The first or Tampa Bay’s two-week training camp in full pads is in the books and it’s time to find out which Buccaneers really stood out and started camp with a bang. Here are a dozen stand outs in pewter and red. We’ll have half a dozen Buccaneers that aren’t hot on the second page of the article.
QB Tom Brady
Table of Contents
Bucs QB Tom Brady – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
The 21-year veteran has been everything the Bucs had hoped he would be – and more – since signing with Tampa Bay in March. Despite not having an offseason program due to COVID-19, Brady organized voluntary workouts at nearby Berkeley Prep and began building relationships, rapport and on-field chemistry with his teammates. Since the start of training camp, Brady has impressed with his leadership, his accuracy and a live arm. The six-time Super Bowl champion has been more accurate with his passes than predecessor Jameis Winston was, especially the deep ball. Brady hit Scotty Miller and Mike Evans with deep shot dimes on the first two days of training camp. That has probably been the most impressive aspect to his on-field performance – the accurate deep ball that proves he still has the arm strength to push the ball down the field in Bruce Arians’ vertical offense.
DT Rakeem “Nacho” Nunez-Roches
Nunez-Roches re-signed with the Bucs on a one-year deal and was told to add some size to replace backup nose tackle Beau Allen, who wasn’t brought back. Nunez has added close to 15 pounds of muscle and is close to 320 pounds and has been a wrecking ball up front for Tampa Bay’s defense. Nunez-Roches is the camp motor of Tampa Bay’s defensive line, full of energy and always running his mouth. Nunez-Roches also has the versatility and quickness to play defensive tackle and will be definitely be in the mix for playing time this fall.
WR Mike Evans
Bucs WR Mike Evans – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Evans has dazzled in training camp and looks like he’s on a mission. With another 1,000-yard receiving season in 2020 he’ll break Randy Moss’ record for six consecutive 1,000-yard seasons to start a career in the NFL. Evans is now playing with a living legend in Brady and wants to reach legendary status himself. Evans looks leaner – perhaps 220 or less – and even faster this year. Brady loves throwing the ball up to Tampa Bay’s resident skywalker, as Evans has routinely made plays up and over defensive backs during the first week camp. If he’s healthy for all 16 games in 2020 look for more records to fall.
TE Rob Gronkowski
He may have lost a bit of a step in terms of his speed at age 31, but Gronkowski is still plenty effective in the passing game, and he’s the best tight end on the roster. Gronkowski knows how to get open in zone coverage by finding the sweet spots and openings between veterans like the savvy veteran he is. He always goes to the sticks and presents himself as a target for Brady, with whom he has a tremendous rapport. In man coverage, Gronkowski still has enough left in the tank to get past defenders – either with his legs or by using a subtle, veteran push off. The five-time Pro Bowler hasn’t been shy about spreading his knowledge around and has been seen talking to O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate and the other tight ends in one-on-one conversations about how they can improve their game. His loose, fun-loving personality keeps practices lively and has already made him a team favorite.
WR Scotty Miller
Evans isn’t the only receiver turning heads in Bucs camp. Miller makes this list because he has a slight edge over Justin Watson for the third receiver spot on the depth chart. Miller has successfully avoiding the hamstring injuries that plagued his rookie season and he’s shown the speed to take the top off the defense virtually every practice, whether it’s on a catch-and-run route underneath or a deep bomb. Miller is developing a good rapport with Brady and has done a great job of quickly getting open and presenting himself as a target – whether it’s outside or in the slot. Miller is also in the mix for the punt return duties, especially with T.J. Logan’s season-ending knee injury.
CB Parnell Motley
Bucs CB Parnell Motley – Photo by: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Motley has outperformed reserve veteran cornerbacks Ryan Smith and Mazzi Wilkins in practice and is in the mix for Tampa Bay’s fifth cornerback spot behind starters Carlton Davis, Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting. He’s got really good ball skills to go with his 6-foot, 180-pound frame and the Oklahoma product has shown that the game isn’t too big for him. He’s stepped in front of Evans to pick off a pass and break up another. It’s a shame that there aren’t any preseason games for Motley’s learning curve to be accelerated as he’s been one of the bigger surprises in camp thus far.
TE O.J. Howard
As good as Gronkowski has been, Howard might have been just as good during the first week of pads, capping off the week with a 70-yard touchdown pass from Blaine Gabbert on Friday. Howard has been soaking up Gronkowski’s tips and tricks like a sponge during practice. Howard seems determined to have a rebound season and looks locked in and focused. Howard will team with Gronkowski in Tampa Bay’s two tight end sets and seems poised for a really solid year.
S Mike Edwards
Out of all the team’s defensive backs, Edwards has flashed the most, and is playing with newfound confidence. Following a quiet rookie season where Edwards was replaced at free safety by veteran Andrew Adams after the Bucs secondary surrendered too many 300-yard passing days, the second-year safety looks more than competent roaming the defensive backfield. With a mix of big hits and some plays on the ball, Edwards, who was the first player to pick off Brady, has impressed enough to be a leading candidate to start at safety heading into the second week of pads.
LT Donovan Smith
Bucs LT Donovan Smith – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Smith is having a great start to camp and is locked in like never before. Perhaps it’s “the Brady effect” but Smith has been steady and consistent in pass protection. Smith, who has come to camp in great shape, is essentially entering a contract year, as the final year of his deal in 2021 doesn’t contain any guaranteed money. So far so good for Smith.
RB Ronald Jones II
Jones has split carries with newcomers LeSean McCoy, Ke’Shawn Vaughn and Raymond Calais in camp, in addition to holdover Dare Ogunbowale, but has made the most of his opportunities. Jones has added some size and is up to 225 pounds and has powered through some arm tackle attempts in practice to rip off several long runs up the middle and outside. Jones may not be a 25-carry per game back, but he should get 15-20 carries and be even more effective with those runs in 2020.
K Elliott Fry
In one of the biggest surprises of training camp, Fry is outkicking incumbent Matt Gay. Fry was brought in to challenge Gay and is doing just that. While he doesn’t have Gay’s booming leg, he can hit from 50 yards and has proven to be much more consistent and accurate. Fry was 3-of-4 on field goals last preseason in Chicago and was 14-of-14 kicking for Orlando in the defunct AAF. If Gay doesn’t rebound quickly Fry will be Tampa Bay’s kicker in 2020. He has not fared worse than 4-of-5 in any of the practices yet.
S Antoine Winfield, Jr.
Bucs S Antoine Winfield, Jr. – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
It’s only a matter of time before Tampa Bay’s second-round pick winds up as a starter. Simply put, Winfield is a quick learner, and a smart play-maker. He’s been a ball magnet in practice, leaping to make a diving end zone interception one day and punching the ball out of a receiver’s hands and then recovering the fumble. Winfield, whose father was an NFL cornerback, has the ability to play centerfield, in the box or in the slot covering slot receivers.
CLICK PAGE 2 TO SEE WHO HAS NOT BEEN HOT IN BUCS CAMP
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th 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 sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com