FAB 4. SR’s Bucs OTAs Analysis
Tampa Bay’s first week of OTAs (offseason team activities) wrapped up on Thursday as the media was allowed to view that day’s practice in addition to Tuesday’s. The PewterReport.com staff was there to chronicle the action for the website and our @PewterReport Twitter account, but I was able to take some additional notes of my personal observations on the Bucs OTAs this week to share with you in this week’s SR’s Fab 5.
• NFL coaches and personnel scouts will tell you that it’s hard to evaluate offensive and defensive linemen during the OTAs, which are glorified flag football practices. And forget tackling, so you can’t gauge the progress of linebackers when it comes to improvement in that area. OTAs are really about the passing game, and evaluating the chemistry between a quarterback and his targets, and the ability of the defensive backs and linebackers to drop into coverage.
Having said that, there are a few notable things we can tell you about the line play. We had heard that Gerald McCoy wasn’t receiving any Pro Bowl treatment from new defensive line coach Brentson Buckner during the OTAs, and McCoy confirmed that himself at the podium on Tuesday. Buckner will get on everybody from McCoy to the newest kid on the block, first-round pick Vita Vea, without hesitation. McCoy is a pro’s pro, but even he can take his game to the next level at age 30, and that’s Buckner’s mission.
We had heard that defensive end Will Gholston had dropped 15 pounds, and he did look noticeably slimmer. Players rarely discuss their weights on the record, but Gholston was around 290 pounds last year – give or take five pounds – and appears to be below 280 right now if I had to guess. Gholston is a power player, not a defensive end that wins with speed and quickness, but it appears that 15 unnecessary pounds slowed him to the point where he failed to register a sack for the first time in his career last season.
At 6-foot-2, 255 pounds, defensive end Noah Spence is the smallest defensive lineman on Tampa Bay’s roster, but Spence certainly has added some size this offseason. He’s still quite chiseled, but is more muscle-bound than ever, which is a clear sign that his twice surgically-repaired shoulder is fully healed.
During Thursday’s OTA I saw first-round pick Vita Vea nearly toss Alex Cappa, the team’s third-round pick, aside with a Reggie White-like “hump move” that showed off Vea’s immense power. Vea was also one of the most powerful defenders when it came to smacking the bags in the bag drills. The only other player that was in his class was new defensive tackle Beau Allen.
Left tackle Donovan Smith was out with a minor injury (he should return next week), as was right tackle Demar Dotson, who is recovering from minor knee surgery. Leonard Wester replaced Dotson and two young players in Brad Seaton and Cole Gardner replaced Smith. The 6-foot-6, 302-pound Garner caught the eye of the Bucs’ brass this week.
With J.R. Sweezy out of practice as he recovers from a broken leg, Caleb Benenoch got the start at right guard with Cappa rotating in as well.
Here is one last note on Tampa Bay’s defensive line. Remember how PewterReport.com was beating the drum about the Bucs’ soft training camp practices last year – a camp that featured zero full-contact periods? I don’t think that’s going to change this year, as Dirk Koetter’s philosophy is to get the team to Week 1 healthy. But what will change is that Buckner will get the defensive line hardened even without live contact.
Buckner and assistant defensive line coach Paul Spicer have brought out the shiver board – a piece of equipment that wasn’t used by former defensive line coach Jay Hayes. The shiver board is a long padded beam that the D-linemen use to strike with the open palm of the hands that they thrust up from their hips. Aside from hitting that for about 10 minutes and the five-man sled on Thursday some of the defensive linemen were seen grabbing their wrists and hands that were undoubtedly sore from the contact. After repeatedly striking the shiver board and the five-man sled on a daily basis Buckner and Spicer will have the defensive linemen ready for the physicality of trench play and striking offensive linemen, which are softer than the padded metal they are used to hitting.
• Tampa Bay’s defense had a simply dominating OTA on Thursday – the likes of which I have never seen in my two decades of covering the Buccaneers. There were a total of six interceptions with Bucs starting quarterback Jameis Winston throwing a pair.
“A lot of interceptions today,” Koetter said. “I think they might have broken the One Buc [Place] interception record today. Too many, but good for the defense. Good job for those guys.”
Safety Isaiah Johnson had two interceptions, rookie cornerback M.J. Stewart had a tremendous diving interception in the flat, cornerback Javien Elliott had one on a downfield throw, linebacker Eric Nzeocha had a leaping interception to end practice. Carlton Davis, who had multiple interceptions earlier in the week, nearly had another one on Thursday as he dove to break up a short pass intended for DeSean Jackson.
Speaking of Davis, is likely to start this year – at least in nickel situations on the outside. He’s so aggressive and just looks like starting-caliber material. Stewart will also give Vernon Hargreaves III a run for his money for the starting slot cornerback duties in nickel defense, too. Both rookies look like they belong in the NFL, but Davis looks special – the way former Bucs cornerback Donnie Abraham did when he was a rookie in 1996. Abraham went on to record five interceptions that year, which set a Tampa Bay rookie record.
Davis is big, tall, fast, physical and supremely confident. A comparison to Pro Bowl cornerback Richard Sherman is a valid one, one of the team’s personnel staff members told me.
• Another defensive back who is off to a strong start this offseason is second-year safety Justin Evans, who is playing exclusively at free safety again and using his speed and athleticism to roam around and make plays in the secondary. At the start of Tuesday’s OTA, Evans quickly diagnosed a slant pass intended for receiver Mike Evans, dashed in front of the 6-foot-5 split end and made a tremendous interception of a Winston pass.
The key for Evans is to not give up as many touchdowns this season and create more interceptions. He had three last year and the team thinks he can double that total in his second year with more experience and knowledge of the game. The Bucs firmly believe Evans, who was a second-round pick last year, has Pro Bowl potential.
• Another member of the 2017 draft class that is showing up big time is wide receiver Chris Godwin. Already pronounced a starting-caliber player by offensive coordinator Todd Monken and wide receivers coach Skyler Fulton, Godwin did start opposite Evans in base defense on Thursday and saw time at flanker and split end, rotating in the lineup with Evans and DeSean Jackson.
As for Jackson, he also saw time at slot receiver, splitting time with Adam Humphries. Rookie Justin Watson suffered a minor injury during the rookie mini-camp and missed practice this week, but is expected to return for next week’s OTAs.