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This week at the Senior Bowl: Part 1 - ‘Puka Island’

Puka Nacua shines at an underrated potential position of need in Tampa Bay.

Idaho State v Brigham Young Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished significantly beneath expectations last season and now find themselves up against the cap, making a knockout draft class in 2023 their best chance to regain their former standard.

For a few seasons now, one of the best positional groups on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ roster is the wide receiver position. That, in large part, is due to the presence of both Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, two of the very best players on the team. Behind the Bucs two, star receivers, lie the depth pieces. Players like Russell Gage, Scotty Miller, and Breshad Perriman. While all accounting for some memorable moments of glory, their resumes have not been banners of consistency in the red and pewter. Two of the aforementioned pass catchers are not even under contract currently for the 2023 season. Depth concerns coupled with the fact that consistent injuries have hampered Tampa Bay’s receiver room over the past few seasons and despite the group’s immense talent level at the top, a new draft pick sliding his way into the rotation may be possible, come this April.

Enter today’s edition of ‘This week at the Senior Bowl

Regarding the group of receivers at the Reese’s Senior Bowl, day one was dominated by the flashy showing of Puka Nacua. Splash plays, soft hands, and quick feet with a decent size frame led to Nacua having an eye opening first day of practice.

Early on as receivers went through drills, number 17 was silky smooth while showcasing some effortless fast-firing footwork. Some talents on the skill tree of a receiver can be obvious, such as speed, strength, or height— others reveal themselves in a more subtle fashion. Skills that will be highlighted next to Puka Nacua’s name moving forward throughout the draft process that put coaches, the press, and the National Team’s DB’s on notice alike— an attention-grabbing combination of balance, body control, and overall feel for playing the receiver position.

NCAA Football: Brigham Young at Boise State Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

Drills are an important part of any practice, but there is nothing that will provide a player with a chance to show the full range of their individual skills like the one-on-one period. Going up against his peers, with all eyes locked solely on each rep, the former BYU receiver was a problem for defenders who drew the assignment. Calm patience in his routes, a fantastic natural feel for working his way open even when running a route through contact, and a significant number of tools in his toolbox when using different releases off the line of scrimmage made him a difficult cover. When I spoke with him after practice, he elaborated on his mentality going into those one-on-one opportunities—

“One on one’s is what we get paid to do… When we’re in one on one’s I want you to be on Puka Island… Every time the ball comes my way it’s my job to come down with it.”

One of the skills that will help him come down with many is his body control. Nacua showed a comfortable ability to steer and contort his body with relaxed reactionary movements. This part of his game was never more present than on a deep ball catch down sideline where he adjusted seamlessly to a back shoulder throw, making a highlight reel catch look elementary. When asked, he credited some of his body control tendencies to growing up playing basketball—

“Playing basketball is definitely a little more shifty. You can’t get hands on you in basketball, so being able to work your shoulders and dip and jive is something I’ve been working on for a while.”

After putting Mobile Alabama on notice, Nacua walked out of Tuesday’s practice humbly. He spent most of the post practice interviews referencing the things he felt like he could have done better and discussing what he needs to continue to do throughout the rest of the week, revealing himself to be very coachable and self-aware.

The wide receiver position might not seem to be an obvious position of need for the Tampa Bay Bucs, but Puka Nacua could offer the depth that the team needs behind the big-name front-line players that have been staples of the organization. On paper, the Buccaneers have bigger needs than another wide receiver, however they may have to take a long look at booking a trip to ‘Puka Island.’