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.
“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.
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.
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.