FAB 4. SR’s Bucs OTA Insider
The PewterReport.com staff and the rest of the local Bucs beat writers got to observe the team’s OTA on Thursday, May 31. Here are a few of the things that stood out to me.
• Buccaneers defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul continues to be a no-show for OTAs, but neither his teammates nor the coaches nor Tampa Bay’s front office is concerned. Pierre-Paul is entering his ninth year in the league and is a two-time Pro Bowler with a very good work ethic. While he will have to adjust to a new defensive scheme, a new defensive line coach and new teammates, Pierre-Paul’s job will be to get to the quarterback and help improve Tampa Bay’s pass rush.
With 58 sacks, 16 forced fumbles and five defensive touchdowns in his career, Pierre-Paul is a pro and has the tools to get the job done. The team is confident that he will be at the mandatory mini-camp on June 12-14, and between that time and four weeks of training camp, Pierre-Paul should be up to speed when it comes to learning the nuances of Mike Smith’s defense and the techniques defensive line coach Brentson Buckner wants him to deploy.
Pierre-Paul wasn’t the only absent defensive lineman on Thursday. Defensive end Vinny Curry was also missing from the voluntary workout, as was Buckner. As a result, Will Gholston, Noah Spence, Will Clarke and Patrick O’Connor got plenty of reps in practice at defensive end.
“Noah has gained a lot of weight,” Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter said. “Last I checked, Noah was 257. He was down in one point at training camp in the 230s last year. He looks good.”
• Not only did Tampa Bay go from having a scarce amount of capable defensive linemen last year to a glut at the position this offseason, the same could be said at cornerback thanks to offseason additions and the improvement of the team’s holdovers from 2017. Cornerback Brent Grimes has been a regular participant in OTAs this offseason, but was absent on Thursday. Yet it didn’t seem to matter.
Third-year player Ryan Smith got the start at left cornerback for Grimes and played well while covering the likes of Chris Godwin and DeSean Jackson, whom he stayed stride for stride with on a couple of deep passes that wound up being incomplete. David Rivers, who like Smith is also 6-foot, has shown a good deal of improvement from a year ago when he was a practice squad player. Rivers got the start at right cornerback while rookie Carlton Davis, one of the team’s three second-round picks, started at right cornerback on the second team. The team has been raving about Davis, who has star potential.
Rookie cornerback M.J. Stewart, one of the Bucs’ other second-round picks, was the second-string nickel cornerback behind Vernon Hargreaves III and continues to make plays. Stewart, who has recorded several interceptions on the days the media has viewed OTAs, had a pick-six on Thursday and continues to cash in on the opportunities he’s been given. While Hargreaves has excelled in coverage in the slot, he has dropped a couple of catchable balls from what we’ve seen.
Another cornerback that has been making a good number of plays has been Javien Elliott, who is in his third year. Elliott had a one-handed pick in practice on Thursday and has been quite the ballhawk this spring. Elliott has primarily played nickel corner in the slot, but has also seen time outside where he has been effective despite his slight, 5-foot-11, 176-pound frame. He’s competing with Davis and rookie undrafted free agent Mark Myers, who also had an interception on Thursday, for the sixth and final cornerback spot on the depth chart.
• It wasn’t just the cornerbacks that were getting into the interception game on Thursday. Bucs middle linebacker Kwon Alexander read quarterback Jameis Winston perfectly, jumped a route across the middle and delivered a pick-six on the first play in one 11-on-11 series. A few plays later, Alexander batted down another pass in the middle of the field.
While Alexander made his first Pro Bowl last year, he missed four and a half games at the start of the season due to a hamstring injury and only produced 97 tackles, along with a career-high three interceptions and one forced fumble in his third year in the NFL. Alexander made good on his promise last year to become better in pass coverage and looks like he’s picking up where he left off in 2017 by correctly diagnosing routes and making plays on the ball.
• I know I’ve talked about it before but the Bucs defensive line continues to be extremely physical during the team’s OTAs. While no full contact is allowed during the OTAs between players, as there are no pads, the defensive linemen spend a good 15 minutes striking the shiver board and the 5-man blocking sled every single practice.
While Buckner was absent on Thursday, assistant defensive line coach Paul Spicer took control and had the D-linemen strike the padded metal sled and the padded metal immovable shiver board over and over again with tremendous ferocity. If a player doesn’t strike the board or the sled hard with elbows in, head up and rolling his players in the process, Spicer made his players do it over again. One player who had to repeatedly do it over was undrafted rookie Evan Perrizo.
When it comes time to put the pads on during training camp, I guarantee that the defensive line will be much more physical than it has been in several years. In just two weeks I’ve seen the defensive linemen get used to the shock and sting they feel in their hands, wrists and forearms of repeatedly hitting the hard sled and shiver and begin to strike both with even more force as a result.
• And speaking of defensive linemen, 347-pound rookie defensive tackle Vita Vea is adjusting to the Tampa heat and humidity quite well. It was sunny, hot and muggy on Thursday as temperatures were in the low 90s and the heat index was near 100 degrees.
“It was oppressive today,” Koetter said. “Really, add six or seven degrees, this is training camp today. I think the guys adjust pretty fast to that. In training camp, we practice in the morning, so today’s as tough as it gets. It was warm out there today.”
As Koetter expected, Vea seemed to have no trouble from a conditioning standpoint.
“What we’ve seen is a guy that his weight definitely has not affected him,” Koetter said. “He’s got an excellent motor and he is a very strong human being. You can ask those guards that are playing against him … It’s impressive, his strength.”