As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers creep closer to their first preseason game, a matchup against the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens on August 8, the intensity of their practices has also seen a noticeable change.
Last week, the Bucs were more focused on installing plays and schemes on both sides of the ball, as there was very little in terms of actual contact seen.
This week, however, the pads are on, and the position battles have heated up.
Below are some notes, observations and takeaways from my morning at One Buc Place in Tampa.
Owusu Continues to Impress
Second-year wide receiver Chris Owusu, a product of Stanford, continues to make the most of his opportunities in camp. Despite muffing a punt return early in practice this morning, Owusu showed off some pretty impressive ball skills by hauling in a one-handed catch along the sideline from quarterback Josh Freeman.
Owusu has also shown a knack for running crisp routes and (at 6'2") the ability to provide Freeman and rookie quarterback Mike Glennon a big, athletic target to throw to.
With 11 receivers competing for not only playing time, but a roster spot in general, Owusu has made a name for himself thus far. How well that translates into game action is something worth keeping an eye on as camp rolls on.
Bitten By the Injury Bug
As big names around the league continue to go down with injuries on seemingly a daily basis, the Bucs have largely avoided any notable losses through the first week of camp.
That all changed today, as head coach Greg Schiano informed the media in his post-practice press conference that defensive end Adrian Clayborn, who was already working his way back from a torn knee ligament suffered early last season, left practice with a groin injury.
Schiano could not elaborate on the severity of the injury, though he added that Clayborn was "incredibly frustrated" by the setback.
In other injury news, cornerback Myron Lewis and receiver Tiquan Underwood both held out of practice with hamstring injuries.
Secondary Continues Its Strong Camp Performance
It's no secret, especially after all of the discussion both locally and nationally, how troublesome the Bucs secondary was in 2012.
They addressed these concerns, on paper at least, by adding veteran defensive backs Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson, as well as by drafting cornerback Johnthan Banks in the second round of April's draft.
Sprinkle in undrafted cornerback Rashaan Melvin, who has turned quite a few heads thus far, and second-year cornerback Leonard Johnson, and this unit has a completely different look than the one Bucs fans saw just eight months ago.
Johnson had a pair of notable pass breakups in Saturday night's practice at Raymond James Stadium, and he continues to see considerable playing time opposite Revis.
Banks, meanwhile, has held his own and even drew some public praise from Schiano during practice today, with the coach at one point complimenting him for properly reading and reacting to a wheel route out of the backfield by running back Brian Leonard.
I know it's early and I realize it's against their own teammates, but so far the secondary is shaping up to be more of an asset and less of a liability.
The Return of Revis
After essentially having two days off in a row, Revis returned to the field, in pads, and participated in practice. And while the Bucs have taken a deliberately cautious approach with Revis on the field, his greatest impact at this point appears to be off of it.
Melvin, an undrafted rookie out of Northern Illinois, credited Revis with teaching him improved press techniques, which as I mentioned earlier, have obviously paid dividends for him as he continues his quest to make the final 53-man roster.
At the end of practice, the Bucs participated in a two-minute drill, with Freeman and the offense taking over possession trailing 21-17 with 2:14 remaining.
The offense chipped away at the defense with several short plays, capped off by a touchdown strike from Freeman to receiver Kevin Ogletree.
On the flip side, Glennon and the second-team offense took possession tied at 23 apiece with less than a minute remaining. After just a handful of plays, the drive ended after Glennon was intercepted by safety Sean Baker.
J.J. can be reached by e-mail at BRJJRodriguez@gmail.com