
– Eric Horchy, Zach Shaprio and Mark Cook combined on this report