The important thing to remember about OTAs (organized team activities) is that they are voluntary and participation is not mandatory until Tampa Bay’s mandatory mini-camp, which is June 13-15 at One Buccaneer Place. With that said, two notable Bucs defenders were absent as the team took the field for their first OTA on Sunday – new defensive tackle Chris Baker, defensive end Will Gholston and cornerback Brent Grimes.
“We had some guys who weren’t here today,” Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter said. “We are in communication with our all of our guys. We had multiple guys – No. 1 you have to remember this time of year is voluntary. We had guys from moving issues, issues they had to take care of out of Tampa to one of them has an anniversary. We have one player whose wife is due to have a baby any day now out of town. I think it will all come together sooner rather than later.”
The defensive line was the hardest hit with other absences from drill work as defensive ends Robert Ayers, Jr., Noah Spence, Ryan Russell and Jacquies Smith were relegated to observing practice rather than participating it. Spence and Smith are coming off known injuries – Spence with offseason shoulder surgery and Smith with a torn ACL he is continuing to rehabilitate. Ayers and Russell have non-disclosed injuries, as do safety Justin Evans, the team’s second-round pick this year, and fellow safeties Isaiah Johnson and J.J. Wilcox, who was added during the offseason from Dallas.
The linebacking corps was without Kendell Beckwith, Tampa Bay’s third-round pick, in addition to Jeff Knox, who was signed this offseason from the CFL, on Tuesday. Beckwith is rehabbing his torn ACL, while Knox’s injury was not disclosed.
“We have a number of guys – you are always going to be cautious with guys this time of year – it is still May and we have a handful of guys still coming off of offseason surgery, and we have another group of guys who are coming off of tweaks that came up in Phase I or Phase II,” Koetter said. “We don’t have anything that is too serious and I think the majority of those guys will be back next Tuesday after the four day weekend. But that is always going to be a work in progress this time of year. We are always going to be proceeding with extreme caution.”
One defender who was on back on the field Tuesday after spending 2016 on injured reserve was George Johnson, who is capable of playing defensive end and tackle in nickel rush situations. After a disappointing 2015 season, Johnson was having a good training camp before breaking his hip against Cleveland in a join training camp practice.
All of those absences shuffled the deck for Mike Smith’s defense on Tuesday, as the starting defensive unit featured Johnson at left end in place of Gholston and Spence, and DaVonte Lambert at right defensive end with Gerald McCoy as the team’s three-technique and Clinton McDonald at nose tackle. Only McCoy is expected to be a starter come the fall.
Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David were at middle linebacker and weakside linebacker respectively, with newcomer Davante Bond at strongside linebacker. Bond made a nice splash play in his first rep as the team’s starting Sam linebacker, picking off newly signed QB Ryan Fitzpatrick on a pass that bounced off the hands of tight end/fullback Alan Cross. Bond will receive competition from Beckwith when he returns from his ACL injury in training camp.
In the secondary, Vernon Hargreaves III and Ryan Smith were the starting cornerbacks with Smith taking the place of Grimes in the starting lineup. Javien Elliott was a surprise starter at nickel cornerback over Jude Adjei-Barimah, but given the injuries at the safety spot, it was no surprise that Keith Tandy and Chris Conte were the starters.
Given the injuries and the absences on defense, the second-team defense more closely resembled a third-string unit. Evan Panfil lined up at left defensive end, flanked by rookie Deondre Barnett on the right side. Sealver Siliga at nose tackle and Channing Ward at the three-technique tackle. Riley Bullough, Cameron Lynch and Adarius Glanton were the second-team linebackers, with newly signed veteran Robert McClain and Elliott playing cornerback and Josh Robinson getting time at safety, which is his new position, with the second unit.
Bucs DL George Johnson – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Outside of Bond’s interception, the other notable plays from Tuesday’s OTA was seeing new speed receiver DeSean Jackson take Hargreaves deep on a few reps and seeing the second-year cornerback struggle to keep up. The Jackson signing will be very beneficial to Hargreaves to aid him in his development.
During the defensive line drills, the linemen were hitting the one-man sled, extending their arms, driving their legs to push the sled and then releasing with a club-rip move. For some reason, Ward and Lambert were struggling with their technique and effort as they didn’t finish the club-rip with their hands and defensive line coach Jay Hayes made them do the reps again. Johnson jumped the snap on his rep and after he finished he had to do 10 push-ups.
To say that the training camp battle between reserve nose tackles Sealver Siliga and rookie Stevie Tu’ikolovatu is going to be titantic would be an understatement. Siliga is listed at 6-foot-2, 345 pounds whereas Tu’ikolovatu is listed at 6-foot-1, 320 pounds. But the team’s sixth-round pick this year looks every bit as big as Siliga. It’s tough to imagine the Bucs keeping two mammoth situational run stoppers this year on its 53-man roster. May the biggest – and best – man win.
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
PewterReport.com prides itself on being the most complete, comprehensive news source covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and delivering inside scoop on the team found nowhere else.