After selecting just one defensive player – middle linebacker Kwon Alexander – in the last two drafts, the Buccaneers were destined to have a defensive-laden draft class in 2016. Tampa Bay selected cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III with its first-round pick and came back and picked defensive end Noah Spence in the second round. But there is one offensive draft pick that has Bucs fans buzzing and that’s former Northwestern “Superback” Danny Vitale.
Part tight end, part H-back, part fullback, Vitale will play multiple roles in Tampa Bay. His muscular build, and blue-collar work ethic and Chicago background are reminiscent of legendary Bucs Pro Bowl fullback Mike Alstott, who happens to be a native of Joliet, Illinois and a role model for Vitale.
Although a sixth-round pick, Vitale is a near lock to make the roster as he has already endeared himself to Tampa Bay’s personnel department and coaching staff after a very successful offseason catching the football in the team’s OTAs and mini-camp. He’s a big-play receiver from the slot, the backfield or the tight end position that has already developed a rapport with quarterback Jameis Winston and a player that could develop into a fan favorite with some success on the field as a rookie.
With multiple entries over the next four weeks, Vitale will be sharing his training camp story exclusively with PewterReport.com readers in his Bucs Camp Diary. Follow along as Vitale navigates his way through his first NFL training camp, adjusts to the heat and humidity and establishes himself as a weapon in Dirk Koetter’s offense.
GOING IN PADS IS WHEN IT GETS RAMPED UP
By Danny Vitale as told to Mark Cook
Coming from the state of Illinois, I’m definitely not acclimated to this heat yet. I started feeling pretty good during OTAs and minicamp and obviously going home was a little different. I tried to workout outside as much as I could. It’s not the same, but just being outside with no AC – I needed to do that.
Now that I’m down here it’s going to be hotter than blazes out here in August. It’ll take a bit of time, but I’m not too worried about that. I’m staying hydrated and do what I need to do to get my body right. That’s an advantage for us when we play teams who play in the cold and they come down here in November, though. I think that’s going to be an advantage for us.
With my choice of agent Leigh Steinberg, I had a couple of guys I was talking to before I made my final decision. Leigh and his partner, Chris Cabott, were always there for me no matter what I needed. It really came down to who was going to work hardest for me. Seeing a guy like Leigh, who was at the top and kind of hit rock bottom, for me, being able to hit rock bottom and get himself back to where he is today was an eye-opener. That’s somebody who wants to do some great things in the world. Not only with his guys in football, but outside of football as well. So that was a huge eye-opener for me.
His partner, Chris, as well, is just super, super hungry. He works his butt off. Those guys have become an extended family to my family as well.
As far as a noticeable difference between college football and the NFL, there are some differences, but really no one is that much faster or bigger or anything like that. Everyone just plays so smart. Everybody is in postition – where they’re supposed to be and when they’re supposed to be there. That’s why there are so many good football players at this level, especially the defensive guys. That’s huge for them.
We’re on offense and there are certain places they can’t cover on the field and our job is to get it into those spots. That’s what makes the quarterback so great. It’s just that talent level. The big shift comes not necessarily in speed and strength, but being where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there. That’s what I’ve noticed for sure.
The preparation between college and the NFL is similar in how much time it takes up. It’s very similar, but the detail level bumps up 10 notches. In terms of not only where you are supposed to be when you’re running your routes, but even your alignment pre-snap, depending on the coverage they give you. It really challenges your football intelligence in terms of what coverage they are running out there and what kind of defensive front are they throwing at us. That’s why we go through the installs multiple times – not just one time.
Obviously, the first day of pads is what everyone is looking forward to. Going in pads is when it gets ramped up. At first I wasn’t sure how amped up it was going to be. Once I got down to it and took a couple of hits I figured it out. Coach [Jon] Embree had to get on my case a couple times and that’s part of it. You have to figure it out.
On Monday, in our second day of pads, I mean from a personal standpoint, I turned it up a lot in terms of physicality. I said the other day I wasn’t sure what to expect when I got out here at first. Today, I amped it up.
I feel a lot better from a team aspect, at least from the offense’s perspective. This was the first time we faced adversity in the live blitz period, and that’s what Jameis Winston and Joe Hawley were saying. We are tired, it’s hot, it’s the second day in pads, so we need to focus, and that’s what’s going to win us championships – us focusing when we face adversity when it gets hard. The defense played great today – lots of turnovers, balls punched out. They did phenomenal. They had a great practice.
Probably my best play came on Sunday, which was a long touchdown catch. It was just a little bit of misdirection coming back across the formation. We’re trying to high-low the defense there and they left the low area open. I got the ball and after that you just got to turn up field and make a play. I got a great block from a receiver down field as well.
That’s how you win football games. You have guys doing their job – and more – through the whistle. That’s incredibly important, especially for those receivers. When you have guys that are willing to do that, you know the team is going to be pretty special.
I am looking forward to the first non-practice day (on Tuesday) – absolutely! My goal is to get in that cold tub, get my legs recovered and honestly study the playbook as much as I can to prepare myself for the next week. So as far as I’m concerned, it’s not really a day off – it’s just another day to prepare and get better.
The next edition of Danny Vitale’s Bucs Training Camp Diary will be later this week after the first full week of training camp. Please follow him on Twitter at @RealDannyVitale
Be sure visit PewterReport.com multiple times throughout the day during training camp for new stories and updates from practice live from One Buccaneer Place, and follow us on Twitter at @PewterReport.