In their final practice before the second pre-season game of the year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Miami Dolphins met up again to continue their joint development as they march towards the regular season.
Good news is, the Bucs probably came out of this week’s events a bit healthier than they entered them. Let’s break down what we saw.
Bucs Winning Individuals
1-on-1 drills are easily slanted towards the offense winning, especially in passing drills. One defender, no pass rush, it usually works out pretty well. Still, this doesn’t make every play an easy one.
This fact is something Chris Godwin and Justin Watson readily demonstrated today in the early portions of the joint practice. I got a pretty good video of Godwin’s catch over Dolphins defensive back Xavien Howard, but Trevor Sikkema of Pewter Report got a better one.
Early wins are always a good precursor to practice, especially when the team is facing an actual opponent instead of going against teammates.
As the team’s wrapped up their initial drills, they moved inside for the second-day in a row for the squad-on-squad portion of the practice.
I focused most of my attention today on the Buccaneers defensive unit, but I did catch an early interception thrown by Jameis Winston which had deflected off of tight end Cameron Brate’s extended hands and subsequently scooped by Dolphins defensive back Reshad Jones.
Watching the Buccaneers defensive units going up against the Dolphins offense, a few things stood out. Some good, some bad.
The big thing for fans of the team to understand is, this defense is aggressive. I’m sorry, I meant, Aggressive.
Early on, Deone Bucannon had a solid tackle behind the line of scrimmage, Jordan Whitehead got between the football and Miami tight end Mike Gesicki, and M.J. Stewart not only called an out rout by wide receiver Kenny Stills, he attacked it hard and made a solid play and then Carlton Davis III came up with a strong pass break up that got some cheers from fans in attendance. It looked real good early.
But the curse with aggressive, I’m sorry - Aggressive defenses is and always has been the potential for getting beat big. As offenses start to pick up on your particular brand of aggressiveness - I’m done now, thanks - they also start to come up with ways to beat it.
This happened hear as well. And shortly after the strong start for the Bucs defense, we saw cornerback Ryan Smith get burned by wide receiver Tenton Irwin (Who? Yeah, me too). This was followed by Kenny Stills gashing the first team defense for what would have been a touchdown in two-hand touch, flag and real football.
Then, Kalen Ballage took a screen to the house untouched. All because the Dolphins offense used the Bucs’ defensive aggressiveness against them. Obviously this is something the unit knows will come in the regular season, so seeing it now and learning how to win against it is crucial.
The defense did eventually correct out of the skid, and performed well overall against the Dolphins throughout the day. Not perfect by any means, but improved compared to Sunday and should continue to get better moving forward.
The New Guy
New Buccaneers safety Darian Stewart got on the field today with the second unit.
Veteran S Darian Stewart signed with the Bucs yesterday and understandably didn’t get on the field much in that morning’s practice, but he’s seeing a lot of snaps with the second team today. Bruce Arians said yesterday that Stewart is smart and would pick it up quick.— Scott Smith (@ScottSBucs) August 14, 2019
Overall, Stewart did well considering the limited exposure he’s had to the system. I spoke with him after practice and he says he feels good about the defense and enjoys the aggressive style Bowles’ defense likes to play in.
He confirmed his strong safety role, and expects to get some snaps in on Friday night while not expecting to play as much as he’d probably like to.
The veteran played fast and looked like a guy who has been doing this for a minute. He’s weird that way. If Stewart can contribute for this team as two of its young safeties continue to mend, it would go a long way to stabilizing a defense which has been on a shaky bridge of sorts with lots of injuries to key players this off and pre-season.
The First Rounder
I wanted to keep a close eye on Devin White when the first team defense was on the field. One, because he’s Devin White and I wanted to watch him. Just being honest. I also wanted to see his closing speed up close and personal and keep an eye on his coverage skills.
Yesterday, head coach Bruce Arians mentioned White specifically referring to growing pains from installing the new defense, saying, “The hardest thing is getting used to playing press man-to-man when you’ve been a zone team - as much man as we play - and the combination of zone and man. A young man like Devin [White] - he’s played man-to-man most of his life and now he’s dropping zones.”
It may be a steep learning curve, but White is handling it. On one rep specifically, White dropped into his zone but didn’t get as deep as he could have, and quarterback Josh Rosen hit his receiver right over White’s head. In Madden it would have been an interception. In real life it went just over the linebacker’s outstretched arms and into his receiver’s bread basket.
The rookie was clearly frustrated with himself. But soon after he had another rep and another zone coverage to fill. This time, he fell deeper and forced a check down which he quickly closed in on. So fast in fact, a Dolphins fan in the front row literally asked where White had come from.
Speaking of closing speed. White has tons of it. One longtime Tampa media member told me today White reminds him of a young Derrick Brooks. High praise indeed.
In a fun moment, I got to witness White’s closing speed head on as Rosen scrambled towards the sideline - and me - as the linebacker was in pursuit. White let out what I can only describe as a ‘war cry’ as Rosen got to the sideline, and I’m not going to admit to flinching a bit. But I flinched a bit.
If you’ve never seen a first-round draft pick screaming for your face while seated on a sideline. It’s fun....after it’s over.
Forced to identify the principle flaw in White’s zone coverage skills, I’d say he needs to trust his own ability to close. This will give him the confidence needed to get deep enough in his zones when needed, while ensuring opposing offenses get little to no yards after the catch when dumping off in front of him.
Ties are Acceptable in the Pre-Season
After two days of competition I’d say the teams ended, in a tie. Both teams won certain moments and situations, while they lost some others.
Both teams showed potential of the final products they hope to become. Today specifically, Mike Evans returned for an encore performance against Xavien Howard and torched the Dolphins defensive back for a big play early in the full squad scenarios.
Jameis Winston goes deep down the right sideline and hits the home run pass to Mike Evans, Xavier Howard in coverage.— Taylor Jenkins (@TJenkinsTampa) August 14, 2019
Later, with the second-team offense, running back Dare Ogunbawale whiffed big in pass protection leading to Blaine Gabbert being ‘sacked’. On the next play he bounced back and not only chipped his guy effectively, but he then shook his linebacker and got wide open for a connection to regain those previously lost yards, plus some.
Other depth guys who showed up today were Terry Buckner who had a nice pass deflection against a Dolphins quarterback, and Raheem Nunez-Roches who single handedly destroyed the Miami offense on a play during goal line drills, dropping the running back well behind the line of scrimmage.
Speaking of Goal Line
The Buccaneers and Dolphins went full contact today during their goal line series and the Winston led first-team showed out.
Winston has been getting praise for his red zone work, and he showed more of the same today looking calm and poised while sifting through the Miami defense to find O.J. Howard for a score.
On the play previous to that one, Peyton Barber cleared the pile completely and landed on the other end of it, in the end zone. Ronald Jones wasn’t so fortunate as his goal line carry was met by teal jerseys in the backfield before he really had a chance to do anything.
Near the end of practice the Miami Dolphins third-team offense was flagged for a holding penalty. I don’t know who it was called against, but I know linemen Will Holden and Isaiah Prince got into a little shoving and trash talking match before being separated by teammates.
Ok. So it wasn’t a fight. But Arians said there wouldn’t be any, and his word was proven correct. So I figured I’d share the closest thing I saw to a fight with you fine folks.
That wraps up our practice coverage for this week. We’re off tomorrow and then back for the match-up between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Miami Dolphins for Week 2 of the 2019 NFL Pre-Season!