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FAB 1. 5 Bucs To Watch In Training Camp: Offense
As Tampa Bay’s 2019 training camp opens on Friday, July 26, PewterReport.com will have eyes on 10 Buccaneers – five on offense and five on defense. These Bucs have the most compelling stories as camp opens and are worth watching for fans that will be attending the practices at AdventHealth Training Center at One Buccaneer Place this summer.
Here are the five Buccaneers on offense to keep an eye on in late July and August.
All eyes will be on Winston as he enters a pivotal fifth-year option season in Tampa Bay. It hasn’t been talked about too much, but Winston will be learning a new offense for the first time since being drafted No. 1 overall by the Buccaneers in 2015. Winston spent four years in Dirk Koetter’s offense with mixed results. While Winston has become Tampa Bay’s all-time touchdown leader with 88 TD passes, in addition to setting some team records, he’s also thrown 58 interceptions and lost 38 fumbles, according to Pro Football Reference. What’s worse is that he only has a record of 21-33 as a starter over his four years in Tampa Bay.
To be fair, Winston has had an inconsistent running game over the past three seasons, so the Bucs offense has often been one-dimensional. Winston also hasn’t received much help from the defense, which has blown fourth quarter leads or given up so many points per game that Winston has to take chances with the football to try to mount a comeback.
What To Watch For: Winston bears watching for two big reasons. Can he stay away from throwing interceptions in practice? He’s averaged 14.5 picks per year over his Tampa Bay career. The other reason to watch Winston is that he has had trouble connecting on the deep ball in the past, especially with DeSean Jackson, who was traded away in the offseason. Winston has already shown a better downfield connection with newcomers Breshad Perriman, a free agent addition, and Scotty Miller, the team’s sixth-round pick. Both have speed to burn. Let’s see if that continues in camp.
RG Alex Cappa
The Bucs had a big problem at right guard last year where Caleb Benenoch was a disaster and Cappa, the team’s third-round pick, wasn’t close to being ready to start. Cappa, who was a left tackle at Humboldt State, looked overwhelmed in his transition to guard. It’s one thing for a rookie lineman to switch positions, it’s another thing to do so while making the jump from a small school to the big leagues in the NFL.
Tampa Bay wants Cappa to win the job this year, but after a shaky rookie season general manager Jason Licht was wise to bring in a veteran to compete with him for the job. That veteran is Earl Watford, who played for Bruce Arians and Harold Goodwin in Arizona and will provide a good challenge for Cappa in camp.
What To Watch For: Cappa will have every opportunity to win the job because of his physical talent and the draft pick the team has invested in him, but he’ll have to earn it. Where Cappa struggled last year was in pass protection, so we’ll have to see if he’s really improved in that area in the 1-on-1 battles, as well as 11-on-11 periods. The reason why Cappa struggled was that because the action comes at guards faster from defensive tackles because of the close quarters. Offensive tackles have more space to operate and set up in pass protection. How has Cappa adjusted to pass protecting inside? We’re about to find out.
RB Ronald Jones II
Jones isn’t competing for the starting running back job. That belongs to last year’s leading rusher Peyton Barber, who is in a contract year. One might say that Jones is battling for the No. 2 running back and trying to earn carries, but it’s deeper than that. The 21-year old running back must show a tremendous amount of improvement this August or risk not making the team despite his second-round draft status.
Bucs general manager Jason Licht has already proven that he won’t hang on to a mistake, cutting high-priced free agents Anthony Collins, Michael Johnson and Josh McCown after one year in 2015, and cutting Robert Aguayo, a 2016 second-round pick, after one year in 2017. Jones has to be more productive in training camp and the preseason to avoid the bust label, and Arians is encouraged by the work Jones has put in with running backs coach Todd McNair this offseason. Now it’s time to continue that progress in camp when the pads come on.
What To Watch For: There are two aspects of Jones’ game that are worth watching in camp. The first is his ability to shake, break and slip tackles. Jones was hit in the backfield too often in the preseason and in the regular season last year, and most of that was due to the poor play of the offensive line. Yet Jones didn’t show much power or elusiveness when he did get a clean look. Now that he’s bulked up to 221 pounds that should change. The second area of Jones’ game that needs to show improvement is his receiving ability. McNair has changed Jones’ hand placement and made him a better and more confident receiver during the offseason. It’s time to show it in August.
WR Breshad Perriman
The DeSean Jackson experiment in Tampa Bay is over after two years and mixed results. When Jackson was hit with the deep ball perfectly in stride, he made big plays and scored long touchdowns for the Bucs, especially last year. Jackson had five catches of 40 yards or more last year. Jackson was traded to Philadelphia during the offseason and the team signed speedy Breshad Perriman to a one-year deal to replace him, and it’s already looking like a potential upgrade.
Perriman, a former first-round pick out of UCF by Baltimore in 2015, is nearly as fast as Jackson, and is a much bigger target at 6-foot-2, 215 pounds. That size allows Perriman to fight for jump balls. So far, it seems like Winston and Perriman are on the same page with the deep ball, which is just as big of a part of Arians’ offense as it was in Dirk Koetter’s offense.
What To Watch For: Perriman has struggled with some injuries since entering the league in Winston’s draft class, and those injuries have hampered his development in the NFL. Perriman, who averaged 21.3 yards per catch in Cleveland last year, missed some time in the OTAs due to a shoulder injury that occurred when he dove for a pass and landed hard on the ground. Staying healthy will be paramount for Perriman’s success in training camp. He has great yards-after-catch ability due to his speed and ability to break tackles and it will be interesting to see if his downfield chemistry with Winston continues.
TE Cam Brate
Imagine tearing the labrum in your hip. It would hurt to walk. It would hurt to run. It would hurt to block. Now imagine knowing it’s torn, having to play through the pain and not being about to surgically repair it for nearly six months. That’s what Brate had to go through last year when he turned down the option to go on injured reserve in August in order to help the team.
Brate recorded just 30 catches for 289 yards last year, averaging a career-low 9.6 yards per catch due to his hip injury, yet he still caught six touchdowns because he’s such a valuable receiver in the red zone for quarterback Jameis Winston. And while starting tight end O.J. Howard saw his second season end prematurely on injured reserve for a second year in a row, Brate kept on playing and producing while continually proving his worth to the team on the heels of signing a lucrative six-year $40.8 million contract extension in the 2018 offseason.
What To Watch For: Now that he’s healthy, expect to see Brate running faster when he runs at top speed this year, and he should be quicker and more fluid in and out of his breaks as he runs routes. Last year, Brate’s hands weren’t as sure as they usually are, as his concentration was effected by the pain he felt from his injured hip. Look for Brate to get back to becoming a more reliable receiver this August. Arians said that Brate came back a week early to work with the quarterbacks and the rookies and was flying around the field, which is a good sign.
Now let’s take a look at the five defensive players to watch in Tampa Bay’s 2019 training camp on the next page.