Tampa Bay Buccaneers: What We've Learned Through Week 1 of Training Camp
The first week of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' training camp marked a new beginning for the team. Everything old is new again, whether it's the creamsicle uniforms or head coach Lovie Smith bringing back the Tampa 2 defense.
After only a week of training camp, Smith's vision for the Buccaneers has come into focus. On offense, Josh McCown is ready to lead this team. After watching the Bucs practice last week, Sports Illustrated's Peter King said McCown looked "tremendous."
Not everything at Bucs camp looks as promising. Questions remain at the guard position. Cornerback depth has been tested.
Many players, like defensive end Da'Quan Bowers, are facing their own new beginnings while rookies like wide receiver Robert Herron struggle to establish themselves.
With the Bucs' fresh start well underway, let's take a look back at what the first week of training camp has revealed.
Here are six things we've learned through the first week of Buccaneers training camp.
The Bucs Are in Serious Trouble at Guard
The Bucs' worst fears regarding Carl Nicks were realized last week. His career is over.
Fox Sports' Jay Glazer reported that Nicks and the Bucs agreed to part ways last week:
Pro Bowl guard Carl Nicks' time with the Bucs is over. He and the team have agreed on an amicable settlement.— Jay Glazer (@JayGlazer) July 25, 2014
Nicks was officially cut from the roster on Wednesday, according to Jenna Laine of Sports Talk Florida. His departure is a major blow that will have ramifications through the 2014 season.
What remains for the Bucs at guard are career backups, players with no in-game experience and some rookies.
The coaching staff experimented with guards playing with the first team last week, per Pewter Report and the Tampa Bay Times' Greg Auman:
Meredith and Cousins in with first team at guard. Omameh and Edwards running second team at guard.— PewterReport.com (@PewterReport) July 26, 2014
Bucs said they'd be rotating in guards with first team. Today it's rookie Kadeem Edwards at left guard, Patrick Omameh at right.— Greg Auman (@gregauman) July 28, 2014
Though competition should determine the best starters, it's a bad sign that the Bucs are still rotating their guard tandems with the first team. It's an even worse sign that the Bucs are rotating both positions, indicating both guard spots are in contention.
Gerald McCoy Is Ready to Lead
Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy arrived to the first day of camp in a bathrobe, but he should have been dressed like a general.
Entering his fifth year with the Bucs, McCoy is the unquestioned leader on defense—if not the entire team. Lovie Smith even went so far as to call him "the face of the franchise," according to the Tampa Bay Times' Greg Auman:
Lovie Smith on leadership of Gerald McCoy: "He has taken ownership. He knows he's the face of the franchise."— Greg Auman (@gregauman) July 25, 2014
Not only is McCoy arguably the best player on the the team, he will be responsible for setting the tone for the rest of the team and mentoring the younger players. Justin Pawlowski of 98.7 caught McCoy taking rookie guard Kadeem Edwards under his wing last week:
McCoy has embraced his role as team leader. He will have to lead the way both in spirit and as the crux of the defense up front.
Jeff Demps Is Making His Presence Known
Lovie Smith's excitement for Jeff Demps appears to have some merit.
According to The Tampa Tribune's Roy Cummings, Demps has the fire for football again. Demps said:
"It’s all football now. I still love track. But what’s best for me this year is to just focus on football and get better at that."
Focus was the one missing ingredient from Demps' ability to be an unstoppable offensive weapon for the Buccaneers. Now that Demps has put all of his energy into football this season, the results are showing in training camp, as Bleacher Report's own Luke Easterling witnessed last week:
Jeff Demps looks very, very good today. Interested to see if anything changes with pads on tomorrow. #Bucs— Luke Easterling (@LukeEasterling) July 26, 2014
Entering Week 2 of training camp, watch for Demps to establish a bigger role on the team, potentially as the Bucs' kick returner. He was returning kicks in practice this Monday, as reported by The Ledger's Rick Brown:
Jeff Demps showed why he could be valuable taking a kickoff, making one cut then unleashing the jets. #bucscamp— Rick Brown (@LedgeronBucs) August 3, 2014
Demps' renewed commitment to football is clearly generating a lot of excitement at training camp. He will have to remain committed to make an impact during the season.
Cornerback Depth Is Crucial
The Bucs have been relatively fortunate with injuries this offseason. Carl Nicks has been the only major loss, though his outlook had been grim from the outset.
The only other area of concern may be at cornerback. Cornerback Alterraun Verner has watched practice from the sideline since last Monday with "nicks," according to the Tampa Bay Times' Rick Stroud:
CB Alterraun Verner said he sat out today with training camp 'nicks' but its nothing serious.
— Rick Stroud (@NFLSTROUD) July 28, 2014
Verner was joined later in the week by Mike Jenkins, who has an "upper leg injury," per Rick Brown of The Ledger and the Times' Greg Auman:
Bucs corners Mike Jenkins and Alterraun Verner are again spectators at practice today ...— Greg Auman (@gregauman) August 4, 2014
Fortunately, Lovie Smith told the Buccaneers' in-house reporter, Scott Smith, that Verner was back running on Monday.
Verner is the best cornerback on the roster. No amount of free-agent signings at this point will adequately replace what he can bring to the secondary.
Nonetheless, the Bucs need guys like CB Johnthan Banks and Rashaan Melvin to take the next step in their development so that injuries like Verner's don't have a profound impact on the defense.
Robert Herron Is Not a Lock for the Roster
Teams typically value their most recent draft class, but rarely is a sixth-round pick guaranteed to make the final 53-man roster. Bucs wide receiver Robert Herron could end up on the chopping block if he doesn't start practicing with some consistency.
The former Wyoming receiver brings incredible speed to the offense. His hands, however, have left much to be desired over this year's training camp, as the Tampa Bay Times' Joe Smith reports:
#Bucs rookie WR Robert Herron has a rough day, dropping a punt (resulting in push ups) and letting an over the shoulder pass go thru hands— Joe Smith (@TBTimes_JSmith) July 31, 2014
#Bucs sixth round pick WR Robert Herron continues his issues with drops today at camp. Not helping his case
— Joe Smith (@TBTimes_JSmith) August 3, 2014
Speed means nothing for a wide receiver who can't catch the football. What's worse for Herron is his inability to field punts. With so much competition at wide receiver, special teams contributions will be critical to players on the bubble like Herron.
Da'Quan Bowers May Still Have a Future with the Bucs
Bucs defensive end Da'Quan Bowers was in desperate need of a reinvention coming into this offseason. The former second-rounder once again played below expectations last year, failing to hold on to a starting spot.
Bowers even told The Ledger's Rick Scott last week that former Bucs head coach Greg Schiano tested him mentally:
"It was Schiano. He got to me mentally, and I couldn't bounce back for some reason."
The arrival of Lovie Smith may have given Bowers the new lease he needs to get his career back on track. Bowers is seeing a lot of time playing defensive tackle, according to Buccaneers.com reporter Scott Smith:
Da'Quan Bowers has seen a lot of action on the interior line today, both in 1-on-1s and now in full-team.— Scott Smith (@ScottSBucs) July 26, 2014
Lovie seems to like what he sees, offering praise for Bowers' versatility at a post-practice press conference last week, per Scott Smith:
'He’s right in between being big enough to possibly rush inside on third down and a good anchor outside on first down playing the end position. He gives us some flexibility. He’s been injured a lot, I know that, but he hasn’t missed a beat since I’ve been here.'
Coach Smith may have jinxed Bowers by mentioning his health. Bowers sat out of practice with an unknown injury this week, per Sports Talk Florida's Jenna Laine and the Tampa Bay Times Greg Auman:
To explain Bucs adding two DEs today: Da'Quan Bowers and Scott Solomon watching drills today with unknown injuries ...— Greg Auman (@gregauman) August 5, 2014
Bowers is running out of chances to prove his worth to the Bucs. Only once he can get back on the field can he ensure his future with the team.