The Bucs’ ever-changing practice schedule will make it difficult to publish a new SR’s Fab 5 column this week with practices from 6:30 – 9:00 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. So I’m publishing two SR’s Bucs Camp Insider columns this week – one on offense and one on defense – on Wednesday instead of a traditional SR’s Fab 5 on Friday.
This SR’s Bucs Camp Insider column is exclusively serviced by Discount Garage Doors – the official garage door company of PewterReport.com. If you are in need of a new look for your garage doors or if you are in need of repairs, turn to Discount Garage Doors. Whether it’s a broken cable or springs or a crooked door, Discount Garage Doors can help you out. Click here for a list of locations as Discount Garage Doors services 17 Florida counties and The Villages.
HURRICANE SEASON IS HERE!
Protect your house with hurricane-preventative supports for your garage door. Call 866-420-DOOR or visit DGDoors.com to view Discount Garage Doors list of services and garage doors that can be installed to improve the look of your home. And remember, Discount Garage Doors offers FREE service calls. Don’t wait – call today!
Bucs Secondary Impressing
It’s crazy to think that Tampa Bay’s starting secondary has been featuring Vernon Hargreaves III and Carlton Davis at cornerback, Sean Murphy-Bunting and M.J. Stewart at nickel and Jordan Whitehead and Mike Edwards at safety. Of these six defensive backs, Hargreaves is the elder statesman, as this is his fourth year in the league. Davis, Stewart and Whitehead are all entering their second season while Edwards and Murphy-Bunting are both rookies. It’s an incredibly young unit.
But this young secondary is playing with confidence that comes from making plays in practice. Confidence within young players is a very dangerous thing – in a good way – because it can make those players play above their abilities and mask their deficiencies. Remember, there is a combined one NFL interception between all of those young defensive backs.
Aside from the nickels and safeties being heavily involved in the blitz game, as expected, the coverage from the secondary has been much tighter than a year ago, although Bowles does mix in some off coverage in with his usual press-man coverage calls. Still, even when the Bucs’ cornerbacks are playing off, they are playing more aggressively and jumping routes and breaking passes up instead of letting the receiver catch the ball and then make the tackle, which we saw far too much of under former defensive coordinator Mike Smith.
One thing to note, Stewart is a much better blitzer than he is in coverage where his lack of speed is still apparent when lining up in the slot at nickel. Murphy-Bunting is much faster in coverage, and probably has the inside track to win the nickel job.
Legendary Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber has been out at practice and has been impressed with Murphy-Bunting’s footwork. Murphy-Bunting reminds me of a young Donnie Abraham when he was a rookie back in 1996 – smooth and confident in coverage with playmaking skills.
Abraham started at nickel in his first year and set the Bucs’ rookie record with five interceptions that year en route to becoming Tampa Bay’s all-time interception leader with 31 by 2001 before Barber eventually broke that mark with his franchise-best 47 when he retired after the 2012 season.
Spence, Hargreaves Standing Out On Defense
In what could be a huge boost for Bucs general manager Jason Licht’s reputation when it comes to the draft, the early results are quite favorable for Hargreaves and outside linebacker Noah Spence throughout the first week of training camp. Hargreaves and Spence were drafted in the first and second round, respectively, in the 2016 draft and have really underperformed over the last couple of seasons.
Hargreaves and Spence were thought to be better fits in Todd Bowles’ aggressive 3-4 scheme, which features tons of blitzing and press-man coverage, and that’s proved to be true so far in camp. Hargreaves’ confidence is growing and he’s turned in several takeaways over the last three practices before Wednesday’s break. It’s hard to believe that he’s the elder statesman in the cornerback room at age 24, but that’s the case for Hargreaves, who is in a contract year as his fifth-year option was picked up for 2020, but is not guaranteed.
Spence looks like a brand new player standing up as an outside linebacker, which is what he did in college at Eastern Kentucky. He was always too light to be a 4-3 defensive end, but looks natural as a 6-foot-2, 248-pound edge-rushing linebacker. He’s given left tackle Donovan Smith fits, even bull-rushing Smith twice and knocking him down in one practice on Saturday – although Smith is dealing with an Achilles injury and is not 100 percent.
There was a lot of offseason buzz about Spence and newcomer Shaq Barrett, whom some inside the walls of One Buc Place think might lead the team in sacks this year. But so far, it’s been Spence who has started at right outside linebacker on the weak side, opposite Carl Nassib, while Barrett has been running with the second team. Spence is playing with speed, power and confidence, and it will be interesting to see if he can get it to translate into the preseason games.
Bucs rookie linebacker Devin White, the team’s first-round pick, had an unspectacular first week of practice. It looks like he’s swimming a bit in grasping the defense and his role in it, in addition to making the calls. That’s to be expected as he has a lot on his plate, and he’ll only improve.
The good news is that the team’s veteran linebackers – Lavonte David and reserves Kevin Minter and Deone Bucannon – are flying around making plays due to their experience. White is the team’s starting MIKE linebacker and Minter is his backup, whereas David is the starting MO ‘backer with Bucannon as his backup. Devante Bond is the Bucs’ third-string MIKE linebacker and has really impressed, too.
Bucs D-Line Will Be Plenty Good
No Gerald McCoy, no problem in Tampa Bay. Newcomer Ndamukong Suh has had a dominant start to camp, especially in the run game where he’s had some epic battles already with Ali Marpet. Suh has drawn rave reviews from the Bucs’ brass in terms of how seamlessly he’s fit into the locker room and aided the Bucs’ culture change.
Suh and nose tackle Vita Vea have been quite formidable in the middle of the Bucs’ run defense. Vea is playing with a ton of confidence and power, and is giving center Ryan Jensen all he can handle.
Will Gholston has looked good in this 3-4 defense at defensive end on the strong side and Beau Allen has seen time at both nose tackle and at three technique, filling in for Vea and Suh. Although he’s a sub, Allen will still play a lot as Bowles likes to rotate his defensive linemen often to keep them fresh for the fourth quarter. Jeremiah Ledbetter and Rakeem Nunez-Roches have been the best backups at defensive end and defensive tackle, respectively.
The Bucs may just keep six defensive linemen with their 3-4 defense. There have been plenty of instances where Bowles plays with just two defensive linemen along with three or four linebackers in nickel and dime defensive packages.
SR’s Bucs Shots – Defense
• What helps Nunez-Roches is that Bucs special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong is using defensive linemen as tight ends on extra point and field goal protection, which is something new in Tampa Bay. On the first team its Allen and Gholston at tight end next to offensive linemen. On the second team it’s Vea and Nunez-Roches. Nunez-Roches has proven to be versatile and valuable, and could be earning a roster spot with his value on special teams as well as being a reserve lineman on defense.
• Free safety Justin Evans remains sidelined with his heel injury and he may have a tough time winning a starting role given how well Whitehead and Edwards have been playing. Edwards had two interceptions, including a pick-six, on Monday, and Whitehead had an interception at the start of camp on Friday. It’s only been one week, but Edwards and Whitehead have impressed. Keep in mind that even when Evans returns he’ll have a fair amount of rust to shake off as he hasn’t practiced since last November.
• One thing Bowles does that I haven’t seen any other Bucs defensive coordinator do in training camp practices is mix up his units when he substitutes. In past regimes, the second- and third-team defenses were all reserves and played together. Bowles will start out with his starting defense and then as the practice goes on, he’ll mix up the unit. The starting secondary might be playing together with the second-string linebackers and the third-string defensive line on any given play in practice. Then a few plays later it might be the second-team defensive line with the starting linebackers and the third-string secondary. This approach really speaks to the old coaching adage that whenever you’re on the field, you’re technically a starter, and allows the entire defense an opportunity to develop chemistry playing with different players on the field at the same time.
• And for even more analysis of the Bucs defense throughout the first week of training camp, make sure to listen to the latest edition of the Pewter Nation Podcast – presented by Westshore Financial’s Chris Garrido – featuring Pewter Reporters Mark Cook, Trevor Sikkema, Matt Matera, Taylor Jenkins and yours truly. We talk about what’s different in Bruce Arians’ first camp in Tampa Bay and offer up our early standouts and disappointments. Don’t miss it!