Rookie Antoine Winfield Jr. makes an early splash with Bucs

The second-round pick likely won't be practicing with the second-team defense for long.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Antoine Winfield Jr., seen here Thursday, is impressing early in his first NFL training camp.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Antoine Winfield Jr., seen here Thursday, is impressing early in his first NFL training camp. [ CHRIS O'MEARA | AP ]
Published Aug. 17, 2020|Updated Aug. 17, 2020

TAMPA — Bucs rookie safety Antoine Winfield Jr. opened Monday’s first training camp practice in pads working with the second-team defense, but showed quickly why it might not be long until he starts getting regular reps with the starters.

The Bucs took Winfield in the second round of April’s draft out of Minnesota because of his versatility. He can line up anywhere — deep at safety, in the slot or alone wide. And his ability to flock to the ball, whether it’s in coverage, against the run or chasing the quarterback, is reason to think he can be a special player despite his 5-foot-9 height.

The team’s incumbent safeties, Jordan Whitehead and Mike Edwards, have an inch or two and experience on Winfield, but his ball-hawking ability opened eyes Monday as he made arguably the best defensive play of 11-on-11 drills in practice, forcing and recovering a fumble on the same play.

Related: Pads go on and intensity goes up for Tom Brady, Bucs

Receiver Bryant Mitchell had just caught a short pass over the middle when Winfield closed in, clubbed the football free and scooped it up in one fluid motion.

“He’s an intelligent player,” coach Bruce Arians said. “It’s not too big for him. He’ll be competing for a starting job quickly.”

By the end of practice, Winfield was receiving reps with the first team.

Gronk getting in Florida shape

By practicing at 8:30 a.m., the Bucs avoided working under the worst of the sweltering Florida sun, but couldn’t dodge some excessive humidity.

Asked whether tight end Rob Gronkowki was in shape after emerging from his one-year retirement, Arians said: “He’s probably in New England shape, but he’s not in Florida shape.”

“The heat is kicking his (butt),” Arians added. “When you train in New England and then you come down here, it’s really different. We laughed a little bit about that today. I don’t think he’s ever sweat that much in his life. It takes a little time to get into the Florida shape, but as far as playing a game, he’s more than ready right now.”

Starting last season in Arians’ first year as coach, the team’s sports science department keys on keeping players well-hydrated to avoid muscle injuries. Players weigh in before and after every practice and their water intake is monitored as well.

“If you lose 8 or 9 pounds, we come back (the next day) and you’ve still lost 4, you’re high risk for injury,” Arians said. “So those are the things we watch for in this kind of humidity.”

Quick hits

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Remember this name: Parnell Motley. The undrafted rookie cornerback intercepted two passes in 11-on-11 drills, including the only pick of Tom Brady. The 6-foot Motley left Oklahoma fifth on the school’s all-time list in pass breakups and was a first-team Big-12 selection as a senior. … Though he’s in a crowded running back room, T.J. Logan — the team’s primary punt and kickoff returner — received praise from Arians as a running back, noting he’s a threat to be more than a special teamer.

Quote of the Day

“There’s no reason to talk — to me. There’s no reason to talk. Let your pads do the talking. And then at the end of that game, there’s gonna be a person that wins or loses the game, and hopefully we come out with the win. Let your pads do the talking, and we’ll see.”

— Bucs outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul on the intensifying Bucs-Saints rivalry, and chatter from players like New Orleans’ Cam Jordan, who said earlier this month the Bucs are “fighting for second place.” The Bucs open the season in New Orleans on Sept. 13.

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at Follow @EddieInTheYard.