Under blue skies with only a smattering of clouds, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers officially kicked off the 2016 offseason with their first voluntary mini-camp on Tuesday. Temperatures were in the mid -80’s with a light breeze and new head coach Dirk Koetter oversaw an up-tempo practice, his very first as an NFL head coach.
Koetter admitted after the workout that he was surprised he had butterflies.
“I have to admit I was a little nervous today,” Koetter said. “I don’t know why. It’s coaching football, you’ve been doing it for your whole life, but nervous in a good way. Anxious more than anything else. I couldn’t wait to see this coaching staff work and excited to see the players back and out there interacting with this coaching staff.”
As advertised, Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston looked to be in excellent football shape after spending the offseason working on his physique. Koetter commented that Winston, who has shed 18 pounds, wasn’t the only one.
“Well, a lot of our guys have come back in really good shape,” Koetter said. “We’re pleased with where several guys are. Jameis has been the most highly publicized, and not only did Jameis work with Tim Grover, but he also worked a lot with Dave Kennedy, our strength coach. Jameis was very dedicated this offseason program, and like Jameis always says, he does know how to work and hard work pays off. He looks good, but there are a lot of other guys that go all over the country to different places and then come back and forth with our strength coaches and we’re pleased with the majority of them.”
Koetter’s practice resembled most NFL workouts. With players in shorts and helmets, the noticeable difference between Koetter and former head coach Lovie Smith’s mini-camp practices was the tempo. The Bucs periods were a little shorter but there also appeared to be more sense of urgency.
Four players were in attendance, but not participating: defensive end Jacquies Smith, wide receiver Louis Murphy, center Evan Smith, guard Ali Marpet and kicker Pat Murray.
Also not participating was new left guard J.R. Sweezy. Kevin Pamphile replaced Sweezy at left guard, while Josh Allen took starting reps at right guard with Marpet out.
As written numerous times, having Koetter take over after the firing of Smith, allowed the Bucs to hit the found running on the offensive side of the ball and it showed. Tampa Bay’s wide receiving corps featured some real speed with Kenny Bell, Donteea Dye and newcomers Bernard Reedy and Andre Davis all going deep early and often in practice in 1-on-1 routes.
Bucs QB Jameis Winston – Photo: Cliff Welch/PR
While Winston is in better physical shape he looked very much like last season during camp – up and down. Going back to his days at FSU Winston rarely was a practice field star. But as Florida State fans – and now Bucs fans know – he is a gamer. Winston made some excellent throws, but also some that were errant or batted down by a defender. The difference between Winton and the other three rostered quarterback is he isn’t afraid to take chances. A lot of quarterbacks, even in practice, don’t want to let the ball go, and look to check down or try and find an outlet receiver. That isn’t Winston’s style and it showed on Tuesday.
Mike Evans had an excellent day and early in a passing drill made a contorted behind his head leaping catch. While some may say it was a poorly thrown pass, it was actually thrown where only Evans could make the catch. It was a good sign that Evans and Winston have begun to develop some chemistry.
Vincent Jackson has some flashes, but also dropped a couple passes he most likely should have hauled in. At one point Jackson was seen doing pushups on the sidelines after a drop. We aren’t sure if that was a self-imposed punishment, or something that new receivers coach Todd Monken has brought to the Bucs receiving corps this season. Regardless, there was accountability for errors during the fast-paced practice.
Former USF Bulls wide receiver Andre Davis, who was added late last season, really stood out on Tuesday. Davis looked polished and very quick, and on one play put a great move on the cornerback and safety and hauled in a perfectly thrown Glennon pass at the goal line.
It was nice to see a healthy Kenny Bell on the field on Tuesday as it was clear he adds a dimension to the receivers that not many on the current roster possess. Bell has a knack for making a catch and turning quickly up the field, or stopping on a dime to make a defender miss. If Bell continues to stay healthy, and can stay consistent with his hands, he could surprise a number of Bucs fan, not to mention Tampa Bay’s opponents this season.
The Bucs were without Smith on Tuesday, so they had second-year player Howard Jones in the starting lineup at right defensive end opposite Robert Ayers, who was playing left end. The starting defensive tackles were Gerald McCoy at the three-technique spot and Clinton McDonald at the one-technique nose tackle position. The second-string defensive line consisted of Will Gholston at left end, Akeem Spence at nose tackle, Cliff Matthews at three-technique and George Johnson at right end.
Tampa Bay’s starting linebacking corps didn’t feature any surprises with Lavonte David at weakside linebacker, Daryl Smith at strongside linebacker and Kwon Alexander at middle linebacker. Darius Eubanks, Adarius Glanton and Josh Keyes were the reserves.
Alterraun Verner and Brent Grimes were the starting cornerbacks with Bradley McDougald and Chris Conte lining up as the starting safeties. Johnthan Banks and Josh Robinson were second-teamers along with Keith Tandy and Major Wright.
From what we could see in practice on a limited basis, it looked like the Bucs were lining up in a 4-3 under front with a linebacker lining up over a tight end, but from what we’re hearing, that’s just one of many, many different formations Tampa Bay will deploy under new defensive coordinator Mike Smith. Given the athletes on the roster and the Bucs’ stated intentions, Tampa Bay will be a 4-3 base defense with some variations from that front.
We spent a good deal of time watching the defensive backfield on Tuesday for two reasons. First, it was the worst-coached unit in Tampa Bay, and one that got torched way too often. And second, the Bucs have been linked to drafting Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, so PewterReport.com wanted to get a look at the existing talent in the secondary.
The first thing that catches your eye is how demanding defensive backs coach Jon Hoke and secondary coach Brett Maxie are in practice. Hoke seems like a perfectionist, who harps on his players when they aren’t technically sound. He’s a big stickler for using the correct, precise footwork and not wasting any movements. Verner shined in the drills, as did Banks, who seems more nimble and flexible than last year due to offseason training.
Alterraun Verner and Brent Grimes – Photo: Cliff Welch/PR
Grimes struggled with the drills on Tuesday, but not from an athletic standpoint. Grimes has quick feet and fluid hips, but had some trouble with the footwork that Hoke wanted in certain drills and the two spent some time during the special teams period going over the correct technique.
Maxie worked on footwork with the safeties, but not to the extent that Hoke did with back pedals, turning and running and mirroring receivers. Instead, Maxie’s workouts during individual periods focused on physicality and stopping the run. Maxie had the safeties working on proper tackling technique on a one-man sled, staying low and rolling their hips through contact, in addition to using tackling dummies to work on the footwork when attacking a ballcarrier head on.
Hoke and Maxie are no-nonsense guys, and that’s a welcome sight for a secondary that was under siege last year. With the athleticism in the secondary on display during Tuesday it was easy to see why several players, including Verner, Banks, Conte and McDougald are all getting a second chance in Tampa Bay. They are four of the finest athletes the Bucs have and it’s no wonder the likes of Conte, McDougald and Keith Tandy were re-signed.
Mark Cook currently is the director of editorial content and Bucs beat writer and has written for PewterReport.com since 2011. Cook has followed the Buccaneers since 1977 when he first began watching football with his Dad and is fond of the 1979 Bucs team that came within 10 points of going to a Super Bowl. His favorite Bucs game is still the 1979 divisional playoff win 24-17 over the Eagles. In his spare time Cook enjoys playing guitar, fishing, the beach and family time.Cook is a native of Pinecrest in Eastern Hillsborough County and has written for numerous publications including the Tampa Tribune, In the Field and Ya'll Magazine. Cook can be reached at email@example.com
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