The Tampa Bay Buccaneers wrapped up their rookie minicamp this past weekend, and as expected, One Buccaneer Place was quite the beehive, teeming with the buzz of this year's top draft pick.
Jameis Winston was indeed the focal point of the team's two practices, but there were plenty of other noteworthy performances from less-heralded players. In all, the Bucs welcomed over 50 rookies to their facility for the weekend, including draft picks, undrafted free agents and tryout players.
Winston got off to a rocky start in the camp's first practice, struggling with accuracy and consistency. But his performance the following day showed a marked improvement, as he clearly had developed more chemistry and rhythm with his new receivers.
The news of Winston countersuing his accuser in a sexual assault investigation was a hot topic over the weekend, but Bucs head coach Lovie Smith said he isn’t concerned with how it might impact Winston’s on-field focus.
“We do not think it will be a problem for Jameis to be focused on football,” Smith said following Saturday’s practice. “We all have things we’re dealing with off the football field, but guys know when it’s time for football and time to do our work.”
The new franchise quarterback wasn't the only draft pick who was impressive but inconsistent.
Fifth-round pick Kenny Bell flashed his speed and quickness on multiple occasions but had a few drops, including a would-be touchdown after he beat his defender deep during Saturday's practice. Still, the positives outweighed the negatives for Bell, who looks like he could easily challenge for plenty of early playing time this year.
Linebacker Kwon Alexander, the team’s fourth-round pick out of LSU, showed off his speed and athleticism, as well as the type of hustle and opportunistic play Lovie Smith is looking for in his linebackers, as Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times points out:
“That’s just defense. You want takeaways,” Alexander said after Saturday’s practice. “You want interceptions, forced fumbles. I’m used to it. I played at LSU. That’s what we were coached on, to take the ball away.”
Many are intrigued by offensive lineman Ali Marpet, who the Bucs traded up to select near the end of the second round.
The most highly drafted player in Division III history, Marpet is a talented but raw prospect, and offensive line coach George Warhop spent plenty of time working on the finer points of his technique during Saturday’s practice. Marpet showed improvement throughout the day, reinforcing the scouting reports lauding his hardworking, coachable mentality.
Kaelin Clay was drafted in the sixth round to be the Bucs’ new return specialist, but he looked impressive as a receiver during passing drills as well. The Utah product showed great quickness, sharp routes and the ability to work back to the ball and win contested catches despite his lack of ideal size (5'10", 195 lbs).
Clay also provided one of the best quotes of the weekend following Saturday’s practice when asked about his new quarterback’s arm strength:
The Bucs drafted Penn State’s Donovan Smith at the top of the second round, and it looks like the starting left tackle job is his to lose. Being charged with protecting Winston’s blind side from Day 1 may seem like a daunting task, but Smith isn’t shrinking from the pressure.
“I came in with confidence, and I credit that to what I did in college,” Smith said following Saturday’s practice. “We had pretty good quarterbacks up at Penn State, so I’m up for the challenge. I’m just getting my feet wet, getting a lot of reps, and I feel good.”
Hawaii running back Joey Iosefa was drafted by the Bucs in the seventh round and looks to be competing for a short-yardage role in the offense, but he also knows he’ll need to be useful as a receiver out of the backfield.
“During this whole process, it’s something I’ve been working hard on,” said Iosefa after Saturday’s practice. “I want to prove to the coaching staff that I can be a versatile back who can run the ball, block and catch the ball out of the backfield.”
Tampa Bay’s draft picks weren’t the only ones to stand out over the weekend, as multiple players made a statement they hope will land them a roster spot.
UCF wide receiver Rannell Hall made a few impressive plays during one-on-ones, showing solid quickness in and out of his breaks and soft, reliable hands. Hall went undrafted despite a good showing at the Senior Bowl, but he’s got a decent shot to make a Bucs team that lacks quality depth at receiver.
Deshazor Everett was beat deep on that dropped would-be touchdown by Bell, which earned him a chewing-out from the coaching staff. But the Texas A&M product responded later in one-on-ones with an impressive interception of Winston, who was looking for Hall deep down the sideline.
Smith said Sunday would be mostly meetings for the team, with roster moves likely to follow in the coming days. For a team that already had one of the younger rosters in the league, it looks like this year’s group of rookies will have a significant impact for the Bucs.
Luke Easterling is a Featured Columnist covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and NFL draft for Bleacher Report. He is also a Senior NFL Draft Analyst for Draft Breakdown. Follow him on Twitter @LukeEasterling.
*All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.