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SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, PewterReport.com publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL.

FAB 1. SR’s Bucs Training Camp Insider

I’ll admit that I wasn’t terribly enthusiastic about the start of Tampa Bay’s 2018 training camp. After two decades of covering the Buccaneers and watching nearly 10 practices this offseason between OTAs and the team’s three-day mandatory mini-camp, the last thing I want to see is more practices in shorts, jerseys and helmets.

I’m ready for full pads.

I’m ready for hitting.

I’m ready for Sunday – not necessarily Thursday.

But Thursday was full of surprises that intrigued me on the first day of training camp – even if it resembled another OTA in the indoor facility due to lightning in the area. By the time the air horn blew at 10:30 to signal the end of practice – and the beginning of some Jacksonville Jaguars-like wind sprints after practice – my reporter notebook was full of interesting anecdotes and insights that I’ll share with you to lead off this edition of SR’s Fab 5.

• I spent a lot of time during the first hour of practice focused on the defensive line. Not because I have a “coach crush” on Brentson Buckner and his new approach that has already made the D-line more violent and physical even before the pads come on. I’m interested in the defensive line because right now I can rattle off the names of eight players worth filling up the depth chart with in Gerald McCoy, Beau Allen, Jason Pierre-Paul, Vinny Curry, Vita Vea, Mitch Unrein, Will Gholston and Noah Spence.

Does defensive end Will Clarke or defensive tackle Stevie Tu’ikolovatu have a chance of pulling an upset in the preseason and stealing a roster spot? Or is it just a foregone conclusion that Tampa Bay’s depth chart will in fact comprise the “Great 8” that I already rattled off. The Bucs also like defensive tackle DaVonte Lambert, who shouldn’t be quickly dismissed, either.

It’s worth noting that the Bucs defensive line is not only in good hands with Buckner, but also with assistant D-line coach Paul Spicer. I don’t know if there is another staff that has two former NFL defensive linemen on it, and I think that helps tremendously as Bucker and Spicer coach the positions they played in the league – defensive tackle and defensive end, respectively.

Here are a few other notes from the defensive line. Vea is playing exclusively at three-technique behind McCoy – not nose tackle. Allen, Unrein and Tu’ikolovatu are playing nose tackles.

Spence was nowhere to be found on the two-deep depth chart on Thursday. The second-team depth chart featured Gholston at left end and Clarke at right end. I think Spence is strictly going to be used as a situational pass rusher this year, probably in an effort to help keep him healthy despite the fact that he has bulked up to 257 pounds. In a few nickel pass rush downs the Bucs did line up with Curry at left end, Spence at right end and McCoy and Pierre-Paul inside at defensive end. Tampa Bay also has a package that features Spence at left end and Pierre-Paul at right end with McCoy and Curry inside at tackle.

• While the defensive line was at one end of the practice field, the big news of the day was taking place at the other end as veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick was taking the majority of the starting reps at quarterback while Jameis Winston was the primary backup working with the second team. The fact that Fitzpatrick began training camp as the starter was a clear message to the team that the focus is on the New Orleans Saints on September 9 – the first of three games Winston will be suspended for – not necessarily developing Winston or paying attention to the fact that Winston is expected to be under center from Weeks 4-17.

The Bucs can’t afford to start the season behind the eight ball with a 0-3 or even a 1-2 record. Fitzpatrick has to be ready and Koetter’s offense needs to be revved up and humming by the start of the season to avoid that from happening. While he wasn’t spectacular, Fitzpatrick looked sharp on Thursday, which was a sharp contrast to how Winston performed.

Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter and QB Jameis Winston - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter and QB Jameis Winston – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Looking humbled and subdued Winston didn’t have any bounce in his step and it showed. He had a very mediocre practice, throwing one fluky interception that was picked off by McCoy after the ball slipped out of wide receiver Sergio Bailey’s hands as he hit the ground.

Perhaps Winston was worried about having to face the media for the first time since the NFL handed him his three-game suspension. Perhaps he was dejected by his demotion. It was odd seeing Winston not high-fiving teammates, smiling and playing with a bounce in his step. We’ll see if Winston’s demeanor changes as camp progresses, and if Koetter will ultimately alternate starting reps between Fitzpatrick and Winston on different days throughout camp, or if Thursday’s practice is a preview of what’s to come for the next month.

• Another revelation on Thursday was Vernon Hargreaves III starting at right outside cornerback in Tampa Bay’s base defense opposite Brent Grimes on the left side. Maybe it’s because Hargreaves has had a pretty good offseason, or maybe it’s because the Bucs have a first-round investment in him, but Hargreaves is being given one final chance to start outside. We’ll see how he fares and if he can remain confident and make plays there.

In nickel defense Hargreaves moved inside and was replaced outside by Ryan Smith, who got the starting nod over rookie Carlton Davis. I expect Davis to make a move up the depth chart in August, and I’m not alone in that line of thinking.

• One thing that wasn’t a surprise was seeing Adam Humphries and Bernard Reedy fielding punts on Thursday. What was a pleasant surprise was seeing DeSean Jackson doing it too, and taking as many reps as they did. Of course linebacker Lavonte David and Grimes were back there fielding a punt or two, but they’ll never see action in a real game on special teams. But having Jackson back there is different.

It’s been four years since the 31-year old Jackson was a team’s primary punt returner, and that happened back in in 2013 in Philadelphia. Jackson has four punt return touchdowns and a career 9.6-yard average. With a stacked wide receiver position that features an emerging star in Chris Godwin, why not use Jackson’s 4.3 speed as a punt returner to help flip field position or even score a touchdown? If I’m head coach Dirk Koetter and I’m entering 2018 on the hot seat (see Fab 2), I’m pulling out all the stops and making Jackson the premier punt returner.

What does Koetter have to lose? If Jackson gets injured returning punts the receiving corps could weather that storm with the likes of Mike Evans, Godwin, Adam Humphries and either Bobo Wilson, Justin Watson or Freddie Martino – not to mention getting by with pass-catching tight ends like Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard.

At 5-foot-10, 175 pounds and in his 30s, you better believe Jackson wouldn’t take any unnecessary risks fielding punts with 11 players running right at him. He would know when to fair catch it out of self-preservation and when to turn on the jets and try to take one to the house.

• It was an ominous sign seeing rookie running back Ronald Jones drop a very catchable ball in 7-on-7. Jones was five yards away from the quarterback and the ball hit him in the hands. He has to make that catch.

Bucs RB Ronald Jones II - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs RB Ronald Jones II – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Jones, who is one of PewterReport.com’s Training Camp Diary participants, has suspect hands. There is no other way to say it. He’ll make a few catches and then drop one you think he should have caught. This has been going on since the rookie mini-camp and through the OTAs. Keep in mind that Jones only had 32 career catches in his three-year career at USC. Peyton Barber, Charles Sims, Jacquizz Rodgers and Shaun Wilson all have better hands than he does, and that’s a problem because how Jones performs in the passing game will determine if he can be more than a two-down back in Tampa Bay during his rookie season.

As I said on the latest Pewter Nation Podcast, Jones’ electric 4.41 speed can really be used in the passing game on wheel routes and on screens. Jones has the ability to take a screen pass 80 yards while Barber could take the same screen pass eight yards, which isn’t bad – but it’s not a touchdown.

Jones was working after practice on his hands with offensive coordinator Todd Monken. If he can do that on a daily basis and use the JUGGS machine regularly he can make some strides that will help him earn more playing time, and ultimately help the Bucs offense. How quickly Jones improves his hands is definitely something we’ll keep an eye on in camp.

• One last thing. You can forget about Ryan Griffin making a challenge for the starting quarterback job in Week 1. He’s not beating out Fitzpatrick. Griffin had some awful throws off his back foot on Thursday and he doesn’t have the strongest arm to begin with. He’s the kind of QB that needs to step into his throws and for some reason he was throwing off his back foot. It wasn’t the right way for Griffin to start training camp.

Keep in mind this is just Day 1 of training camp. A lot can – and will – change over the next month in Tampa Bay, but it was certainly an eventful start to the Bucs’ 2018 training camp.

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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]

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Ken - KfromflamatadorDy-nasty DNaplesfanowlykat Recent comment authors
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e
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e

Nice work, Scott. I agree with both assessments on Winston and Licht. I know that’s not a popular position with the PR folks these day… I’m still very surprised to hear that part of Jameis’ daily routine does not involve any counciling? You have a guy that is possibly the future of the franchise, and there is no investment made in this area for Jameis? This does not count against the salary cap. It seems to me that if the team is only going to focus on the on-field improvement for Jameis, they (Licht? Glazers?) are derelict in their duties… Read more »

cgmaster27
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cgmaster27

Great Fab5 Scott. I think Fitz is good enough to get us one of those first three games. If the run game and defense improve, heck maybe even two of them. Call me an optimist, but Fitz is who he is as well, limitations and all. However if Fitz plays well enough, it wouldn’t shocvk me to see him play week 4 as well. AS for Jameis, he handled the questions how he could at this point, as you stated a civil suit could be filed. I’m not sure how the limitations work on that as it’s been 2 years.… Read more »

Horse
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Horse

+1

owlykat
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owlykat

CGmaster in Florida the statute of limitations is seven years for civil sexual abuse, since you didn’t know.

Ken - Kfromfla
Member
Ken - Kfromfla

The alleged incident happened in Arizona and the statute of limitation for civil liability is 2 years. Also, in the state of Arizona, Sexual Assault Laws; Title 13. Criminal Code § 13-1406, which covers Sexual Assault, is described by the web to include any of the following acts: Sexual intercourse without consent means the penetration of the vulva, penis, or anus using anything. or Oral sexual contact (with the vulva, penis, or anus) without consent – verbal threats, fear, or intimidation may be used to sexually assault someone. There was no sexual assault, an inappropriate touching misdemeanor act at worst… Read more »

nybuccguy
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nybuccguy

Dont discount the effect having a newborn might have on Winston. Hes never been a father before and the challenges of that are probably distracting him just as much as the suspension.

kram0789
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kram0789

I don’t like our chances of making the playoffs this year, even if Fitz goes 3-0. There are still three better teams in our division. The impact of a better Bucs team is probably only 2 teams make it to the playoffs from our division this season, as a result of the division beating each other up. The Buc’s need one of those 3 teams to drop off, and my bet is it will be the Saints due to the age of Brees. But not this year. To be a consistent playoff contender we need Winston to step it up… Read more »

Benjamin
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Benjamin

This was a very good fab 5. You think just like i do regarding Licht and Koetter’s jobs. I firmly believe regardless of what the teams record is Jason Licht deserves a contract extension. The talent he has brought in not just this off season but his entire time here is the best we have seen since Rich McKays times as GM. Licht doesn’t coach, he doesn’t game plan, or call plays on sunday so it is not on him if somehow this team underachieves like last year that is squarely on Koetter and his staff. I believe that Koetter… Read more »

kram0789
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kram0789

I am not as much on the bandwagon for Licht as many fans are. For one, I don’t believe that he has not made numerous mistakes in the draft and free agency. How many of those free agents from previous years are still on the team? Not Many. Many will point the drafting of a kicker in the second round as proof that he is not a master of the draft. While I did not like taking a kicker with a second round pick I understand why he did it. What is telling is that his reasons for doing it… Read more »

owlykat
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owlykat

Kram0789–no one was a bigger outspoken critic of Licht than I was because Licht started out with us as a rookie GM and he came in with the belief the best way to build an NFL team was to take BPA without reaching for a player to fill needs and that is what he did right up to this year when his neck was on the line for leaving us with so many holes especially on both lines and at RB and Def. backfield. That taught him a big lesson. Perhaps he took notice of the changes the Jags took… Read more »

Horse
Member
Horse

QB it’s my concern for the first 3 games; even the fourth game because it’s a Monday night and Winston’s not going to have enough time to get into a decent groove by game 4. if anything happens to Fitzgerald in the first four games we are in serious trouble because Griffin is not the answer.
We have to get another quarterback and house now. Good article Scott. Is it me or does Winston look like he’s lost some weight? His arms were small before,but now they even look thinner .

FLyBoy
Member
FLyBoy

Great article Scott. Tom Jones pressing the “Cut Jameis” button?!?! Say it aint so! Then again, thats the norm. Pretty sure that man hates living in Tampa area. Licht has put the pieces together for this team. He had an occasional slip up in personell but has corrected it. How many years does it take to really grade a draft… 3-4years.

flarick
Member
flarick

Nice column, Scott. I was at one point torn between the get rid of Jameis Winston now crowd and those willing to see what happens. However, after reading your report that, “Not only did Jameis Winston look awful during Thursday’s practice with the second-string offense, that poor play continued on Friday as the looming three-game suspension and the negative publicity surrounding the suspension appears to be having an obvious affect on his psyche and his performance,” I’m thinking the Bucs may be best served by preparing to cut ties with Winston. When real leaders screw up, they say they’re sorry,… Read more »

Horse
Member
Horse

Let’s give it a few more days before we say it has affected Winston. I’d like some more reporting on Griffin.

seat26
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seat26

Vea playing behind McCoy? Instead of Nose? Wow. He is quickly slipping into obscurity. Someone said he was a luxury pick. I am getting a bad feeling.

chefboho
Member
chefboho

I think you might be reading into that too much. The NT’s they picked up have experience and one is a super bowl champion. Maybe they want to rotate McCoy more to keep him fresh? How many times has that dude been beaten down but stayed on due to no depth? Just a thought

Horse
Member
Horse

+1

Dman
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Dman

+1

matador
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matador

+1

EastEndBoy
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EastEndBoy

Injuries and turnovers – watch those and that’ll tell you where we’re headed. Lots of shiny new pieces on defense, but they’ll need a new scheme to shine in TB – let’s hope Smitty has something new up his sleeve beyond the rush-4 and play soft coverage of 2017. All 4 NFC South teams have Achilles heals – hopefully we can overcome ours this year. Go Bucs!

Horse
Member
Horse

+1

buddah
Member
buddah

Carolina and New Orleans will regress toward the mean. They overachieved last year as we were underachieving. We have a lot of new parts and it will take time to gel, but our overall roster is second in our division behind Atlanta. New Orleans is missing a key part for the first four games. That game is winnable. Everything will come down to coaching, execution, and injuries.

76Buc
Member
76Buc

Tom Jones is a Marxist idiot. That’s why I no longer read his articles. I like the singer much better. We need to support our players unless they are convicted of felonies. Winston knows he has 2 strikes. One more and he’s out.

Dman
Member
Dman

+1

drdneast
Member
drdneast

I don’t know if Jones is a Marxist but he certainly is an idiot. Every time a Bucs player gets in a scrape with the law he wants the Bucs to get rid of them for little or no compensation. The last player was ASJ. Before that it was Aqib Talib, who as we all know achieved All Pro status. It took two No. I picks to replace them and so far Hargreaves hasn’t shown he was worthy of a No. 1 pick. As far as the Talib incident that caused the Bucs to jettison him, because no one was… Read more »

tim111762
Member
tim111762

Good article. I don’t agree with the “IT WAS 2 YEARS AGO” argument. That should be completely irrelevant. I mean, if you’re not gonna change your ways after narrowly dodging a rape charge in college, why should anyone believe time or being married will suddenly change his ways. I believe that’s simply blind optimism. There are plenty of scumbag husband and fathers out there. If I killed someone and it took them 10 years to catch me, should people say “oh it was 10 years ago he’s changed now…”? No. People should be held accountable for their actions, and those… Read more »

owlykat
Member
owlykat

Scott, I support your stance on Jameis. If the Bucs should drop Jameis, the Raiders would welcome him with open arms. Their former candidate for Franchise QB was on his way until he had A serious back injury and after surgery looked nothing like his former self, similar to our High Paid Guard who we just dumped, so Gruden knows he needs a new Franchise QB to make him a big success as his own GM. I also believe Jameis loves football and knowing he will be out of football if he doesn’t stick to no alcohol no partying, that… Read more »

matador
Member
matador

If the tables were turned, we had Carr and Winston was cut you’d be laughed off the board for suggesting we pick Winston up. Carr has elite accuracy, if Winston can close half of the gap between his play and Carr we are a playoff team. The encouraging thing is that he just might, the frustrating thing is we can’t tell yet. I’m ready for some football.

Naplesfan
Member
Naplesfan

Putting Koetter on the hotseat but recommending a fat contract extension for Licht, before any games have been played, makes zero sense. Lict has produced a worse win loss record in his tenure than Koetter has so far, and, uhhh, Licht hired Koetter. If the team does not produce again this year, then both Koetter and Licht have to go. We’ve done this every season since Licht got here. He makes a supposed big splash in free agency that typically draws yawns from the rest of NFL world, and similar responses, and in training camp we declare the Bucs are… Read more »

Dy-nasty D
Member
Dy-nasty D

Scott, having touted yourself as a Christian man, this paragraph baffles me: “Winston is helping himself and protecting himself by being as vague as possible, and I don’t blame him. He wants to put this ordeal behind him and not have it linger on with any potential civil suit that he could inadvertently open himself up to by being more forthcoming.” Well, yeah, of course he’d like to move on and avoid a lawsuit or legal consequences. He would have liked to have gotten away w his initial lie and not faced any consequences from the NFL. He also would’ve… Read more »

Ken - Kfromfla
Member
Ken - Kfromfla

Thanks for the balance and insight Scott Reynolds. Nice piece of reality reporting.