Well, it took me a while, but I finally made it out to One Buc for my first day of the Buccaneers 2021 training camp. It was hot, it was muggy, it was crowded, and it was awesome! It was everything that training camp is supposed to be and then some. There were even a few “fights” among players that were broken up quickly. I liked seeing that kind of scrappiness in this team. Overall, it seemed like a very productive practice, with both sides winning their fair share of battles.
I’ve been attending Bucs training camp for years. Every time I go, I always have certain players or position groups I want to watch closely. This year was no different. Obviously, I was there to see “the GOAT” Tom Brady in action live up close and personal. But I was also interested in seeing this year’s rookie class along with some of the newer additions to the team. So here are a few things that I wanted to point out about what I saw and what I’ve heard from training camp so far.
DB ROSS COCKRELL IS VERSATILE!
At the start of camp, the Bucs were a little thin at safety, with Jordan Whitehead on COVID-19 protocol and Antoine Winfield JR. nursing an injury. They decided to slide cornerback Ross Cockrell out to free safety during that time, and it looks like that decision is paying off. Cockrell has had about five interceptions — so far in camp — and has been getting reps with the ones and twos in practice. The versatility of playing corner AND safety will almost certainly earn him a spot on the roster again.
WR JAELON DARDEN WILL BE THE NEW RETURNER!
Not only has Darden been doing a pretty darn good job returning punts, alongside Scotty Miller, but he’s also been doing really well at wide receiver too grasping the offense and making tough catches. This receiving corps is deep, and it won’t be easy to be one of the top six that makes the 53-man active roster. Whoever that sixth guy is will be someone who can make a difference on special teams and contribute to the offense. So far, Darden has been doing both pretty well.
OLB JOE TRYON IS A STUD!
Tampa Bay’s first-round draft pick may be considered a rookie, but he’s earned a number of other descriptions during training camp.
“Impressive!” “Disruptive!” “Unblockable!” “Exceeding expectations!” “A future star!”
The former Washington Husky has been giving the Bucs o-line all it can handle. He even had a sack Saturday night against the Bengals that was negated by a B.S. personal foul call. That’s great news considering this defense needed a little more depth on the outside. If Tryon can continue this play, the Bucs will have more opportunities to rest Shaq and JPP throughout the game, which could keep them a little more fresh for the fourth quarter. That’s not very good news for opposing quarterbacks.
RB GIOVANNI BERNARD WAS A GREAT PICKUP!
After watching just one practice, I’m convinced that this signing will be huge for the Bucs this season. Bernard is a hard runner but has soft hands coming out of the backfield. He gives this offense a new dimension that was not there last year. Now with a dedicated third-down back, it frees up Fournette from having to do it. Not having to play third downs will allow him to split more early down reps with ROJO, which keeps both of them fresher for the fourth quarter.
OT NICK LEVERETT IS A BEAST!
At 6’4″/310lbs, Leverett doesn’t necessarily have the size of a prototypical offensive tackle; he might be listed as a guard, but he’s been showcasing his versatility by sliding outside to tackle in practice. And throughout training camp so far, he’s playing much bigger than his size. The undrafted rookie out of Rice has been manhandling some of the Bucs’ best pass rushers, including pancaking Jason Pierre-Paul on multiple occasions. In my earlier roster prediction, I had him going to the practice squad. But with the way he’s been playing, he just might earn himself a spot on the 53-man roster. Keep an eye on him!
ILB KJ BRITT IS A TACKLING MACHINE!
He is another guy that I had going to the practice squad in my roster prediction that I think is earning his spot as the fourth inside linebacker on the 53-man roster. The coaches and the reporters covering camp have been raving about this kid’s tackling ability, both on defense AND special teams. That’s how you make the team when you’re a late-round pick or undrafted player — by being versatile and making plays when the opportunities present themselves. That is what he’s been doing all of camp.
THAT’S WHY TOM IS THE GOAT!
There are many things that make Tom Brady “the GOAT“; however, when I was at camp, I witnessed a perfect example of one of them: The team was transitioning from one drill to another, which called for them to change to the other end of the field. Almost every player was walking down the field, except for two of them, Ali Marpet and Tom Brady. I know it’s not that big of a deal, and I’m not saying this to bad mouth the players who were walking. It just struck me. Here is a 44-year-old guy, who’s in the midst of his 22nd NFL training camp, been to ten Super Bowls, winning seven of them, won five Super Bowl MVP’s and three league MVP’s, and he still has the drive and the competitiveness to run down the field between drills. It spoke volumes to me.
From top to bottom, this might be the deepest Buccaneers team that I can remember. Bruce Arians has said that there ais 30-35 positions on this team; that is “locked-in“. The other 20 spots are there for the taking. There will be players getting cut from this team that could go somewhere else and contribute, or maybe even start. It’s going to be a hard-nosed fight for those fringe players, but for us fans, it will be a fun battle to watch. There’s only a couple of weeks left in camp, and time is ticking. This week, the team will have some scheduled practices with the Tennessee Titans before facing off with them in their second preseason game next Saturday. It should be a nice test for Tampa Bay, seeing as Tennessee is one of the favorites coming out of the AFC.
Until then, as always, GO BUCS!!!