A small sampling of quick football hits from buccaneers.com

Bucs Mini-Camp Musings: Day Two

A couple unexpected stand-out receivers along with some surprising looks for the defensive line highlight the second day of the Buccaneers’ mandatory mini-camp.

1. The receivers are impressing – and it isn’t just the four you’re thinking about.
Coach Koetter has gone on record saying that wide receiver Bobo Wilson may be the most improved player from last year to this offseason. Wilson has been used all over the field during OTAs and has been a reliable pass catcher with his sure hands and quick feet. During the second day of mini-camp, however, it was third-year wide receiver Freddie Martino that would haul in a couple of impressive catches on the day. 

“We have a good group at wide out,” Head Coach Dirk Koetter said following practice. “Those first four guys are really good. They complement each other well. I think our second level guys, Freddie Martino and Bobo Wilson have really upped their games. That gets you to six. I would have liked to have seen Justin Watson. He’s going to have a lot of catching up to do come fall camp.”

Even the undrafted rookie Sergio Bailey had a great grab in corner of the end zone during seven-on-seven drills from Winston. The wide receiver group is one that already has a lot of depth, with the top four guys being Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Adam Humphries and Chris Godwin. It’s a group of guys that complement each other well, but judging from OTAs, those fifth and sixth receivers aren’t far behind.

2. RB Ronald Jones is working on his hands.
Rojo has been a standout from the rookie class all offseason. He’s already been splitting time with the 1s along with running back Peyton Barber during OTAs and while football with no pads doesn’t exactly provide a good evaluation of running plays, running backs are still able to get some receiving reps in. Jones had a nice catch from Winston on Wednesday where he caught the ball on an outside route and then tiptoed down the sideline into the end zone. Working on his pass-catching ability has been a focus for the young running back as it will undoubtedly be something he is asked to do. It’s not something he was used to doing in college at USC, so the first-team reps with QB1 he’s been getting this offseason are invaluable. 

3. The secondary nabbed a two-part interception Wednesday.
It was a great effort by a couple young members of the secondary as they picked off quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in the end zone. Initially it was rookie safety Jordan Whitehead that leapt up to get a piece of the ball. The fourth-round pick’s tip proved fruitful as safety Isaiah Johnson made a heads up play to bring the ball down and complete the interception. Whitehead has seen limited practice time with a hamstring injury in rookie mini-camp, but he was back in full capacity for this week’s mini-camp, allowing Coach Koetter to get a good look at the rook. 

“I’d say his quickness is the thing that jumps out,” Koetter said of Whitehead. “He plays safety but he probably moves a little bit more like a corner. He does pack a punch like a safety. We’ll see more when we get the pads on. I wish we could have had him for more practices, but his quickness is definitely what sticks out.”

4. O.J. Howard has also been a human highlight reel during mini-camp.
Second-year tight end O.J. Howard had yet another beautiful catch during Wednesday’s practice. It was a bomb from Jameis Winston right in the seam that would have resulted in a take-it-to-the-house touchdown after Howard had both safeties beat down the field at the time he hauled it in. Howard has been working on his blocking game this season, but after leading the team in touchdowns during his rookie year, his follow-up campaign should be even better in regard to receptions.

“I mean, O.J.’s incredible athleticism just jumps out at you,” Coach Koetter said about Howard. “I think with him knowing more what to expect with the 16-game schedule and six weeks of training camp, I think it’s just easy to see-anyone who watched those plays could see why the guy was a first-round draft pick.”

5. Rotation, rotation, rotation for the defensive line.
It was another day and another rotation for the defensive line on Wednesday. The lineup seems to vary heavily by situation. Yesterday, there was a point where the first-team was made up of Vinny Curry to the left and Jason Pierre-Paul to the right on the outside with Vita Vea and Beau Allen on the interior (it appeared to be a situation where the defense was anticipating the run). Then today, during 11-on-11, we saw looks that had Allen and McCoy on the interior with JPP and Curry on the outside yet again. But perhaps the most surprising look of the day was with Curry on the right side and Noah Spence on the left lined up outside and McCoy paired inside with JPP. It’s an ever-evolving mashup of flexible defensive talent, but it’s something that Coach Koetter hopes to nail down before the regular season.

“I think it will definitely evolve through training camp and then you’ll start to settle in in the season,” Koetter said. “We have a long way to go on that. But, it’s a nice problem to have right now. It doesn’t always work out that way. As we know, there’s injuries and you just never know what’s going to happen.”

Play of the Day: Slot receiver Adam Humphries showed off his athleticism with a toe drag play to stay in bounds after leaping up to grab a ball from Winston in the back of the end zone.

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5 Things to Know About DT Vita Vea

Get to know the Bucs’ first pick of the 2018 NFL Draft with these five fast facts.

1. Vita Vea isn’t his full name.

Vea’s full name is Tevita “Vita” Tuli’aki’ono Tuipulotu Mosese Vaʻhae Fehoko Faletau Vea.

2. As a junior in 2017, Vea was the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year.

He also won the Morris Trophy that year, given to the best offensive and defensive linemen in the conference. His junior campaign saw 43 total tackles (5.5 for loss) and 3.5 sacks. He recorded a total of 99 tackles, 15.0 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks over his collegiate career at Washington.

3. Coach Dirk Koetter drew a comparison to Haloti Ngata for Vea.

In his press conference immediately following the pick, Coach Koetter noted his relationship with Washington coach, Chris Petersen, and commented on Vea’s character saying that Coach Petersen told him that Vea is ‘one of those guys that you would want to marry your daughter.’ He also noted that Vea is similar to longtime NFL defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, now of the Philadelphia Eagles, as far as style of play. Over his 12-year career, Ngata has racked up 498 combined tackles, 31.5 sacks, 36 passes defensed and five interceptions.

4. Vea ran a 5.1 40-yard dash at the 2018 Combine at 347 pounds. 

Vea is touted for his athleticism and according to Jason Licht, Washington would stand him up on the edge at times and during those times, Vea produced. He joins a solid rotation in Tampa Bay’s new-look defensive line that all of a sudden has tremendous depth and versatility.

5. He is the eighth Pac-12 defensive tackle to be taken in the first round in the past four NFL Drafts.

Vea is part of a recent surge of West Coast defensive linemen going in the top part of the draft. He joins the likes of Soloman Thomas, Takkarist McKinley and DeForest Buckner as another elite defensive lineman to come out of the Pac-12 in the first round. Both Thomas and McKinley went in 2017. Three years ago in 2015, three Pac-12 defensive linemen went in the first round (Leonard Williams, Danny Shelton and Arik Armstead). Shelton was the last defensive lineman out of Washington to go in the first round in 2015.

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5 Bucs to Watch vs. Atlanta

QB Jameis Winston suits up against the Falcons for the first time this season under the lights of Monday Night Football.

1. QB Jameis Winston

Perhaps the biggest difference between the Buccaneers that faced Atlanta in Week 12 versus the Bucs that will face them this week is the player under center. Quarterback Jameis Winston was sidelined with an AC join injury, so it was Ryan Fitzpatrick that got the start last go around. This will be Winston’s first opportunity against the Falcons this season. Winston has a 104.3 average passer rating against the Falcons, his highest against any team he has played more than once in his career. He’s thrown nine touchdowns in four games against Atlanta, with only two interceptions and a 64 percent completion rate in those games. And although Winston was on the sidelines in Atlanta, he was sure to be taking notes- an advantage his opponent doesn’t have on him. The quarterback was excited at the opportunity to play on Monday Night Football. The last time the signal caller got the same opportunity resulted in a 17-14 win over another division opponent in Carolina. Here’s to hoping for the same result at home.

2. LB Kwon Alexander

With linebacker Lavonte David held out of practice the past two days, it will be up to Kwon Alexander to step up even more so. Luckily, the veteran starter has had his share of success against Atlanta as an opponent. In the Bucs and Falcons first meeting during Week 12 this season, Alexander led the team in tackles with eight. In 2016, Alexander recorded 17 tackles during the Buccaneers Week 1 win. In 2015, he recorded 11 tackles, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and one interception, earning him Defensive Player of the Week honors in Week 8. He then followed that performance with 10 tackles, one forced fumble, one pass defensed and one sack when the teams met again later in the season. Point is, Atlanta is a familiar opponent for Alexander that seems to bring out his best performances. The upcoming game on a national stage during Monday Night Football should be no exception.

3. RB Peyton Barber

Tampa Bay’s run game has been on the uptick the past few weeks. The Buccaneers recorded consecutive 100+ yard rushing efforts for the first time this season. Running back Peyton Barber was the team’s first 100-yard rushing performer in Week 12 against the Green Bay Packers, nabbing 23 carries for 102 yards. The Georgia-native also had two touchdowns during the last meeting with the Falcons in Atlanta. Injuries to the offensive line with both center Ali Marpet and offensive tackle Demar Dotson going down in Green Bay, have forced the Bucs to make some adjustments up front. However, the line was able to block for 133 total rushing yards in last week’s game against the Lions, following the team’s 165-yard rushing performance against the Packers. Running back Doug Martin will also be there to complement Barber as he is fully healthy and recorded the first touchdown of the game for the Bucs last Sunday. The one-two punch of Barber and Martin will be a key component to making the Buccaneers’ offense multi-dimensional and effective against a good Atlanta defense.

4. CB Brent Grimes and the Bucs’ secondary

The sting of 253 yards and two touchdowns by Atlanta receiver Julio Jones has not worn off in the weeks since the teams’ first meeting this season. It was a major topic of conversation in press conferences and locker room scrums: how are the Bucs going to contain Jones this time around? A large majority of the responsibility will fall on the secondary, and should the Bucs choose to match up, cornerback Brent Grimes would presumably be the guy tapped for the job. Whether or not the Bucs will match up or opt for more zone coverage has yet to be determined, as both players and coaches have been very hush-hush on their plan of attack, and rightfully so. Defensive coordinator Mike Smith did have this to say during press conferences this week: “[…] I can assure you this – we looked very hard at what we did last time and we probably won’t be doing that.”

5. The Bucs’ defensive line

Part of the responsibility to keep Falcons’ receiver Julio Jones in check, as well as the potent Atlanta offense in general, will also fall on the defensive line in the frame of making quarterback Matt Ryan uncomfortable. With Ryan’s ability to get the ball out before pressure gets to him, finding a pass rush will be even more crucial to disrupting his rhythm. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy was kept out of practice the second straight day on Friday, but his status is still questionable, with the lineman doing everything possible to suit up on Monday Night. Save for the injury to McCoy, the defensive line looks to be healthy and ready to go, seemingly getting defensive tackle Clinton McDonald back, who was practicing in a limited capacity this week.