Opening up training camp, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense took-off like a jet, at least it seemed that way. Fast, impressive and drawing the attention of anyone close enough to lay their eyes on them.
Just like a jet though, there are two parts. Ok, there are many more parts, but for this analogy we’re going to simplify things a bit. For any aircraft to get off the ground, one part has to move ahead of the other. Eventually though, the tail catches up to the nose and things level out a bit. From there, staying in the air is a dance requiring one end to rise higher if the other dips a little lower.
There are more layers to this analogy of course, but we’re going to focus on the take-off for now. Because this is where we are. OTAs, mini-camps, all of those represented the taxiing down the runway. Training camp is where we lift off and find out if the parts are going to hold together or not.
The nose of the plane, is the defense. And it took off beautifully while the tail (the offense) did everything in its power to stay attached and keep pace.
Now though, nearing the end of one full week of work, the offense and defense appear to be on the same level and things are evening out a bit.
Talking to media after practice on Saturday, head coach Bruce Arians had this to say about how he felt now that the offense was starting to catch up to the defense, “...it’s probably the second time through all the defenses now. We’ve seen just about everything we can do over there defensively, and they’re studying it, and it’s a lot easier the second time around.”
The head coach is saying what many - although not all - media members watching the practices have been saying.
Byron Leftwich’s offense has been tasked with an almost impossible mission in the beginning stages of training camp. Learn and implement a new offense, all while facing a defense with literally no tendencies. No pattern. Nothing to study or anticipate.
Now, and this was Arians’ point, the offense has something to read. Imagine playing the same defense every day for a week. Eventually you’re going to start learning things, and this is where the playing field evens out a bit.
This is where we get to more traditional football where the offense has the inherent advantage of knowing what’s coming, instead of the defense.
When we get to the regular season, the team will have film to study and tendencies to learn from. Not much, but even a week’s worth can be valuable, as we see here.
But this improved offensive performance displays another important growth trait: Resiliency. This offense is young. Jameis Winston is still younger than Eli Manning was when he won his first playoff game. Ronald Jones is a second-year running back with minimal in-game NFL experience. Mike Evans, the aged veteran of the skill players is nearing his 26th birthday.
When you’re as young as this offense is, resiliency is huge. The ability to struggle, get beat, and come back from it with fire is critical. The steady improvement witnessed by those on ground like Evan Winter and Bailey Adams of Bucs Nation is bigger than just placing the ball in the right place. It’s about winning when you haven’t been.
Getting better in these instances creates more winning. And the Buccaneers as a whole are going to get another chance to show resiliency on Monday as the team comes back for the second-time this training camp following a day off.
Last time, it didn’t go so well, “The last time we had a day off, the night practice was the worst practice we had”, Arians said, “Now we’re coming back at eight in the morning and we’ve talked about it. We can’t come out here and be lethargic. We should be outside, which will be nice [to be] on grass and hopefully the weather will continue next week. But yeah, that’s been huge. We should be jacked up with the national anthem and the military guys there. That’s why we’re fluctuating the temperature in here.”
The defense opened training camp as the stars of the show. Group celebrations, touchdowns, the whole nine-yards. Here lately, the offense has roared back with big plays of their own. Usual suspects like Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and of course Jameis Winston have been involved. But Ronald Jones’ impressive performances - in pads - have been big as well.
I’d say the tail has gotten up to altitude with the nose. Now, it’s time to see if this group can keep this thing in the air. As Arians said himself, one of the things he wants to see in the next week’s practices is, “Consistency in all phases.”
On the horizon, is a match-up against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Sure, it’s a pre-season game, but it’s the first chance this group has to lay their knowledge down on an opponent who hasn’t seen it before. A dog-fight in practice is still a dog-fight nonetheless.
Here’s hoping these high-aiming Tampa Bay Buccaneers don’t get shot out of the sky.