FAB 4. SR’s Bucs Training Camp Insider
• Kudos to Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter, who is doing a fantastic job splitting the quarterback reps in training camp. On Wednesday, Koetter revealed that Winston is still getting the most reps in camp despite taking most of his reps with the second team, in addition to getting reps with the first team and the third team.
“Yeah, well there’s no formula written down in the coach’s handbook for that, so we’re trying to get Jameis reps with all three groups. Obviously, we’ve got to give Fitz work. One of the advantages of having a 27-year veteran quarterback is he doesn’t need quite as many reps, so we can still get Jameis some work with the first group. But, Jameis is also getting more reps with the twos and threes. If you just counted them up every day, Jameis is getting the most reps everyday – barely – in camp. Also, we can’t forget about Ryan Griffin. He needs his reps because he’s one play away from being in there.”
Fitzpatrick still looks sharp with the starters and Winston has shown steady improvement during the first week of training camp. One thing Winston needs to continue to work on is not staring down receivers. He’s thrown a couple of interceptions this week by telegraphing where he’s going with the football, which is a bad habit he needs to rid from his game.
• During the first couple of training camp practices I doubted whether or not second-year defensive tackle Stevie Tu’ikolovatu had any chance to make the team. While his size and power resembles that of first-round pick Vita Vea, Tu’ikolovatu has a bad habit of stopping his feet and trying to anchor against double teams, and also stopping his feet when pass rushing.
But when Vea went down with a calf injury during Sunday’s practice, Tu’ikolovatu began getting double the reps in practice and has shown vast improvement over this past week. While he’s still a long shot to make the 53-man roster given the fact that the Bucs’ depth chart has Gerald McCoy, Beau Allen, Mitch Unrein and Vea in front of him, it’s encouraging to see his rapid development.
• Rookie right guard Alex Cappa, the team’s third-round draft pick, is giving third-year player Caleb Benenoch a real challenge for the starting job in between center Ryan Jensen and right tackle Demar Dotson. Cappa has shown the tenacity the team was expecting from him and then some. While he lacks experience, Cappa is a quick study and earned some first-team reps in practice this week.
Benenoch has the slight edge due to the trust he’s earned from the coaching staff after playing guard as a rookie with starts against Chicago and Kansas City, in addition to filling in at right tackle last year when Dotson was injured down the stretch. But Cappa is making the team’s scouts and coaches take notice. The right guard battle might be the most competitive training camp clash as both Benenoch and Cappa are playing well.
• Leonard Wester was having a good start to camp filling in for right tackle Demar Dotson with the starters before injuring his leg on Sunday. Wester’s injury paved the way for second-year tackle Cole Gardner to step in this week and take first-team reps while Dotson is eased back into the lineup following offseason knee surgery.
Gardner made a really strong impression during the team’s OTAs by starting for left tackle Donovan Smith, showing off improved strength, balance and quickness. With the pads on in training camp, he’s proving to be tougher and more physical than Wester at right tackle. If he continues to progress and plays well in the preseason games during Wester’s absence, don’t be surprised if Gardner beats Wester out for the Bucs’ backup swing tackle role this year and makes the 53-man roster.
• Rookie running back Ronald Jones continues to struggle catching the ball. During Tuesday’s practice Jones ran a wheel route out of the backfield and beat his defender down the sidelines by a couple strides. Jones was wide open and dropped a pass that hit him right in the hands. Overall, Jones has impressed as a runner, but until he shows that he can become a more reliable receiver that will give the more sure-handed Peyton Barber the edge when it comes to the starting running back position.
• Hopefully Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Mike Smith has been keenly watching the practice tape from training camp and taken notes on how cornerbacks Vernon Hargreaves III and Carlton Davis have thrived in press coverage, especially this week. Hargreaves is a different player outside and in the slot when playing press coverage. He’s physical and confident.
The same thing could be said for the bigger and longer Davis, who could win a starting job as a rookie. At 6-foot-1, Davis has the big body and physicality that the Bucs have lacked at the cornerback position and he can better match up against the likes of Atlanta’s Julio Jones, New Orleans’ Michael Thomas and Carolina’s Devin Funchess, who are all at least 6-foot-3. Davis was primarily a press cornerback at Auburn and has been a stud in practice when able to press at the line of scrimmage.
Smith has a penchant for playing a lot of Quarters coverage (4 Deep), which typically calls for cornerbacks to play off man coverage and line up three to five yards away from the receiver. That scheme didn’t work out too well last year with the exception of Brent Grimes, who has made a living playing off coverage at cornerback. If Smith can allow Hargreaves and Davis to press more often and play less off coverage he’ll be playing to those players’ strengths.
The same can be said for rookie M.J. Stewart, who like Hargreaves, has also been playing outside cornerback as well as inside in the slot. Stewart has been both steady and spectacular at times during camp and doesn’t look like a rookie. Armed with great intelligence and instincts, Smith has picked off several passes in camp and has the physicality to also thrive in press coverage whether it is outside or in the slot.
• So far, kicker Chandler Catanzaro is as good as advertised. He has yet to miss a kick in training camp and is coming off a very strong showing during the Bucs OTAs. He has a strong, accurate leg and should thrive kicking at Raymond James Stadium, which typically doesn’t have swirling winds within the stadium. Rookie Trevor Moore has also shown to be a capable NFL-caliber kicker. He’s keeping Catanzaro sharp by providing good competition, but he’s had a couple of misses thus far in camp.