First practice of training camp: How the Bucs lined up

Rookies like defensive tackle Vita Vea, right, get to carry extra helmets in training camp, here with Gerald McCoy and Jason Pierre-Paul.(CHRIS URSO | Times)
Rookies like defensive tackle Vita Vea, right, get to carry extra helmets in training camp, here with Gerald McCoy and Jason Pierre-Paul.(CHRIS URSO | Times)
Published July 26 2018

So much of the headlines from Thursday's first Bucs practice were Jameis Winston talking for the first time since his three-game suspension and Dirk Koetter addressing it as well, but there is actual football news to share as well.

The Bucs took advantage of their new indoor practice facility, forced inside after nearby lightning just as practice was starting. The Bucs won't be in full pads until Sunday, but here are the first morsels of information gleaned from the opening day of training camp:

— RT Demar Dotson was back healthy and practicing, just four months after surgery this spring to repair meniscus in his knee. His status was uncertain after his missed all of OTAs and minicamp, but having him practicing from the start puts the new offensive line at full strength.

The Bucs are being smart with Dotson as well, rotating backup Leonard Wester in with the first line later in practice so as not to overwork Dotson's knee early in camp. Caleb Benenoch worked as the first-team right guard, and that's likely the line the Bucs will open the season with, joining LT Donovan Smith, LG Ali Marpet and new center Ryan Jensen.

— Is Noah Spence working as a designated pass-rusher, utilized in passing downs while the Bucs are in their nickel defense? The new depth at defensive end would allow for that, and when the Bucs worked in their base (three-LB) defense, newcomers Jason Pierre-Paul and Vinny Curry were the first-team ends, with Will Gholston and Will Clarke on the second unit.

Remember that nickel is still the Bucs' most common defense, covering about 65 percent of the defensive snaps last season. So it's not just third down, but any down when the offense is likely in a three-WR set. If we consider the nickel a pseudo-starting position, a nickel pass-rusher would also be one by the same logic.

— Vernon Hargreaves is still on the field on every down with the first-team defense right now. The third-year corner is being challenged on two fronts by rookies, with M.J. Stewart battling at nickel and Carlton Davis at outside corner.

But on Thursday, Hargreaves (easy to spot with neon-yellow gloves and shoes) was working at outside corner with the base defense, and shifting inside to nickel with Ryan Smith outside in the nickel defense. Stewart, cross-training as a third-unit outside corner, had a nice first day with a few pass breakups.

— Jason Pierre-Paul can play all over the defensive line. If you were worried he'd only line up on one side due to the damage to his right hand from a fireworks injury three years ago, he was working at right end, and inside as a nickel defensive tackle next to Gerald McCoy. He piled up more than 1,000 snaps last year with the Giants, and you don't do that coming off the field in many packages. There will be strong competition for snaps all across the defensive line between the top eight options.

— Keep an eye on Freddie Martino for the last receiver spots. The Bucs' top four are locked up with Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Chris Godwin and Adam Humphries. Will they keep five or six receivers? Martino looked sharp Thursday, catching a long ball from Ryan Fitzpatrick on the final play. Rookie Justin Watson, who missed all of OTAs and minicamp with injury, was back healthy and will compete for a roster spot, along with Bobo Wilson and Bernard Reedy, who might need a return role to make the team.

— Who gets the last offensive line jobs? Lock in Donovan Smith, Ali Marpet, Ryan Jensen, Caleb Benenoch and Demar Dotson as the current starters, with Evan Smith, rookie Alex Cappa and Leonard Wester as the best backups. That might leave only one more spot open, with Mike Liedtke and Cole Gardner working with the second-string line Thursday, and undrafted rookie Cole Boozer and Ruben Holcomb also having a shot to stick around.

— Second-team base defense? Rookie Vita Vea and Mitch Unrein were in at defensive tackle, Gholston and Clarke at end, Devante Bond, Cameron Lynch and Riley Bullough at linebacker, Ryan Smith and rookie Carlton Davis at corner and Keith Tandy and rookie Jordan Whitehead at safety. Rookie Jack Cichy rotated in at linebacker some as well.

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