FAB 2. Insider Analysis Of Bucs Mini-Camp

Tampa Bay concluded its 2018 mandatory mini-camp on Thursday, June 14, and to be honest, there was noting different about the three mini-camp practices than there were the team’s 10 OTAs (organized team activities) that were held in May and early June. It was the same set of circumstances – helmets, jerseys and shorts with no real contact – only players could be fined if they didn’t show up.

Much to Tampa Bay’s delight, everyone was in attendance from part-time OTA participants wide receiver DeSean Jackson and cornerback Brent Grimes, to the lone Buccaneer who missed every OTA – defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul.

So what did we learn from mini-camp – as well as the rest of the OTAs? Plenty.

Let’s start with the Bucs offense.

Bucs QB Jameis Winston - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs QB Jameis Winston – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Quarterback Jameis Winston is perhaps slightly more accurate with downfield throws, but if I’m being honest, I didn’t see any real noticeable improvement from last year. He still makes some amazing throws that will “wow” you, but also tends to stare down his primary receiver and force the ball into coverage too often than he should. Some old habits die hard.

Ryan Fitzpatrick still looks better than Ryan Griffin, and given his 2-1 record last year as a starter and his years of playing experience, Fitzpatrick will be the No. 2 quarterback barring an injury in training camp or the preseason.

Peyton Barber is still the starting running back and will continue in that role into training camp. Barber is leaner and a tick faster this offseason and it shows once he gets to the second level. Rookie Ronald Jones is an exciting, electric back, but doesn’t have the surest of hands. He needs more work on the JUGGS machine to have a chance at being more than a two-down back in his first year.

One-trick-pony Charles Sims will get the first crack as the team’s third-down back, but don’t be surprised if undrafted rookie Shaun Wilson comes for Sims’ job in training camp. Wilson earned a lot of praise this offseason as a pass catcher, and if he can pass protect once the pads come on, he could be the surprise of training camp.

Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard are as spectacular as ever as the team’s 1-2 punch at tight end. Pencil in at least five touchdowns apiece again this year. Brate has always been Winston’s favorite receiver, and you can see that Howard and Winston have developed even more of a rapport.

Antony Auclair missed some time with an ankle injury, but he’s further along in his understanding of the passing game, and he’s a better blocker, which he didn’t get to show given the non-contact nature of mini-camp and the OTAs. Both he and Alan Cross, who continues to assert himself as a weapon in the passing game, should make the team over a trio of undrafted free agent tight ends that will compete in training camp.

Mike Evans is Mike Evans. He says he wants to get more yards after the catch, but the routes that Dirk Koetter and Todd Monken have him run, crossing routes towards the middle of the field between the safeties and out routes near the sidelines, don’t lend themselves to YAC. Evans is a better, more athletic version of Keyshawn Johnson, which is damn good enough in this league.

Bucs WR Chris Godwin - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs WR Chris Godwin – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Godwin was easily the offseason star at the wide receiver position. His arrow continues to point up and he will be a starting this year opposite Evans. He’s too good not get less than 60 catches. Godwin has a better rapport with Winston and has found a sweet spot in the back of the middle of the end zone where he caught a ridiculous amount of touchdowns this spring.

DeSean Jackson is still running vertical routes outside, but kudos to Koetter and Monken for using Jackson more in the slot this year, catching quick slants, wide receiver screens and shorter routes that are designed to have him use his sub-4.4 speed to get yards after the catch. With Winston only slightly improving his downfield chemistry with Jackson on deep balls, the way to make Jackson more productive is to let him turn a seven-yard pass into a 17-yard gain. Koetter and Monken seemed to have figured that out to a degree this offseason, which is good.

Bobo Wilson and Freddie Martino are the backup receivers who have stood out the most. After a hot start – and some pub – Wilson started to drop too many catchable passes. He needs to catch everything if he’s going to stick as the No. 5 receiver, otherwise he’s opening the door for the steady, yet unspectacular Martino.

It’s hard to gauge how the offensive line is doing in just shorts without shoulder pads, but the real standout was left tackle Cole Garner. The second-year player who was in training camp last year before getting injured really turned some heads as he ran with the first string while Donovan Smith missed some time with a minor injury.

Leonard Wester filled in for Demar Dotson at right tackle, and Caleb Benenoch subbed for the injured J.R. Sweezy at right guard. Benenoch and rookie Alex Cappa, who was the second-string right guard will put up a fight for the starting position when Sweezy returns for training camp. Meanwhile, Ali Marpet looked natural at left guard and newcomer Ryan Jensen looked as good as advertised at center. The Bucs offensive line looks better and deeper at first glance.

On defense, it’s an embarrassment of riches on the defensive line. I mean it’s night and day from last year with this unit, which features new additions in Pierre-Paul, defensive end Vinny Curry, and defensive tackles Beau Allen, Mitch Unrein and rookie Vita Vea.

Bucs DE Jason Pierre-Paul - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs DE Jason Pierre-Paul – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Pierre-Paul has the gravitas that the legendary Simeon Rice brought to the Bucs’ pass rush when he arrived in 2001. Not only will Pierre-Paul rush from the right end position, he also saw time inside at defensive tackle next to McCoy in the nickel rush package on Wednesday with Noah Spence at right end and Curry at left end. Expect to see Curry play some defensive tackle in nickel rush, too.

Allen and Unrein are just grown men. Big, physical, tough bullies that will help the Bucs shut down the run. Vea actually impressed me more as a pass rusher than a run stuffer during the offseason. I think he’s going to get three or four sacks and surprise some people during his rookie season.

But the real surprise was some of Tampa Bay’s returning defensive linemen. Gerald McCoy remains the real deal at the three-technique spot, but Will Gholston, Will Clarke and Spence all made a great impression on me during the OTAs and mini-camp. Gholston is in incredible shape. He’s dropped 20 pounds from a year ago and seems primed for a bounce-back year in 2018.

Spence is up to 257 and still looks lightning fast. He should make an impact as a third-down speed rusher opposite JPP.

I don’t know how Clarke makes this team. Count ‘em up on the D-line: McCoy, Allen, JPP, Curry, Gholston, Vea, Spence, Unrein. That’s eight. If the Bucs end up keeping nine defensive linemen then Clarke could be the ninth guy. He ran with the second team at right defensive end a lot when JPP was absent and looks more confident in what he’s doing thanks to new defensive line coach Brentson Buckner, who will be a difference-maker this year.

The Bucs linebacking corps looks as good as ever. Kwon Alexander is in complete control of the defense. This is his defense and he is flying around the field with a purpose. Lavonte David is hungry for the playoffs and seems like a man on a mission. Alexander even has the usually quiet David talking some trash on the field.

While Kendell Beckwith has been out recovering from a broken ankle, Adarius Taylor (formerly Glanton) got a lot of looks with the second team defense, as did Devante Bond and Riley Bullough, who is the second-string middle linebacker. I can’t say that Bond impressed me. He just doesn’t make a lot of plays. Taylor did impress me, as did Bullough, who looks leaner and much quicker from a year ago.

Bucs LB Jack Cichy - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs LB Jack Cichy – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Rookie Jack Cichy has a chance to make this roster if he performs well on special teams. He is a very instinctive linebacker that doesn’t play with wasted steps. He has a decent burst considering he’s still recovering from a torn ACL that cost him the 2017 season. Keep an eye on him in training camp.

In the secondary, second-year free safety Justin Evans is a star in the making. He just looks so confident after getting a year’s worth of experience under his belt as a rookie. Evans has a chance to be a real ballhawk and double the number of interceptions he got a year ago. That’s right. He has a chance to get six picks – and hopefully a pick-six, too.

Whether you like it or not, Chris Conte will be the starting strong safety heading into training camp, and barring an upset, he’ll be the starting strong safety on opening day, too. He’s not spectacular, but he’s steady. Keith Tandy will stick as a reserve safety.

Speaking of steady, Grimes remains the starting left cornerback, and I bet that rookie Carlton Davis III winds up as the starting right cornerback by the end of training camp. Two cornerbacks that have impressed this offseason are Ryan Smith and David Rivers, who have both seen time with the starters when Grimes was absent from OTAs. Smith is steadier and more confident after some growing pains in his first year playing defense in 2017, while Rivers is a nice surprise that built upon a very good showing at the rookie mini-camp as a first-year player.

Vernon Hargreaves III was almost exclusively playing nickel cornerback in the slot towards the end of OTAs and during the mini-camp. He looks natural and more confident playing there than he does outside. Where Hargreaves struggled was catching the ball. He dropped several interception opportunities this spring, and that’s where rookie M.J. Stewart, who also played primarily in the slot with the second team, can make up some ground. Stewart has sure hands and had his share of interceptions since arriving in Tampa Bay.

Don’t count out Javien Elliott, who moved from slot to outside corner, and undrafted rookie free agent Mark Myers. Both had their share of interceptions this spring and saw time with the second- and third-string defenses. They will provide competition and make it interesting when it comes down to roster cut-downs.

Bucs SS Jordan Whitehead - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs SS Jordan Whitehead – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Bryan Anger is the only punter on the team, and the Bucs actually have two kickers, veteran Chandler Catanzaro and rookie Trevor Moore. There have been days where Moore has looked every bit as good as Catanzaro, but overall, Catanzaro was more consistent in the spring. He even ended mini-camp early with a 58-yard bomb right down the uprights, which delighted his teammates.

Rookie wide receiver Justin Watson and rookie safety Jordan Whitehead missed a good deal of the OTAs with minor injuries. Both still have a chance of making the 53-man roster this year, but will enter training camp behind the eight ball after missing valuable on-field time this spring.

Overall, the defense looks much more talented and improved along the defensive line and in the secondary than it did a year ago, and a trimmer Mike Smith is often seen with a smile on his face as a result. Smith didn’t have enough defensive linemen that could get to the quarterback last year, nor did he have enough cornerbacks that could cover effectively, and was often in no man’s land as a result.

Blitzing would help the pass rush, but create too many one-on-ones for the secondary to be able to handle. Not blitzing allowed quarterbacks more time to find open receivers and put too much pressure on the secondary. Look for Smith to blitz more often this year as a result, and expect nothing less than 40 sacks combined this season between the defensive line, linebackers and defensive backs.

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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]

23 COMMENTS

  1. Jesus effing christ Scott, sure I will be pissed, frustrated, and disappointed if the Bucs are bad again.

    But Im not gonna just stop being a fan. good lord

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    • Other than that, really good column Scott, but still, regime change, more losing, none of that is gonna have me switching teams and I would be disappointed in any Bucs “fan” who would.

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  2. Been with the Bucs since the get-go . Will always root for them and proud they are my team regardless of when’s and losses. Go Bucs!

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  3. Good What If’s here Scott. I’m just not gonna get my hopes up high this yr. Not with that Thud this past season. I got us optimistically goin 8-8. People forget,,we’re not the only team thats made improvements. I will say though,,we go as far as Jameis and the Defense takes us. Last yr, we had 5 very winnable games but absolutely zero Defense. Tough Schedule? Sure. But 31 other teams got tough ones as well. Every game is tough. I don’t put a lot of faith in preseason at all. I’ve seem teams win all those games and come out..Flat during the regular season. I want to see If Jameis is improving. Its time for him to take a few leaps if we are to be successful.

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  4. Injuries and turnovers….the two great forces of fortune in the NFL….get them on our side and playoffs is completely realistic.

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    • Agree

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  5. I just can’t wait to get the bad taste of last year out of my mouth.. I wish the season was starting Sunday.

    Go Bucs!!!

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  6. And YES T. Mayberry in the ring of honor.

    Go Bucs!!!

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  7. “How good are the 2018 Bucs?”

    That was an awful lot of words just to say, “I have no idea.”

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    • Totally agree!

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  8. Tony Mayberry for the Ring of Honor? Are you sh**ing me? No, no, no, NO. Are Bucs fans’ standards so LOW? OK, the guy was a good center. He played better than the 108th pick used to draft him, but he was never great, he was just better than his draft position. He earned his pay, and did a good job. But, that same description could apply to a LOT of TB players.

    You want to know what Mayberry’s most memorable play is? The snap he sailed over Shaun King’s head in the 1999 NFC Championship. In case anybody forgot, that was a game the Bucs lost 11-6. Take away the 2-point safety that resulted from Mayberry’s bad snap, and the Bucs are suddenly within 3 points of the Rams at the end of that game, instead of 5. So, a FG could have tied it, otherwise. Bucs were in a position to kick a FG and very possibly tie to force overtime with a FG. But, Mayberry’s huge mistake put that out of reach, and the Bert Emmanuel non-catch (which later resulted in the Bert Emmanuel Rule) pretty much ended the Bucs’ chances.

    You younger fans don’t want to give the older guys their due. LB David Lewis deserves a spot in the ROH before Mayberry does. He played back when the NFL didn’t bother to keep defensive stats, so he is forgotten already. The guy was a major reason for the team winning the last two games of 1977 (the first wins in TB history), and continued to be a force on the Bucs defense until 1982. The NFL didn’t keep tabs on tackles or sacks back then, but Lewis had 10 INTs for the Bucs between ’77 and ’81. Mayberry might have had 3 Pro Bowl selections to Lewis one, but Pro Bowl selections are a joke, anyway. I’d give Lewis a ROH nomination before Mayberry, any day of the week, and twice on Sunday.

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    • Completely agree about David Lewis over Mayberry for the Ring of Honor. Lewis was there from just about the very beginning of this franchise, combined with Batman Wood & Cecil Johnson gave us one of the best line backing crews in the league at the time. The youngsters don’t realize that while our offense was the leagues worst, our defense was one of the best, being rated #1 in 1979 only 2 seasons after starting in the league at 0-26 in our first 26 games ever played. That says a lot, and people need to take notice of the defensive players we had back then. It shouldn’t be just us graybeards that realize this!

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  9. I moved here in 77, everyone was a Miami fan, I began my love affair with the Bucs thinking, how long can they be bad? I’m not going anywhere. I like the tough start to the season, and think we’re catching a break with our first two games. The Saints will be without their back, and I believe after an emotional home opener the Eagles won’t fly high in the Tampa heat, and have a let down. If we can start the season 2-0 we’re on our way. At any rate we’ll know who we are first five weeks.

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  10. Jameis has to improve and be a more accurate passer for the Buc’s to be improve and this needs to be from the first snap of the game. To many times he is high and of the mark with his throws during the early stages of the games.

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    • In the 11 games he played start to finish Jameis had a 64.4 comp %. Last time I checked that’s a very good number. Even more impressive considering he’s at the top of the league in air yards per attempt. So if you think that’s the issue on this team, you need to rewatch last season game by game again

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  11. I hate the idea of having to “game plan around turnovers” how about Jameis Winston either improves his turnover ratio or gets the fuck out. This isn’t college anymore and we can’t gameplan around his turnovers” and have a realistic chance of ever getting into the playoffs, ever winning this division, or winning a Super Bowl eventually with this type of tolerance for mediocrity

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    • Well when you have a historically bad defense that has you playing from behind, 55 out of 60 minutes, a bottom 5 running game, a terrible kicker, and below average pass protection, interceptions are going to happen. Unless you expect Jameis to be Jesus. Well in that case, yeah, he’s not gonna fullfill your ridiculous expectations. It’s a team sport pal. Jameis could have had 5 int’s last year instead of 11, and the Bucs are still a below .500 non playoff team. That’s not opinion, that’s a fact

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  12. Tell that to the Packers Charlie, who did the same thing with Brett Farve. And give the language a rest.
    I’m more concerned about his fumbles than his INT’s.
    It could be worse though. We could have Marcus Mariotta who had more INT’s than TD passes last year. If you had in his lost fumbles the number gets even worse.
    This all happened with a solid running game and a good defense. Two things Winston didn’t have last year which no doubt forced him to make some throws he probably wouldn’t have if the other team wasn’t scoring at will.
    And if you think Winston is satisfied with being mediocre, then you haven’t read much about how much he works on improving his game during the offseason.
    Winston has improved his accuracy every year, despite preferring to throw the ball down the field instead of to the side to his running backs which he no doubt should do a little bit more often.
    Hopefully he will look at his last five games he played to see how much that helped him. I’m betting he does.

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    • Totally agree DrD. I too am more concerned with the frequent fumbles. As you noted, give him a semblance of a running game, even a mediocre defense and average kicker and perhaps the youngster might not think it’s all on him.

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    • Totally agree dnd

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  13. I guess the free agent center didn’t make enough of an impression to call him by his real name. Maybe once they get into pads and he’s hitting people you’ll call him Ryan instead of Sean.

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  14. Agree on Winston. If we actually have a decent kicker, run game, and defense this year and he still forces it a lot then I’ll start to worry. Until then I’m not concerned. I think any young qb would think it’s all on him with the garbage we have had around him.

    As far as predicting how good I stopped getting too optimistic because it’s been a long damn time and too many disappointments.

    That said considering the schedule and all the rookies, and other unknowns with so many changes and chemistry etc, to me they are an 8-8 team plus or minus a couple games. Some key injuries and 6-10 very possible. They stay healthy, catch few breaks, rookies like Davis and Vea , are good year one. If they O line and center are any good, they stay healthy, I could see maybe 10-6. Don’t see any better than that with the all things considered.

    Go Bucs!

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  15. Like the podcast but can we get Cook to stop with the awful and constant jokes. Makes it hard to listen to

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