Now that I will be watching practice afar from my residence in Nashville, I figured it’d be a good idea to summarize the main points of what I was able to witness in person at Bucs’ training camp over the past week.
None of this is set in stone. We still have a long way to go, but as far as trends go, these are storylines worth monitoring as camp progresses.
Be sure to check out updates from Gil Arcia, Bailey Adams, and David Harrison as they will be attending camp over the coming weeks!
1. This coaching staff is a breath of fresh air.
From the media availability of Byron Leftwich and Todd Bowles to the calming presence of Bruce Arians during post-practice media huddles, this staff is a confident one that knows exactly what needs to be done to not only make this team better, but win games, as well.
Don’t get me wrong, this is just my second year of semi-covering this team in person, but there is a stark contrast surrounding the functionality of this football team compared to last season.
A hands-on approach combined with a no-nonsense attitude has overtaken One Buc and that’s for the better. When you add in crystal-clear communication, it’s hard not to get excited for the future.
It’s important to remain patient, though. This year will likely be filled with ups and downs due to the fact that we still don’t actually know what was the root of back-to-back, five-win seasons.
But this team seems to be standing on solid ground as of now, and the NFL is all about the present.
2. Ronald Jones II has a good shot at the starting job.
I’ll admit, I figured RoJo would have a better camp than last year, but at the same time, there was nowhere to go but up after last year. So, naturally, any type of improvement would be good news, no matter how small.
Flash forward to a couple of months later and not only has RoJo improved, but he is leaps and bounds from where he was a year ago.
He’s finding running lanes, breaking tackles, catching passes, picking up blitzes - he’s doing everything that is expected of the No. 38 overall pick right now.
Over the last two practices, he’s been receiving more reps with the first-teamers. Arians even said earlier in the week that it’s going to be a “helluva 1-2 punch” at RB.
I love Peyton Barber and I’ve been on record saying that I think he is a No. 1 back, but as we all know, it’s better to have two good running backs instead of one.
3. The wide receiver group is a strong one, but what else is new?
One would expect a drop-off - no matter how steep - after the Bucs lost Adam Humphries and traded Desean Jackson over the offseason, but after the first week, I’m not so sure that will happen.
Breshad Perriman and Justin Watson look like a natural fits for this offense and the trio of Scotty Miller, Bobo Wilson, and Anthony Johnson have made plays on the regular throughout camp.
All of these guys should be able to contribute if they make the active roster, so don’t pick favorites with this group. Whomever makes the final roster will have been the best choice.
4. Jameis Winston is in a good spot.
Not only is this coaching staff confident that he can get the job done, but they are doing everything in their power to make sure that happens.
From realizing Winston’s weakness(es) to making sure they do everything in their power to make him comfortable in a new offense, the confidence in their coaching is bleeding over into an already-confident Winston.
Leftwich and co. know that Winston’s decision-making is what needs to be improved the most. If you’ve followed him closely over the past few years, it’s hard to argue against that.
Regardless of the past, this is arguably the best position he’s been in since arriving in the NFL.
5. The defense should be a top-20 defense.
In case you haven’t been following the reports from camp, the defense - especially the secondary - has been the talk of camp thus far.
The defensive backfield has been fast, aggressive, and impactful throughout the first week, which could accelerate the overall development of the entire defense. The defensive line has made more plays over the last few practices, as well. And let’s not forget the linebackers, either. The combination of accelerated play from the first and third levels of the defense have allowed them to make their own impact, as well.
This could mean that the unit finishes 20th at year’s end, but to me, that would be a major improvement. Especially for a unit that finished dead-last in the NFL in terms of defensive efficiency, per Football Outsiders.
6. The kicking battle will last throughout the preseason, unless....
Someone starts missing a lot of kicks in camp, which certainly hasn’t been the case so far. Both Cairos Santos and Matt Gay have performed well, so as of now, I don’t know if there is a clear front runner for the job.
It will be interesting to see how the staff splits reps during the preseason games and how they make their evaluations off said performances.
7. Vita Vea will be a difference-maker.
I’m not just saying this to be pump up the 12th pick of the 2018 NFL Draft, nor am I saying this to comfort anyone who is looking for a major step forward from Vea this year.
Bowles knows how to use this kid to his best talents and it’s shown so far in camp. Tampa Bay’s defensive coordinator has Vea lining up all over the defensive front and he’s made play after play - especially here lately - in response.
Whether its playing nose, 3T, or 5T, the second-year player has made the most of his opportunities. When you combine that with his supporting cast in Ndamukong Suh, Lavonte David, Devin White, and others - it’s hard to not get excited over what Vea can do in 2019.
8. The offensive line is still a question, but....
That could change as camp continues.
As I’ve said before, the offensive and defensive lines are at the biggest disadvantage during the beginning stages of training camp and that’s to be expected.
The big guys can’t really do much in shorts and shoulder pads, especially when it comes to executing blocks, maneuvers, or any semblance of game-technique against their own teammates. At the same time, however, Arians has stressed a need for the depth to get better throughout camp.
And that of itself is a big deal. The trenches are known for its volatility when it comes to injuries, so if the Bucs were to lose a starter due to injury, it could leave a major void in terms of on-the-field production.
But when you go back to the first point, it’s easy to have faith that this staff will at least get something figured out before the season starts.
Now, it’s time for me to get a little personal.
I know reporting/publishing news is supposed to be unbiased and I like to keep it that way with my work. Sometimes, however, it is important to add your own personal flair to certain pieces, write-ups, analysis - whatever - to allow you to connect with your readers.
I’m not going to take the “feelz” approach with what’s happened in camp during these next few paragraphs. Instead, I would like to express my gratitude, fortune, and sheer happiness that I was able to spend a week and a half in Tampa Bay watching this team do its thing.
When I first graduated college, I was your typical, the-world-will-come-to-me, 20-something year-old. I did everything I was told to do in school. I took my required courses and prerequisites, but I also took production classes, worked at the campus TV station, and held an internship with a local news station.
I sent out maybe 5-6 applications during the weeks prior to graduation and in hindsight, I should’ve sent out around 50-60. While hindsight is always 20/20, it’s also a motherf%$@#! when you look back and realize you could’ve done more.
Not to make excuses - or brag - but one of the reasons why I didn’t make much of an effort to get a job was because I went through a two-month long interview/hiring process for a production assistant position with ESPN. This began around two weeks after graduation. During that time - being the inane kid I was - I figured there’s no way in hell I wouldn’t get that job.
Well, sure enough, I didn’t get the job. I made it to the “semifinals” but lost out to someone who was better than I was.
So what did I do? Well, I picked up a job serving tables and continued to pick and choose where I wanted to go career-wise, which in return handicapped me and essentially phased me out of any chance of getting a job that would not only begin my career, but one that could become a stepping stone toward a higher position in the sports reporting world.
What made matters worse, the jobs I did apply for, I never heard back from anyone involved with the process. Not one word. Ghosted, as the kids like to say these days.
At one point and time, I thought to myself: Is this really what I’m supposed to do? Sure, everyone has dreams, but are mine a lost cause?
That period of reflection was not only humbling, but motivating. I knew right then and there that if I wanted to do this for a living, it would be up to me - myself and no one else - to get it done. It was time to work and leave the excuses off the table. There was no other direction or route to take at this point.
I wrote for this crappy little website for about two years and it was unpaid gig, but it was an organized outlet that allowed me to get my voice out. Regardless, it was tough, especially when trying to make ends meet with a job that actually makes you money.
I started my own website which lasted about an entire two months before I went back to writing for the aforementioned website, which had taken a major turn for the worse at that point. A few months later, the site was a distant memory which no longer existed.
Four years removed from school with no updated work is a tough, tough situation for someone to be in, especially in this line of work. If you’re not up to date in terms of product, content, or knowledge, most places aren’t even going to think once about looking at your resume.
Fortunately, I stumbled upon Bucs Nation and Gil Arcia, who had just taken over as manager. With a stroke of luck, he hired me and the rest is history.
I say all of this as a prelude (and a damned long one, at that) before thanking not only Gil and our staff of amazing writers, but before thanking you, the reader, as well.
Without you, this doesn’t happen. We don’t happen. Covering the Bucs doesn’t happen. To see many of you - old faces and new - routinely checking in (and commenting) on our work is a breath of fresh air for someone who has always questioned whether or not they were meant to do this. Whether it’s criticism, approval, or a means of discourse - the interactions with all of you mean everything to us. Regardless if we agree or disagree, the conversation is always there and you always come back for more.
I also want to say that if you’re chasing your dream: don’t ever give up. Ever. No matter who tells you what you can’t do, what you think you can’t do, or if you don’t know how to get it done - just find a way.
It may be as simple as starting a blog about your local little league baseball team or a journal about a relative that is trying to make it as a pro athlete. Whatever it is, just get it done and say it in the manner that you think it should be said in.
Granted, I still have a long way to go. This isn’t a full-time, fully-paid gig, but I am grateful for that. When you have to work for your goals, it opens up a whole new world for appreciation of the little things. It’s a step on the ladder that I’ve been ever-so fortunate to experience and it’s also something that I’ll never forget.
So, again, I am so grateful for all of you and cannot wait to continue to provide as much information as I can!