FAB 3. 5 Things To Look For In Bucs Rookie Mini-Camp

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers pushed their rookie mini-camp back one week this year, and it begins on Friday, May 11. The media get to watch Friday and Saturdays practices, which are in the heat of the day between 2:00 – 4:00 p.m. ET, perhaps to gauge the conditioning of the rookies and prepare them for the hot and humid conditions of Tampa’s tropical climate. Temperatures are expected to be in the low 90s during the rookie mini-camp.

PewterReport.com’s Mark Cook, Trevor Sikkema and yours truly will be on hand to report on all of the action, and here are five things I’m going to be watching for during the Bucs’ 2018 rookie mini-camp.

How Will Vea Handle The Heat?
At 347 pounds, defensive tackle Vita Vea, Tampa Bay’s first-round pick, has put the Bucs in a bit of uncharted waters with regards to having a lineman – offensive or defensive – weighing close to 350 pounds, although former defensive tackle Sealver Siliga was close to 340. Heavier players tend to struggle with conditioning in Florida, although Vea carries his weight very well.

Bucs DT Vita Vea - Photo by: Getty Images
Bucs DT Vita Vea – Photo by: Getty Images

“This is a fit, trim, 340 plus pound guy,” Washington defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake, who coached defensive backs in Tampa Bay under both Jon Gruden and Raheem Morris, told me in a recent interview. “Everybody has to adjust to that heat. He’s going to have to take all that information in from the vets on the team and from the strength coach and training staff. He is going to use every little angle to make sure the heat and the weather wont effect his game.”

Vea grew up in a non-humid, moderate temperature environment in California and played collegiately at the University of Washington in Seattle. It will take him – and all of Tampa Bay’s rookies – some time to adjust to the Florida heat and humidity, but how he handles this weekend will determine if that is going to be a long road or a short road for Vea from a conditioning standpoint.

How Will The Quarterbacks Look?
The Bucs signed Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen after the draft and will bring in Memphis QB Riley Ferguson to compete on a try-out basis. The Bucs need a fourth training camp arm behind Jameis Winston, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Ryan Griffin, and the hope is that the team can find one better than Sefo Liufau, who served in that capacity last year and was just awful.

Fitzpatrick likely won’t play past 2018, and the team is unsure if Griffin is a viable long-term answer. Allen, the younger brother of former Razorbacks quarterback Brandon Allen, had great tape in 2016, but got sacked a ton due to poor pass protection and looked rattled and gun-shy in 2017 as a result. And at 6-foot, 210 pounds, he’s smaller than ideal, although he is a very good in the play-action pass game. As a two-year starter he completed 59.1 percent of his throws for 5,045 yards with 36 touchdowns and 21 interceptions.

Memphis QB Riley Ferguson - Photo by: Getty Images
Memphis QB Riley Ferguson – Photo by: Getty Images

At 6-foot-3, 212 pounds Ferguson is taller than Allen, but has a very thin frame. After starting his career at Tennessee, Ferguson left after breaking his leg and was out of football for a year before enrolling at Coffeyville Community College. A good showing there landed him at Memphis where he completed 63.1 percent of his passes for 7,955 yards with 70 touchdowns and just 19 interceptions in a pass-happy offense.

Can Ferguson make enough of an impression to have the Bucs cut Allen? We’ll find out in a few days.

Which Rookie Will Stand Out?
It seems like almost every year there has been a draft pick that stands out during Tampa Bay’s rookie mini-camp. I remember cornerback Donnie Abraham, a third-round pick out of East Tennessee State back in 1996 looking so smooth at that rookie mini-camp. He looked like a seasoned pro the way he moved on the field.

While Arrelious Benn was drafted in the second round in 2009, it was fourth-round pick Mike Williams who looked like the better receiver. Williams stole the show at that rookie mini-camp and made quarterback Josh Freeman look like a great first-round pick – for a little bit.

In 2014, Mike Evans looked every bit like the seventh overall pick, and tight end O.J. Howard looked every bit like a first-round pick last year. Both offensive weapons really stood out during their rookie mini-camps, as did middle linebacker Kwon Alexander in his rookie mini-camp in 2015, stealing the show from quarterback Jameis Winston to a degree.

The guess here is that running back Ronald Jones II and cornerback Carlton Davis – two second-round picks – will be the rookies attracting most of the attention in this year’s mini-camp. Jones will flash some eye-catching speed, and Davis’ size and ability to make plays on the ball will stand out.

Which Try-Out Players Will Make An Impact?
Last year, defensive end Evan Panfil joined fellow receiver Adam Humphries and right tackle Demar Dotson in becoming the latest Buccaneer to go from being a rookie camp tryout player to a signed player on the team’s 90-man roster. Humphries and Dotson eventually made it all the way on to Tampa Bay’s 53-man roster in 2014 and ’09, respectively, while Panfil was released on the eve of training camp last year.

Will it happen again this year? Every year there are typically one or two tryout players that make a good impression and get signed to the 90-man roster in exchange for a previously signed undrafted free agent underwhelming during the rookie mini-camp. Who are some of the more likely players to watch?

Northern Illinois running back Jordan Huff, who had a missed tackle rate of 22.2 percent last year, which was tied for fifth in the nation with USC’s Ronald Jones II and Georgia’s Sony Michel, according to Pro Football Focus. The 5-foot-10, 218-pound Huff never rushed for more than 740 yards for the Huskies, but accumulated 2,167 yards and 20 touchdowns on 333 career carries and had seven 100-yard games.

Clemson S Van Smith - Photo courtesy of Clemson
Clemson S Van Smith – Photo courtesy of Clemson

Three defensive backs to keep an eye on are Southeastern cornerback Mark Myers, Clemson safety Vann Smith and Syracuse safety Jordan Martin. The 5-foot-10, 185-pound Myers played at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Fla. where he had nine career interceptions, including a pick-six during his senior year, and returned two punts for touchdowns for the Fire and averaged close to 18 yards per return.

Martin spent four years at Toledo, including a redshirt season, before transferring to Syracuse as a senior where he played in seven games and had 25 tackles, three pass breakups and a forced fumble. Martin doesn’t have much production with just 99 tackles, 13 pass breakups, three forced fumbles one INT and one sack in his career, but he has good size at 6-foot-3, 206 pounds.

Smith, a junior entry, was a two-year starter at Clemson where he recorded 164 tackles, four interceptions, three passes defensed, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. He’s light for his size at 5-foot-11, 186 pounds, which may limit him to playing just free safety.

Another player we’ll keep an eye on is University of Indianapolis’ Ruben Holcolmb, who can play guard and tackle. He’s 6-foot-4, 320 pounds and was an All-American left tackle last year at the Division II level.

First Look At Buckner, Fulton
Tampa Bay made two coaching changes in the offseason with Brentson Buckner replacing Jay Hayes, who was fired, as the team’s defensive line coach, and Skyler Fulton, who replaces Todd Monken as the wide receivers coach. Monken, who served a dual role over the past two seasons, now will focus strictly on his offensive coordinator duties as a walk-around coach.

Fulton, a former wide receiver under Dirk Koetter at Arizona State University, spent last year working with Monken as his assistant, so he knows the Bucs’ existing wide receivers well. He will be introduced to the rookies, including fifth-round pick Justin Watson, over the next three days during the rookie mini-camp.

As for Buckner, who has received a lot of hype from Koetter and general manager Jason Licht this offseason, it will be fun to see him on the field engaging with Vea and his new defensive linemen. Buckner is a high-energy coach, and that will be a sharp contrast to the low-energy Hayes over the past two years.

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Scott Reynolds is in his 24th 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 son's Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]

33 COMMENTS

  1. I like the energy and experience Buckner has!
    On a unrelated subject can anyone tell me what to do with PR I CAN NOT give thumbs up or down. I have emailed them 2 times no response and called no response.

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    • You called them over that?? In addition to 2 emails? It’s such a trivial thing.

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      • Your Opinion is your Opinion.

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    • We are working on it.

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      • Thank You.

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  2. Is Buckner the DC in waiting, and, if so, how long do the Bucs wait?

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    • I believe he is but I don’t know how long they wait. Depends what the defensive production is outside of the d-line!

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    • Buckner may need to be HC in waiting.

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  3. I know one thing, those are some big boys up front now!

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  4. It’s interesting to hear Licht talk about taking guys off the board for character issues, yet he drafted Jordan Whitehead. Whitehead was suspended for three games by Pitt last season for an undisclosed violation of team policy. Also interesting is that there were consensus higher ranked safeties still on the board. I really hope that pick pans out!

    On your podcast last week, Mark and Trevor were adamant that Derwin James would have been the better pick. They kept calling Vea a “complementary” player because he would be on the field less than James. My response: so what? Even though a starting safety is on the field more often, what percentage of plays do they actually affect? Meanwhile, Vea will affect things just about every play he is on the field. Also, James didn’t impress last year. FSU defense was soft and weak, where was James? That’s the reason he slipped to 17.

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  5. Are we there yet? No! But we are pretty close. We’ve had the offensive skill pieces in place and with the addition of a quality RB or two, they have the table set to be a complete offense. A couple of questions remain on the O-Line, but I think those questions will be answered in training camp. The defense on paper looks to be significantly improved – and as Scott opined, the depth is substantial. The secondary is a work in progress, but the draft pieces added will be an upgrade and should benefit from the improvements in the D-Line.

    So what’s left? All eyes should be on the coaching. GM Licht went all out to give them the pieces to be successful. Now it’s incumbent on the coaches to mold and shape this team into a contender. On this front I should be more optimistic, but we shall see. No excuses! Bucs win!

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  6. Good Article Scott! I’ve got a concern as to the third backup QB? Why Griffin and a small guy like Allen? I believe this will force us to use a 3rd or 4th round pick for our back up. We obviously won’t know our answers as to where we stand at CB until a couple games into the regular season. Still not sure where we will actually stand in game wins, but it’s better than last year for sure. Go Bucs!

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  7. David Logan deserves consideration for RoH.

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    • I agree!!!

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  8. There comes a time when mistakes bite you and paying JJP so much money cost Bucs a shot at Dez Bryant .
    Jamies could have used Dez more than any other QB in league .

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    • Did you really just say that? So the Bucs, who had one of the worst pass rushes in NFL history last year, should have not signed JPP, to have a chance to sign a WR Dez Bryant(not a position of need) who’s a complete head case with basically no playoff experience. You realize that Jameis if you just take the games he started and finished, was on a 16 game pace of almost 5000 yards, 30 total TD’s, 64.5%, at 8.2 YPA and a QB Rating of over 100. The Bucs had a top 5 passing offense, as the absolute worst pass rush I’ve seen in a long long time. So yeah let’s take Dez Bryant, over JPP. You’re a clown

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      • Could of wood should does not count in NFL his average rating 88 over three years 92 last year
        I know it not what blind fans want here , you need back out yardage for lost Fumbles and INTs Dammm
        Jamies loses 70% of games he starts because of INT and lost fumbles ,
        You can not bring Defense tired back on field 2 times a game and still have functional Defense and win games . He needs stop throwing INT if Bucs want win.

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    • Bryant is nothing but trouble.

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  9. Dez Bryant!? Are you high?

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    • The Defense needs stay on sidelines more this year , JJP is not the same as he once was Giants dumped him for a reason . Does not seem any one in Bucs land get it
      Giants would have keep him if he was worth the money, they not total stupnickles . New style defense at Giants has nothing to do with it. He was sent to Bucs so Giants could use money get better players.
      Maybe Perter fans think Giants sent him here to make the Bucs a better team cause they are such nice guys.

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      • Who the heck is JJP?

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    • 69 catches for 838 yards is 2017 must be pretty bad in your book

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      • Looks like an over the hill guy to me.
        133 targets were the 12th most in the league and he was the 36th rated receiver in yards.

        Other comparisons.
        Rishard Matthews with 87 targets and 837 yards
        Julio Jones with 148 targets and 1639 yards

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  10. Licht is talking out of both sides of his mouth when he discusses how important character is in the locker room while spending a 4th round pick on a guy in Jordan Whitehead who was suspended, not 1, not 2, but 3 games THIS year due to a violation of team rules.

    Does Whitehead interview well? Sure. So did ASJ. As PR knows all to well, ASJ is great about telling you what he thinks you want to hear. I’m not sure how he is that different from Whitehead, who used questionable judgment in declaring for the Draft early, despite a less than stellar season and multiple week suspension on his resume.

    Don’t forget that MJ Stewart was suspended along with Mike Hughes as a Soph in UNC for punching a guy If you’re going the character route, Licht passed on Shaquem Griffin and A&M Captain and 4-year starter Armani Watts, neither of whom were ever suspended.

    There’s certainly a gray area when it comes to off-the-field problems; you have your busts like Johnny Manziel, Justin Blackmon and Randy Gregory. You also have some all-time good players like Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Lawrence Taylor, Cris Carter, Dez Bryant, Aquib Talib and many others who more than panned out for their teams despite their personal problems.

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  11. Great piece Scott, love your ring of honor rankings! And see it just made me revisit the moment they let Warrick Dunn go and how upset I really was over it lol. I’m excited to see what coach Buck can get out of the guys this year. Should be fun to watch!

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  12. Buc ass Bob, you literally have no idea what you’re talking about.

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    • I think he’s a Cowboy ass.

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  13. I literally have no clue how the way the Dline plays is up to the Dline coach and not the defensive coordinator. So Smith let Hayes have them stunt the majority, yet Buck will have them going straight. That stuff affects the whole defense. The fact that Smith didnt stop that nonsense last year is mind boggling to me. He left it to the position coach. He says the 10 yard cushion is up to the DB. Unreal. I just dont get it. The guy had better get it together this year. He needs to make the rules for all the positions or its not gona get better. Get all the different players you want but if theyre not all doing the best thing to complement each other it aint working. Cmon Smitty get it together.

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  14. Great insight as always, Scott. I always look forward to the Fab 5 and the cover 3.

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  15. Great insight as always, Scott!

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  16. I’m excited to see this defense this year! It’s far too early to be sure but right now DL is looking like it’ll give the LB group some competition for strongest unit on the team.

    Hopefully our DC will get together with the position coaches and figure out how to play to the players’ strengths rather than trying to put square pegs in circle holes as he did last year. Smith had a good year in 2016 so if he can get back to that we will be dangerous!

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  17. Can’t wait to see that 3,206-pound Syracuse try-out safety get onto the field. I bet he can redirect the route of any receiver in the league.

    Fab 5 is an entertaining read, as always. Man, NFL off-season goes on too long!

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  18. The Ring of Honor selection process has as much to do with the popularity of the guys selected as it is about the perceived magnitude of their actual contribution to the team, don’t you think, Scott?
    How else do you explain the fact that Alstott and Lynch are already enshrined? They were both very good players, but certainly not great players. They were both popular as hell with the fans, though.

    The fact that Wilder has been forgotten by so many fans is a real shame. I think it comes down to him playing during a time when the Bucs just absolutely sucked! For several years, Wilder was the only real offense the Bucs had.

    As for McKay – I don’t see how you can even begin to compare his ‘worthiness’ of inclusion into the Ring with Dungy’s. They coached in two completely different eras, for two completely different owners. McKay had to deal with an expansion franchise, no free agency, and cheap-ass owner Culverhouse signing (or NOT signing) the checks. McKay built that mess into a conference contender in four years. Dungy faced his own hurdles, but you can’t say he was worthy of earlier inclusion in the Ring. McKay was here first, so McKay was honored first. Both McKay and Dungy deserve to be in the Ring, and both will be, now.

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