Early morning rain forced the Tampa Bay Buccaneers inside their indoor practice facility at the AdventHealth Training Center on Wednesday. The Bucs use one sideline area of indoor practice facility as a make-shift locker room for rookie and reserve players to help the team with social distancing. The Bucs also hold some team meetings in the bleacher area where players can spread out for some classroom work.
But the indoor practice facility was used for it’s primary purpose on this day – football.
Tampa Bay was dressed in “spiders” – soft shoulder pads, shorts, jerseys and helmets – on Wednesday and worked primarily in the red zone where quarterback Tom Brady and the offense dominated early on. Brady was red hot, showing the veteran savvy of close to 20 years of playing football at an elite level.
#Bucs QB @TomBrady with a masterful look off that fooled LB Devin White and allowed TE Cam Brate to separate for the TD.
Brady then throws TD passes to WR Scotty Miller anc RB LeSean McCoy on the next 2 plays.
Brady racked up plenty of scoring strikes on Wednesday with pinpoint accuracy. Brady goes through his reads so quickly and finds the match-up he’s looking for during his pre-snap read. The six-time Super Bowl champion’s favorite target was three-time Pro Bowler Mike Evans, who had multiple touchdowns on the day.
#Bucs QB Tom Brady to WR Mike Evans in the back of the end zone for an AMAZING TD. Evans really climbed through ladder over FS Mike Edwards in man coverage. #Skywalker
The Bucs spent the early part of practice working on individual drills and special teams again. From the media’s limited vantage point, the defense was front and center for a change, giving us a great look at the defensive line, outside linebackers and defensive backs.
Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul sat out practice today with Pierre-Paul on the sidelines and Suh not at practice at all. Neither injured wide receiver Tyler Johnson nor injured free safety Justin Evans were in attendance, too.
Suh and Pierre-Paul had scheduled veteran rest days.
Nose tackle Vita Vea looks like he’s in tremendous shape despite his right hand being casted in a club following offseason surgery. Vea slimmed down from the 347 pounds he weighed when he was drafted by the Bucs in the first round in 2018 to the 330s last year and has definitely maintained that weight.
While Vea looks poised to continue his ascension in the NFL, it’s reserve nose tackle Rakeem Nunez-Roches that is drawing attention. Nicknamed “Nacho,” Nunez-Roches looks more powerful this year and is playing with a ton of confidence. Nunez-Roches showed tremendous power in banging the pop-up bags during the individual period.
Rookie defensive tackle Khalil Davis, the team’s sixth-round pick, is quite an athlete. The addition of veteran Kyle Love might make it hard for him to make the 53-man roster versus the practice squad, but don’t count out the Nebraska product. He flashed good power and athleticism during the bag drills on Wednesday and he has plenty of veterans like Suh and Nunez-Roches to learn from, in addition to the coaches.
Undrafted free agent defensive tackle Benning Potoa’e was a college teammate of Vea’s at the University of Washington and has flashed some in practice. He’s not nearly as big as Vea at 6-foot-3, 290 pounds, but he looks closer to 300 pounds than his listed weight. Potoa’e is more fluid and agile than Vea and plays with a high motor. He is also very explosive and plays violently. If he continues to practice well he could definitely land a spot on the Bucs’ extended 16-player practice squad.
Jeremiah Ledbetter has more experience of the reserve defensive linemen and got the start today at defensive end while Will Gholston moved to defensive tackle to replace Suh. Ledbetter needs to make more plays to secure a roster spot, especially with high-motor lineman Patrick O’Connor playing well, and also being a core special teamer.
Outside linebacker Anthony Nelson got the start in place of Pierre-Paul and looks more fluid with his pass rush this year. He’s worked hard on his body to shed some baby fat, build muscle mass and to gain better body control in his movements. Nelson is more athletic than Carl Nassib, who was last year’s No. 3 edge rusher, but he lacks Nassib’s strength and physicality as he enters his second year in the league.
Bucs QB Tom Brady – Photo by: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
As previously mentioned, the Buccaneers focused much of their practice on passing reps and red zone work. Brady showed why he is the greatest quarterback in NFL history, as if we needed a reminder. But his ability to read a defense pre-snap and get to his third or fourth read is uncanny. Even as he learns a new playbook – and receivers – Brady makes things look almost too easy a times.
Brady was on fire for much of the morning, finding Evans for multiple scores, along with even some of the more unknown receivers like Cyril Grayson. Brady doesn’t discriminate. The open receiver who has the best match-up gets the ball. At times over the last five seasons it looked like Jameis Winston felt an obligation to get the ball in the hands of Evans or Chris Godwin, even if they were blanketed in coverage.
Brady is a different and knows the key to winning and limiting turnovers is to find the open guy, and as quickly as possible. You just don’t see coverage sacks with Brady, but he’s not perfect. He was intercepted by linebacker Jack Cichy late in practice as the defense began to fight back.
#Bucs LB Jack Cichy steps in front of a Tom Brady pass intended for Mike Evans for a rare INT.
Cichy wasn’t the only Bucs linebacker who had an interception in practice. Rookie linebacker Chapelle Russell, the team’s seventh-round pick, made a nice play against third-string quarterback Ryan Griffin to record his first INT as a Buccaneer in practice in the red zone.
#Bucs rookie LB Chapelle Russell tips a Ryan Griffin pass intended for WR Josh Pearson to himself for an INT … but gives up a TD pass to Antony Auclair on the next play.
The Buccaneers mixed in several running plays as well and Ronald Jones II got the first touches with the first team but gave way to all the backs on the roster on Wednesday. LeSean McCoy is the shiftiest back on the roster even at age 32. He gets lost in the hole at times as he lowers his pad level and squirted out for multiple long gains running the ball and also sneaking out of the backfield as a receiver.
Dare Ogunbowale looks to be more polished and confident in 2020, and even T.J. Logan had some nice runs and catches. Rookie Ke’Shawn Vaughn is still trying to find his niche – and confidence – and has looked very average through three days of camp. He hasn’t distinguished and type of style of his own and the best thing we can say about him at this point is, he runs hard. Maybe the light comes on and the skills the Buccaneers were attracted to when watching his Vanderbilt tape start to come to the forefront, but as of Wednesday, we just haven’t seen a lot to make us think Jones’ job is in any type of jeopardy.
Bucs RB Ronald Jones II – Photo by: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Bay’s kickers had a period for themselves and both Matt Gay and Elliot Fry have been solid on field goal attempts so far in camp. Both kickers attempted five field goals, each starting with kicks in the 35-yard range, before moving back five yards after each attempt. Fry went 5-for-5 while Gay was 4-of-5, with his only miss being a hooked 50-yarder that missed badly to the left.
There is definitely a noticeable difference in the way the ball comes off the foot between the two. Gay’s kicks are thunderous boots that echo in the indoor facility, while Fry’s tend to be softer with more height. But at the end of the day the battle will come down to accuracy and both have been very good through three days of camp thus far.
The team followed up the special team period with some deep-in-scoring territory work and the defense began catching up with offense late in practice. Brady failed to lead the Bucs to a touchdown in a 30-second from the 30-yard line TD-or-nothing scenario. Brady hit tight end Cameron Brate for a first down and then spiked the ball but followed it up with two straight incompletions. On his fourth down attempt Brady was pressured and threw a jump ball in the corner of the end zone to Evans, who actually came down with the catch but was out of bounds.
Backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert then came in with the same scenario but was picked off by rookie Parnell Motley, who had a nice pass breakup against Evans in a previous 11-on-11 session on Wednesday. Brady came in for the final drive and connected with Scotty Miller for a score to end practice.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com