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Bucs rookie DT Vita Vea ready for first NFL camp

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Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

A season of uncertainty for the Buccaneers is about to get underway with their camp opening. Clearly, the story line of the summer that will dominate the headlines is QB Jameis Winston suspended for the opening three games for an NFL conduct violation.

However, as big as any key for Tampa Bay to try to turn it around is: their pass rush. And, specifically their completely overhauled defensive line. A big, and we emphasize “big,” part of that will be Washington rookie defensive tackle and last year’s Pac 12 Defensive Player of the Year, Vita Vea.

Vea is listed at 340lbs. and is expected to line up side by side with veteran Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy to create an imposing middle to the Tampa Bay defense.

On Wednesday morning, Vea was a guest on Bucs flagship radio station WDAE 620-AM in Tampa Bay covering many subjects. Of course, his current poundage was a big topic:

Vea was also asked about dealing already with the Tampa heat for his first NFL training camp. He was a man of few words on his answer:

“You just gotta take it one day at a time….When you’re out there, focus on breathing.”

We wrote previously about Vea having to battle the heat and hydration, once camp got underway. This is especially because he trained and played his college games primarily in the cooler/no humidity Pacific Northwest. And no matter how much anyone has warned or coached him, it will be up to him to adjust.

Another subject covered was the influence of Bucs first year defensive line coach Brentson Buckner. The former veteran NFL defensive tackle has come to Tampa Bay from a very successful run in Arizona and he’s already having an impact on the rookie, in specific.

“He’s definitely someone who we know played, payed attention to detail, Vea said. “That’s someone we really need as a D-Line coach…someone you really need to critique you on how to be really precise…. Taking his coaching and learning from his experience in the NFL. It will be great.”

Vea can also learn from veteran free agent acquisitions like Beau Allen, Mitch Unrein and Vinny Curry, as well.

The good news in Tampa is that there is not one guy, including McCoy, that you can set out to double team and take that player out of the attack without freeing up others to succeed.

And Vea is expected to be a big part of that.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs have good problem- too many good receivers

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Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off Saturday night’s 30-14 preseason win in Nashville, the Bucs still have some positions and areas that are concerns. However, one group that is obviously talented and deep is wide receiver.

You never want to use the word “loaded” in August, but it appears Buccaneers are. And while it’s good, it also means that in the NFL world, you simply cannot keep them all.

First, Tampa Bay has one of the premier tandems in pro football in Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson, which will obviously give defensive coordinators fits by themselves.

An example was in the second quarter Saturday night, where QB Jameis Winston was able to connect with Jackson on the deep ball for 54 yards:

So, those Bucs have those two veteran proven weapons and the compliment them with two others that will be able to make key contributions. Second year wideout Chris Godwin, who came on strong at the end of his rookie 2017 season, has already created a buzz with what he can improve on for this season.

Godwin caught a touchdown from Winston later on that same second quarter drive against the Titans.

And coach Dirk Koetter has another proven weapon in slot receiver Adam Humphries, who has worked his magic underneath defense, and in the red zone, etc. for the last four years. He has particularly been effective on third downs with Evans, etc., attracting a lot of attention.

Now, you get to Tampa Bay’s youngsters and it’s still promising.

On Saturday night, rookie Justin Watson, a speedy mid round pick from the University of Pennsylvania, made noise against Tennessee. Late in the first half, Winston was looking down field and Watson got opening on the far sideline and take a look:

Watson finished with four catches for 54 yards and the touchdown turning some heads not just in Nashville but had to get some attention in other personnel rooms around the league, too.

The Bucs also have two players in veteran Freddy Martino and kick return specialist Bernard “Speedy” Reedy, who have been on and off their roster over the last 2-3 seasons with regular season experiences.

And then you have a couple of more players in “Bobo” Wilson, who played with Winston at FSU, and another second year receiver in Sergio Bailey, who caught a TD pass in the fourth quarter Saturday night.

If you haven’t been counting, that’s nine, NINE, guys and you simply cannot keep them all.

Now, some are eligible for the Buccaneers practice squad, but the reality is there will be a team or two, who will want a couple of those names, if available, on their active roster.

Tough calls for GM Jason Licht, Koetter and his staff, but again, a good problem to have.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs are on a roll starting 2-0

Roy Cummings

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Aug 18, 2018; Nashville, TN, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive back Chris Conte (23) tries to break away from a blocker for a tackle on Tennessee Titans wide receiver Taywan Taylor (13) during the first half at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Buccaneers are on a roll. They improved to 2-0 this preseason with a 30-14 victory over the Titans on Saturday, which prompts the question, are they peaking too soon?

The answer is hardly.

No, preseason games don’t count, but when you haven’t made the playoffs in a decade, any win helps you to develop a culture of winning, and that is job one for the Bucs right now.

What was encouraging about the Bucs victory Saturday is that it came despite the fact the Bucs struggled in the red zone early on and with penalties (10 for 100 yards) all throughout.

Those are the kinds of problems that have long derailed this team and kept it from winning consistently, but not on this night. With that in mind, here are a few observations to consider going forward:

Not that we needed it but we were reminded in this one of why the loss of quarterback Jameis Winston for the first three games of the regular season is so worrisome. After a strong performance in Week 1 of the preseason last week, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was quite ordinary during his one quarter of play against Tennessee.

Fitzpatrick failed to hit on two deep balls early and failed to connect on two short passes in the red zone during the second of his three series under center. For the night, Fitz completed just five of 13 passes for 46 yards, producing a 48.9 passer rating.

Winston, on the other hand, was spectacular. He played the second quarter again, just as he did last week, and completed 13 of 18 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns for a 151.4 passer rating.

The first of Winston’s two touchdown passes came on a throw he never should have made (he was being tackled and threw a ball up for grabs on third down), but that’s Jameis being Jameis.

Aug 18, 2018; Nashville, TN, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) escapes pressure during the first half against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Aug 18, 2018; Nashville, TN, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) escapes pressure during the first half against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

In this case, however, Jameis was also quick to make mostly sound decisions and he was accurate both on the deep ball (he hit Mike Evans on a 38-yarder and Dexter Jackson on a 54-yarder) and the shorter throws.

Big game for rookie corner M.J. Stewart. He started at the slot corner spot on Saturday and before leaving the game early in the second half with a sore foot, he forced two fumbles, including one that set up the Bucs second touchdown drive. Stewart was one of the more impressive players on defense in the Week 1 game victory over Miami, too. If he can stay healthy and keep this up he’ll start the season as the Bucs nickel corner.

While the first teamers were in the game, the Bucs defense did a great job against the run. Jason Pierre Paul and Kwon Alexanders both had big stops early on and through the first quarter, the Bucs limited the Titans to just eight yards rushing. That’s what you call, getting the job done.

Bucs coach Dirk Koetter walked away from this one bemoaning all the penalties the Bucs committed, particularly in the first half, and rightly so. The Bucs were penalized seven times for 45 yards, and most of those penalties were committed by offensive and defensive linemen.

One of those penalties, a Brad Seton holding penalty, wiped out a touchdown pass on third down from the Tennessee 12 and forced the Bucs to settle for a 39-yard first-quarter field-goal attempt. That also got wiped out by – wait for it – a penalty. Kicker Chandler Catanzaro saved the moment by making the subsequent 44-yarder, but this was a sloppy effort that will have to be cleaned up.

Speaking of Catanzaro, he had a nice bounce back game in this one. Catanzaro missed a PAT and a field goal try in his first game in a Bucs uniform last week, but he was on the mark in this one, hitting on all of his field goals tries and PAT attempts.

The Bucs defense had little or no answer for the Titans short passing game earl on Saturday. A missed tackle by S Chris Conte and a key Titans block at the point of attack on Taywan Taylor’s 47-yard catch and run for a touchdown allowed Tennessee to move the ball 75 yards, including 73 through the air, on its second possession.

Another disappointing outing for rookie running back Ronald Jones. He ran four times for just 2 yards, all of which came on one carry, and failed to secure the only pass thrown his way.

Jones’ role may have to be increased if the injury that knocked Charles Sims out of game on the opening kickoff is serious, but you really have to wonder if Jones is capable of handling a bigger role.

Is it too soon to worry about the Bucs pass rush?

Probably, but the largely revamped first-team D-line has played the equivalent of a full game through two practice games now and has just one sack to show for it.

That unit would have two sacks but a penalty wiped out a takedown that Gerald McCoy started and Vinny Curry finished after Marcus Mariota left the game for the Titans.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Three things to watch as Bucs travel take on Titans

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Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Bucs and the Titans got to know each other over two days of practice this week and now, both are prepared to play in preseason game number two.

Here are three things we are looking at for tonight’s match-up.

Will Bucs receiving weapons have a big night?

Tampa Bay intends to start veteran QB Ryan Fitzpatrick for at least a couple of series and then, Jameis Winston will likely play the rest of the first half. And, the Buccaneer receivers are anxious for the chance to show what they can do in this second preseason game.

We wrote earlier this week about how Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson and Chris Godwin had a great practice on Wednesday against the Titans and specifically, going against former Pats Superbowl hero DB Malcom Butler.

Now, they get a chance to display that in a game.

Of course the Titans also have second year CB Adoree’ Jackson, who more than held his own against those guys above in practice action on Thursday.

How will it all translate tonight?

Titans One-Two Punch of Mariota and Henry

There aren’t many teams that can boast a pair of young talented Heisman Trophy winners in the same backfield like Tennessee can. QB Marcus Mariota and RB Derrick Henry however, have the hardware and are poised to lead the Titans bigger things in 2018.

Henry split time with now departed DeMarco Murray the last two years, but had 744 yards and five TD’s in 2017.

Mariota is as explosive a runner, as he is thrower, and has a new offensive system and coordinator this year, to.

And, the Mariota-Henry tandem already helped the Titans make the playoffs and pull an upset of the Chiefs in the Wildcard game last year.

Meanwhile, Tampa Bay has fortified their defensive line with Jason Pierre-Paul, Beau Allen, Vinny Curry, etc. coming into the fold. And two excellent tackling linebackers are there in LaVonte David and Kwon Alexander. However, the Bucs front seven will have their hands full with the Titans backfield.

That also includes shifty pass catching RB Dion Lewis,who signed as a free agent from New England like Butler, and is expected to play a bunch Saturday night.

Get a look a young guys

From backup QB Ryan Griffin (above), who rallied the team with a last second FG drive last week, to rookies RB Ronald Jones, DB’s MJ Stewart and Carlton Davis and offensive lineman Alex Cappa, the Bucs have a chance to get some young guys some more live action.

Tampa Bay also has young reserve players from last year like LB Riley Bullough, CB Ryan Smith and OL Caleb Benenoch, who need some playing time, too.

So, it’s a night to get a good look at them under live fire in a preseason game and let the coaches evaluate them against a real opponent.

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