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Summary from the Final Week of Camp
While most teams rested their starters in the final preseason weekend, Tom Brady and the Buccaneers' starters played three series. After a three-and-out to open the game, Brady led a 91-yard touchdown drive; he was 7-for-7 culminating in a 24-yard score to Chris Godwin. Brady finished the game 11-of-14 for 154 yards and a score. Brady explained why it was worth risking injury in a meaningless game. “You have to get the real reps. You have to get the real crowd noise. You have to get the real game clock. You’ve got to get the real situations, and the more you do that as a team, the better you′re going to be as the pressure mounts,” said Brady. Blaine Gabbert’s backup job is safe despite a rough outing in the preseason finale that included a sack and an interception—a turnover Bruce Arians blamed on rookie Jaelon Darden. Pewter Report’s J.C. Allen projects that Ryan Griffin will be cut due to the second-round draft capital of Kyle Trask. Despite dealing with massive growing pains this summer, Trask had a promising finale.
Run game coordinator Harold Goodwin said the starting job could come down to the preseason finale between Ronald Jones II and Leonard Fournette. However, Jones was the only back in contention to earn a carry in the game—a 4-attempt, 27-yard performance that included a 13-yard score. Jones was listed No.1 on the most recent depth chart. The real question isn’t who starts, but how will the snaps be divvied up? Giovani Bernard only played third downs with the starters in the finale; that will be his role in the regular season. With Pewter Report’s Scott Reynolds projecting Jones as the winner, it means Fournette could be the odd man out. Ke’Shawn Vaughn hasn’t shown well in camp and could be displaced by a veteran acquisition in the coming days. “Don’t be surprised if the Bucs try to find a more dynamic RB4 on the waiver wire to replace [Vaughn]. It’s hard to imagine Tampa Bay feels good about him becoming a rotational back next year when either Jones or Fournette departs in free agency,” says Reynolds.
Wide receiver coach Kevin Garver said Mike Evans had his best camp in the three years they have worked together. He’s in phenomenal shape and didn’t miss practice time. Antonio Brown and Chris Godwin are also in mid-season form. All three receivers have an unquestionable rapport with Brady. Further down the depth chart, Brady has taken a specific interest in rookie Jaelon Darden. Darden’s best chance to contribute this season is as a returner. Coach Arians told the media that the return role was “probably Darden’s job to win rather than his to lose.” Still, it’s difficult to expect one good 17-yard punt return in the preseason finale to outweigh multiple muffed kicks and the steady work of Jaydon Mickens as a receiver and returner.
Rob Gronkowski will be the starter and performed as well in camp as he did down the stretch in 2020. Brady trusts Gronkowski implicitly, and the veteran remains capable of big plays across the middle of the field and in the red zone. O.J. Howard sporadically flashed in camp between drops and box defenders pushing him around. The team is counting on Howard to knock off the rust and regain his pre-Achilles injury form. Cameron Brate is a reliable insurance policy as both a receiver and blocker.
Pewter Report’s Jon Ledyard massively praised rookie outside linebacker Joe Tryon-Shoyinka, who had a two-hit, strip-sack performance in the preseason finale. “He doesn’t just look good, he looks special. His ability to explode and bend is rare. As his hands develop and his inside counters become quicker, Tryon-Shoyinka will be even more of a force. Right now, he looks like a steal of the first round.” Starting strong safety Jordan Whitehead has missed more than two weeks with an undisclosed injury, but Arians anticipates Whitehead will be ready for the season opener. Whitehead joins Antoine Winfield and Mike Edwards as a dynamic safety trio, which confused Patrick Mahomes in the Super Bowl. “Our safeties are so interchangeable,” Arians told Ledyard on Monday. “The way we play defense it’s not like one guy is always in the deep middle or deep half. So yeah, Mike’s got the flexibility to play both. Really all three or four of our safeties have to be able to do both.”
Summary from Week 3 of Camp
Another week brought another display of Tom Brady’s pinpoint accuracy. Pewter Report’s Jon Ledyard highlighted “several jaw-dropping balls to the middle of the field” during practices. However, Brady had a few misses in the first joint practice with the Titans, throwing a pair of interceptions. Head coach Bruce Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich have contradicting views about the Buccaneers' offense. Arians told the media to expect a lot of shifts and motions pre-snap. But Leftwich denied it: “We’re not doing all this motion stuff. I don’t know where you get all that stuff. We put our quarterback in the best position to have success all the time.” It was an odd contradiction by Leftwich, given Brady’s mastery of pre-snap shifts and motions. Blaine Gabbert had a strong practice on Wednesday, finding open options with pinpoint accurate targets at every range of the field but still had a pair of dropped interceptions. He also held onto the ball too long against the Titans on Thursday, taking a sack. Ryan Griffin, who is getting more reps than rookie Kyle Trask, has had two subpar preseason performances. Pewter Report’s Matt Matera notes Griffin lacks velocity and holds onto the ball too long. Rookie Trask isn’t shining, either, particularly throwing out routes downfield. He’s been careless with the ball, lacks accuracy, and has made poor decisions in preseason games.
The running backs and reserve receivers are dropping the ball a lot. Leonard Fournette is among the most egregious, dropping highly manageable targets. Ledyard thinks Ronald Jones II has easily outplayed Fournette in every phase of the game this summer. Still, Jones has always been an unimpressive receiver, too. Giovani Bernard has been “more than pretty good”, according to Arians. The coaches are talking up Bernard as a significant contributor, which sounds a lot like an annoying three-back committee for Week 1. The coaches aren’t publicly worried about the backs’ struggles on the ground this summer, as Arians claims they haven’t made a concerted effort to establish the run in the preseason. However, the Buccaneers were among the league leaders in long down-and-distance situations last year, which may continue in 2021.