Miles Traveled to Date: 14,329
So yesterday, our journey from Davie to Tampa Bay was the start of the driving leg of our tour. In an RV sponsored by EvoShield (a company that specializes in protective clothing for sport) we drove the 259 miles across to, and then up along, the west coast of Florida.
As with the Dolphins it was another early start to avoid the brunt of the heat and humidity, which in this case didn’t go quite as scheduled. After playing the entire two-hour practice in sticky heat and bright sunshine, clouds rolled in just an hour afterwards and the temperature dropped markedly. It wasn’t the only thing about practice that could have gone more to plan.
1) Undisciplined Practice
As we turned up to the media facility the gossip between the beat writers was focused on what most things regarding the Buccaneers currently focus on; their coach Greg Schiano. To be precise, it’s not so much the coach himself as some of his anal rules and behaviors. Although the story was old, the talk was still about how, when a specific type of pasta had been requested for a team meal and not delivered. A Buccaneers’ employee had then been dispatched to upbraid the party responsible for the heinous mistake. Later, over lunch, Josh Freeman told us his coach insisted on toes on the line for stretching and didn’t allow hands to be placed on hips during conditioning drills.
So none of this is exactly a crime, but the impression I got from talking to a few players was they were far more guarded in their comments and demeanor than any other team we’d visited. Quincy Black, when asked about the impact Schiano had made: “He’s the coach, we follow him”. Demar Dotson (more on him later), when asked about his aspirations for the forthcoming year: “Just to do whatever the coach tells me to do and get better”.
The result of all this, provided you see any cause and effect linkage at all, was by far the least disciplined practice I’ve seen in nine stops. The first play in 11-on-11 started with so much confusion the whole thing was stopped and when play started again what followed was pre-snap penalty after pre-snap penalty. At one point, following an offsides and a false start on back-to-back plays, both offense and defense were made to walk off the field and back on again before re-starting.
Obviously you can have too little discipline, but there can also be too much. When anyone is put under constant pressure, particularly in ways they are uncomfortable with, the result can be players wound too tight. Schiano’s job is to put the Buccaneers back on the rails not knock them from the ditch on one side of the rails straight into the one on the other side.
2) Vincent Jackson: As Advertised
In San Diego Vincent Jackson was superb; a big-bodied receiver who could run by corners or beat them using his size. His body control on certain deep throws was truly exceptional for anyone, never mind a player of his build. He also had a reputation for working very hard at his craft.
So how would Tampa Bay’s decision to make him the fourth highest paid receiver in the NFL and give him just over $11 million a year affect him? Not much, if this practice and Josh Freeman’s opinion are valid indicators. After a fantastic play by Aqib Talib, which was the only thing to prevent him from scoring a touchdown in the back of the end zone, the very next snap had him beating Eric Wright by two yards on the same fade. Later, he wrong-footed Myron Lewis so badly on a double move that he was open by 12 yards for another TD. Then he got open down the left sideline for another long gain.
This was the best performance by any receiver I’ve seen to date in training camp and he certainly showed me he was focused on delivering on the investment made in him.
However, his quarterback’s view is a little more important than mine and when asked about his new target Freeman was very happy indeed. He told me, “athletically, he’s exactly as advertised, but it’s in the locker room that he’s pleased me most. He’s just a great guy, a good teammate”. Nice as that sounds, I suspect come Week 1 it will be that freakish blend of size and speed that he is most pleased about.
3) Options on the Line
It will come as no surprise to regular PFF readers that you could color us shocked when we discovered that Jeremy Trueblood was still likely to be the Tampa Bay starting right tackle in 2012. This was a player whose pass protection had declined so much after an excellent season in 2008 that last year he was our fifth lowest ranked RT, after being eigth lowest the year before and the worst in 2009.
Now, if there were no other options that might make sense, but a certain part-time, 6-foot-9 guy with solid grades throughout 2011 is available. Right now Demar Dotson is replacing the injured Donald Penn at LT (and doing a good job of it from what I saw in the pass protection drills), but once Penn returns why wouldn’t you let Dotson have a go at RT?
The situation reminds me a little of the scenario last year in New Orleans where Zach Strief had performed well as a tight end/extra lineman and, once given a chance to start, did an excellent job full-time. Dotson has similar traits. He has looked good when he’s played and, in my opinion at least, has done too much not to be given an opportunity.
- Jeremy Zuttah struggled at times in pass protection drills to anchor effectively against Gerald McCoy.
- Josh Freeman has lost 20 lbs (down to 240), as well as his curly locks. To go with his new lithe physique he’s sporting a Mohawk that makes him look (as SI photographer John De Petro rightly pointed out) like Soap McTavish from Modern Warfare II.
- Neither of the safeties penciled in to start played today. Mark Barron has a minor toe injury and Ronde Barber had the stomach flu. They were replaced by Larry Asante and Ahmad Black.
- George Johnson was next up at DLE, starting for injured Michael Bennett.
Falcons (Flowery Branch)
If you’ve got questions for Neil to take along to any of his upcoming camp visits, follow him on Twitter (@PFF_Neil) and let him know.