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.
“I WANT TO BE A GUY WHO CAN BE A PRO BOWL FULLBACK IN HIS FIRST SEASON”
By Danny Vitale as told to Scott Reynolds
During the summer break I went home to Chicago – back in Wheaton – and I had a great time. It was great to see family and old friends, especially high school friends. I stopped by my high school a couple times and watch them start their season. They had summer camps, so I went and talked to the guys there and there’s a huge 7-on-7 camp there with 35 teams from all over the country and I got to talk to all those teams and coaches as well. That was a fun experience.
I went downtown a ton, which was a lot of fun, obviously. Northwestern is close to the city as well, so going downtown is always a great time. Went to a couple weddings. My cousin got married on July 3 and then one of my old teammates from Northwestern got married like a week later, so it was great to see those people and see some familiar faces. But in terms of what I was doing the whole time, it wasn’t really a vacation. I know what I have to do as soon as I get down there and I have to be in the best shape possible.
So for me it was all working out. I was running pretty much every single day, running at my high school on the bleachers. I was flipping tires some days and running long distance other days. There’s a big course by my house, so they had a huge sledding hill. This time a year isn’t too good for sledding, obviously, so I was running that hill. I felt like I did a great job staying in shape and I’ll be ready to go down here. Overall, just a great time off but it’s time to get back to business.
I thought the OTAs and the mini-camp went well. Obviously there’s not too much you can tell when you’re in helmets only. But as far as learning everything, it got easier every day, which is a good thing. Even adding more plays and everything like that, I felt like I was becoming more comfortable with how things are run around here and how it all works. Overall, it was just a fun experience and I’m just excited to get back to football.
This is going to be one of those times where I’m just the most excited – my first experience as an NFL football player. Like I said earlier, this is real football now. My excitement level is high. I just have to learn as quickly as possible and play the game I know how to play. I’m looking forward to it.
Having some young guys on the team – Jameis Winston and Mike Evans and guys like Cameron Brate, who’s in my position room – and hanging out with those younger guys – we’re all relatable. We all understand each other and what makes us tick. I think that’s a huge advantage for me, in terms of being a younger guy and coming on to a young team. Having that reliability and being on the same wavelength in terms of, not only football, but outside of football, as well – it’s great. It’s easy to build relationships that way.
That being said, having some older guys with a lot of experience like Luke Stocker and Brandon Myers – it’s also awesome to have guys like that. They’ve been around for a long time and can kind of drag us along and show us how it’s done and how to be better professionals and everything like that. It’s nice to have that young factor, but it’s also cool to have older guys who have been there and done that.
It’s awesome having a position coach like Jon Embree who’s that experienced, especially in our tight ends room. We just got right down to business and he started coaching us and we help each other. He helps us and we help him understand what we’re seeing on the field as well, which is awesome having a coach who understands that, what the players see and things like that.
He’s coached guys like Chris Cooley, who have kind of had my similar skill-set in the past. Cooley is a guy I kind of idolize so having that comparison is obviously pretty cool but you have to live up to it as well. So that’s something I’m striving to do every single day.
We don’t have any true fullbacks on our team because the tight ends kind of took over the role of fullback. So Luke and I, and I’m sure Cam Brate, will play a little fullback as well. We kind of took over that role, so we’re doing that in our tight end room. Our running backs coach, Tim Spencer, I’ve built kind of a good relationship with him as well. So if I see him in the hallway I’ll shoot questions at him as well.
He’s still helping me out as a fullback, which is great. It’s not a formal meeting sitting down and watching film, but we’re watching the same practice film every day, so if he sees something he’s not afraid to come up to me and tell me I have to do this or I have to do that. And then if I have questions as well, I’m not afraid to ask him. It’s a cool relationship.
Rookie camp began on Monday, and so far it’s just kind of been meetings in the mornings, just going over those early installs that we learned a little while ago in OTAs and minicamp. This is our third or fourth time going through it now, which is great because now we can get down to the nitty gritty stuff and the small details. Now we’re learning the game within the game, as coach Embree would say. And that’s what’s fun about football, when you can get better not only at knowing what you’re doing but becoming a great football player off the field.
Jameis Winston is very interesting. He’s a great guy off the field. I think what people don’t see – obviously off the screen – whatever it is, he’s got it figured out. He’s there during OTAs and the mini-camp and we don’t have to be there until 8:00 a.m., but he’s there at 5:00 a.m. every morning, watching film by himself and doing what he needs to do. And then the vets were done probably around 1:30 p.m. and rookies at around 3:30 p.m. That guy was there until 5:00 p.m. doing the same thing, watching film and perfecting his game.
I think it’s something a lot of people don’t see. But now that I’m down here and I see that, he’s got it all figured out. He had a great rookie season and I think he’s going to have a phenomenal second season as well, which is exciting – especially for a guy like me who will be catching passes from him. Jameis is cool. He’s there to help us out as rookies and he’s been a cool guy to talk to in terms of my route running. It’s cool to get on the same page as him.
What was also cool was meeting former Bucs Pro Bowl fullback Mike Alstott. I remember watching him as a kid, and then there was the NFL Street video game and I would always pick him first. He had to be my running back! I grew up loving him.
As my life has gone on here, we’ve had a lot in common – we’re both Illinois guys, we both went on to play at Big 10 schools, we both No. 40 and then we both wound up in Tampa Bay. We have a lot in common. I got to sit down and talk to him, really about anything, which was cool. I talked to him about back home and then football, working out and work ethic. It was a great experience.
He’s kind of like an unofficial mentor for me. Mike gave me his number and said if I ever needed anything to give him a call, or if I want to meet with him, go to Top Golf – whatever it is – he said he’d come do that. It’s really cool to have a guy who’s still involved in the organization like he is and he’s willing to help younger guys like me.
Obviously as a rookie, it’s hard to say what your role is going to be exactly. But I’ve always been a guy who likes to set my sights really high – set high goals and try to achieve them. I’ll be listed as a tight end, but I want to be a guy who can be a Pro Bowl fullback in his first season. I want to play with that kind of confidence and do some big things here. I know I can do it. I just have to show everyone else I can do it as well. Go out there on the field, that’s all that matters. That’s what I would like to do.
I definitely appreciate you Bucs fans warmly welcoming me to Tampa Bay. You can follow me on Twitter at @RealDannyVitale. This is an awesome experience for me, and I hope you guys enjoy this journey as much as I do.
The next edition of Danny Vitale’s Bucs Training Camp Diary will be this weekend after the first day of training camp in full pads. Be sure to 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.