We were told by the weatherman early this morning that there wouldn’t be rain until later this afternoon.
But in my best Rick Ross voice, “The weather is a lie.”
Even though the on-and-off rain was a tad annoying for us, Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter said it was good for the players. The guys on the field got it all today. They got hot heat, followed by blustery winds, followed by some chilly rain, followed by thick, hot humidity. That’s what it’s going to be like playing for the Buccaneers, and the coaching staff knows that winning will come in all kinds of weather – starting with Week 1 in Miami.
As OTAs have come to a close, there were fewer names on the “missing in action” list, and fewer big names as a result. DeSean Jackson and Chris Baker were not present and neither was Brent Grimes. However, Justin Evans, J.J. Wilcox, Vernon Hargreaves and Kwon Alexander were all out there with their helmets strapped on – though it was a half day for Evans who just went through light positional work.
There has been some concern from the fan base about the lack of attendance from a few of their star players, but, at this point, it’s not to worry. Next week begins the mandatory mini-camp portion of the offseason program, so we should get a look at all 90 players for the first time.
An obvious reason why practicing in the rain is important is because it allows you to see which wide receivers really have great hands beyond the sticky gloves they get to use.
Former Texas A&M Aggie and CFL stand-out wide receiver, Derel Walker, had one of, if not the, best day among the offensive players on Thursday, and that was encapsulated by the very impressive one-handed catch shown above. Walker isn’t the fastest or quickest pass catcher, but he is shaping up to be one of the better overall receivers in the group.
Third string QB Ryan Griffin with a very pretty over-the-shoulder TD throw to WR Derel Walker. Javien Elliott in coverage (outside CB). pic.twitter.com/qqHqX7azxi
The Buccaneers will likely only keep five or six wide receivers. Four of those spot are already solidified with Evans, Jackson, Godwin and Humphries. The last spot, or, if they’re lucky, spots, are up for grabs. Walker, though he doesn’t have a special teams element as a bonus, is certainly looking like a player who has a good chance of earning one of those spots.
Defense, Have A Day
There were a few elements of the defense that were worth highlighting today – unfortunately they happened after the allotted time we had to record practice, so there wasn’t any video of it.
The first was with cornerback Ryan Smith. Vernon Hargreaves and Brent Grimes have both had their absences from the OTA practices over the past few weeks. Which ever was missing, Smith was always the one to take their place on the first team. For the first practices, Smith struggled, as you would expect. This was a player who played cornerback in college, was moved to safety as a rookie to maybe get some playing time, but really focused on being just a special teams ace as the year progressed. Now, this year, he’s been thrown into the first team because the coaching staff thinks so highlight of him. But, there’s certainly been a learning curve.
But, today Smith showed out. After giving up some tough catches, Smith cut an out route on wide receiver Donteea Dye to intercept a pass from Jameis Winston that would’ve been a pick-6. He followed that up during the rest of the practice with good coverage all around. After practice, Koetter talked about the importance of Smith getting confidence as the team’s third outside corner. He said they’ll need him at some point this year, and he needs to be ready.
Confidence is Key
Next, I have to talk about Hargreaves’ performance. Hargreaves is playing with more confidence than we’ve seen him play with since becoming a pro last year, and it’s showing in practice.
Starting in the NFL as a rookie corner is like trying to drink water through a fire hose. You’re trying to learn so much new technique, new movements and new anticipation, all the while going up against competition better than you’ve ever faced.
This year, at least so far, Hargreaves doesn’t look overwhelmed. He doesn’t look timid, and he’s playing like a true outside cornerback because of it. Even Mike Evans was giving Hargreaves props after practice. He’s noticing Hargreaves’ confidence, too. He says the second-year corner is being much more vocal this year, and is moving to make plays instead of moving not to mess up.
From the Notepad
Good and bay day for Javien Elliott. On one had, he had a very nice pass break up in the end zone during the red zone drills. But, on the other hand, he was burned pretty bad for a touchdown by Derel Walker. They have Elliott playing both outside and slot cornerback, but he looks more comfortable at slot corner.
Keith Tandy and Chris Conte were the two starting safeties, as they have been all camp. Even though defensive coordinator, Mike Smith, likes to keep his safeties fluid in terms of responsibility, Tandy was playing much more strong safety up near the box against the tight ends, while Conte was playing deep coverage. Tandy struggled a bit to cover Cam Brate during the day.
Ryan Fitzptrick is a gun slinger. He’s a risk taker with his throws. Sometimes it’s bad like when he rolled out and wobbled a pass that would’ve been intercepted in a real game, then other times you’ll see him throw laser passes in between tight windows. it appears that if Fitzpatrick is ever called upon, he’s going to play to win. He’s not going to hold anything back – good and bad.
Kwon Alexander is absolutely a leader on this defense, and don’t you let anyone tell you otherwise. He was celebrating pass break ups and good plays whether it came from linebackers, corners or safeties. He was constantly encouraging, talking to and teaching a variety of players. He’s helping bring the defensive together as a unit as opposed to just having different position groups.
Brate and Winston’s chemistry is going to be tough to dethrone. Even if rookie O.J. Howard gets comfortable and shows his flashes of talent during training camp, it might be more difficult than we thought to see him as a solidified first team player, but in a good way. Brate and Winston look comfortable together.
Trevor Sikkema is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat reporter and NFL Draft analyst for PewterReport.com. 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@example.com
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