If you were lucky or brave enough to make it out to One Buc Place on a work day this morning, the final open practice of the preseason gave you a lot of excitement to make it worth your while.
For the second day in a row, the Buccaneers shared their practice facilities with the Cleveland Browns in preparation for their preseason matchup this Friday. In their first practice meeting, defenses ruled the day with interceptions and playmaking being had all over the field. In today's practice, Tampa's front seven and Cleveland's secondary shined again, but both first team offense gave the fans and the coaching staff more confidence than the day before.
Let's hit the highlights on the day
Indoor practice facilities
Hey Bucs fans, your indoor practice facility wishes are being built: pic.twitter.com/4xmMTjsbr5— Trevor Sikkema (@TrevorSikkema) August 24, 2016
Even with the time change to mornings, there were a few open practices that were rained out this year. I have no idea why it has taken this long for a team in Tampa, Florida to invest in a covered practice facility, but here we are. This was the first time I had been able to attend practice in about a week, so this was the first of me seeing it. It looks legit, and is long overdue. Not sure if there will be stands underneath -- I doubt it.
A new injury
Among the expected scratches from participation this morning (Murphy, Sweezy, etc.), staring guard Ali Marpet was seen with no pads and a walking boot. Marpet practiced yesterday and seemed fine walking off, so there was quite a bit of confusion when the beat reporters saw that this morning. Usually a boot means that player is out for a few weeks, but since it wasn't on him yesterday, we'll have to wait and see.
Evan Spencer was also out today, he still hasn't practiced since banging up his knee in the game last weekend against the Jags. He should be fine longterm, but I don't think they'll suit him up this Friday with no practice.
The tight end saga continues
If you've been following the Bucs since camp opened, the most well-followed story hasn't been where Vernon Hargreaves has been playing, or whether Noah Spence was in with the first team. It's been who in the world is going to start at tight end? We all thought it was going to be Austin Seferian-Jenkins by default, but in the early weeks of camp, that proved to not be the case; the team yanked him out of the starting role for Cameron Brate, then started to take away his participation in red zone drills.
ASJ doesn't run the best routes, but he makes the best catches out of the TE group. pic.twitter.com/RBdOIAg3kr— Trevor Sikkema (@TrevorSikkema) August 24, 2016
Little by little, however, ASJ has shown signs of life all the way up to this morning, where, when the first team trotted out in a no monkey business 11-on-11 scrimmage against Cleveland's first team, who came out at tight end and even got the first pass? Yup, Seferian-Jenkins.
ASJ proceeded to play the entire first drive in combo sets with Evans and Jackson (every Tampa fan's dream). After practice a fan asked me on Twitter if I think he's draftable in fantasy football now. I responded with: I wouldn't reach for him, but you should definitely draft him on the late end. Don't expect this roller coaster to end -- it'll continue into the season -- but Friday's game should be even more telling.
VH3 takes on Cleveland's gauntlet
It's been a fun two weeks for the first rounder. He started off camp working exclusively with the second team, basically getting any reps he could, easing into NFL game speed with the second and third-tier guys. Then head coach Dirk Koetter revealed that he was the No. 3 CB on the team despite which groups he went out with. Next, he almost had a pick-6 in his first game. Then, he had two picks in his seconds game. And now this week, he's running as the team's starting LCB on the outside with Alterraun Verner opposite him.
What the Bucs are doing -- and what I think the plan will ultimately be -- is that when the play calls for just two corners, Hargreaves plays outside with Verner. But, when the team goes into a three cornerback nickel look, VH3 plays the inside receivers and Grimes plays outside.
People tend to look at a depth chart one-dimensionally, and it just doesn't work like that. Hargreaves (or whoever) playing nickel doesn't for certain mean he's third best cornerback. It means his skill set neutralizes a matchup better against an inside receiver. Just like being a slot receiver doesn't mean you're the third best wide receiver, such is the same with corners. Think of Julian Edelman for the Patriots. He's by far their best receiver, but stays inside more than he plays a traditional WR1 role because he wins more consistently in that area. Hargreaves is the better talent than Grimes (though I do think Grimes is good), that's why he'll play outside on a two-CB look. But when the play calls for three or four CBs, it makes sense to push Hargreaves inside because Grimes is comfortable outside, and Hargreaves is more comfortable than Grimes inside.
Anyways, VH3 got a good amount of work on the outside against a very athletic Cleveland Browns receiving corps. today.
Terrelle Pryor vs. Vernon Hargreaves. Pryor brings it down. pic.twitter.com/fJ4tXYirVQ— Trevor Sikkema (@TrevorSikkema) August 24, 2016
Here's what I'm taking about when I reference being comfortable outside (something VH3 is still working on). Hargreaves has to give Pryor space due to both speed and his height -- jamming him would be pointless. So as VH3 is shuffling back, Pryor does a good job of making VH3 turn his whole body around instead of giving away the route and allowing Hargreaves to just flip his hips over. That's what ultimately led to Pryor bring it in and not taking more contact as the ball came to him.
They're running Vern through the gauntlet today. He's seen Coleman, Pryor, now here it's Gordon. pic.twitter.com/HvktN9fwQa— Trevor Sikkema (@TrevorSikkema) August 24, 2016
Here's another look, this time against Josh Gordon. Despite his time away from football, Gordon looked great today. His physique was impressive, and I didn't notice any stamina issues. At his best, this is one of the best receivers in football. On this play, Hargreaves gives up the catch, but due to his assignment, he had to. In off coverage, a cornerback's job is to keep everything in front of him. Even with the short-yard gain, look at how fast Vern breaks on the ball. That's what you want. When you're in that kind of coverage, it's all about damage control.
Hargreaves is still learning the speed of the game at the outside spot against first team wide receivers, but don't expect the learning curve to be too much. This kid is really good.
Game of zones
An encouraging note from the offense today was how it did versus zone coverage. Cleveland seemed to run zone quite a bit this morning -- whether that was just for practice's sake or it is their game plan has yet to be seen. But when they ran it, I saw plays like this a few times.
Bucs offense is tearing up Cleveland's zone with post and drag routes over the middle. pic.twitter.com/HC4NQe5SWR— Trevor Sikkema (@TrevorSikkema) August 24, 2016
Zone defense forces a lot of timing throws -- throwing to open windows instead of right at receivers. Jameis Winston does that really well, and he showed it during the scrimmages.
The point of these scrimmages is to see how each team matches up against competition around the league and not just against their own guys. My takeaway from today was that the Browns looked more more athletic, explosive and decisive than Tampa did as a whole.
The Browns have acquired some serious athletes on their team over the past few years. A lot of those guys were giving the Bucs secondary all they could handle and then some this morning. The front seven for Tampa still looked good and forced a good amount of rollouts and tackles for loss. But when I watched these two teams go up against each other side-by-side, Tampa looked out-matched in the athletic category. That's not something you want to hear, but is shouldn't be all that surprising, either. The Bucs are more of a power team than a speed team, and today proved that for me. I'm not a fan of power football over speed football, but the roster can't change over night,
From the Stands
For my last "From the Stands" feature, I go back to old reliable, Mr. Russell Shepard.
Fan: "Hey [Russell] Shepard! I got you on my fantasy team!"— Trevor Sikkema (@TrevorSikkema) August 24, 2016
Shep: "Take me off!"
Shep loves talking to the fans. As he was running a catching drill, someone yelled out that he had Shep on his fantasy team to which Shep replied, "Take me off!" That got a big laugh. He always has fun.
And as a bonus, we had a little breaking entertainment news...
RG3 and his bae. pic.twitter.com/L5cN0sn40I— Trevor Sikkema (@TrevorSikkema) August 24, 2016
It's been made known that Robert Griffin III and his wife are getting a divorce, and there were rumors that RG3 had already moved on with a new lady. Well, we put gossip rumors to rest here at Bucs Nation. RG3 moves on quick.
With this being the final open practice of the preseason, it was also the last one I am able to cover without a media pass. I've really enjoyed writing these updates for you all and interacting with you guys on Twitter; this stuff is always fun. I'll still write recaps for the final two preseason games, but won't be able to give you #content from any of the practices. I've talked with Sander about being a regular contributor with reports and recaps once the season starts, but I'm not sure if I have the time to do it. If I do, I'd love to stay a contributing part to this community, but if not, I'll still be around!
Thanks for making this a fun platform to write for, and Go Bucs.