We will take a peek around the state of Florida and check in with the major story lines at Bucs, Dolphins and Jaguars camp.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
– Quarterback Josh Freeman may have found a new best friend in free agent signee Vincent Jackson. Jackson gives the young signal caller a legitimate speedy outside target and he is already making life easier for everyone on the offense not only as a number one target but as a mentor to the younger receivers.
“He’s been letting us know what we’re going to see [from opposing defenses], and he’s basically been telling me to just keep working on my game,” wide receiver Mike Williams said following practice. “You can’t ever think you’ve mastered it. No matter what, you have to keep on working on it. If you catch a pass 1,000 times, he wants you to catch it 1,005 times. So just keep working on my game is basically what I’ve learned from him.”
– Rookie running back Doug Martin is getting the vast majority of first-team snaps in front of third-year pro LeGarrette Blount. The Bucs traded up into the first round to acquire Martin and sources say that the team would like Martin to win the job.
– As improved as the Bucs offense looks there are certain concerns on the other side of the football. With the team trading former second-round pick Brian Price to Chicago, Tampa Bay is not very deep on the defensive line, especially considering 2011 second-round pick Da’Quan Bowers may miss much, if not all of the 2012 season. Unproven players such as Wallace Gilberry, Daniel Te’o-Nesheim and Frank Okam will likely have to play big snaps if the Bucs are going to be a respectable unit.
– Rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill came to terms on his contract and he may see the field sooner rather than later in real-game action. Although the team doesn’t want to rush the rookie who started for just a year-and-a-half in college, the Dolphins offensive coordinator is Mike Sherman, his former collegiate head coach. Tannehill knows more about the Dolphins offense than veterans Matt Moore and David Garrard and if the rookie proves to be satisfactory in preseason action, look for Miami to turn over the reigns to him much sooner than anyone expected.
– Although the Dolphins don’t have a “bell-cow” type of running back, they have talent at the position in different types of players. Reggie Bush is the biggest name as he went over 1,000 yards last season for the first time in his six-year career. Despite the productive 2011 campaign, Bush is slight of build and can’t be a between the tackles rusher. Others vying for playing time are 2011 second-round pick Daniel Thomas, former 1,000 yard rusher Steve Slaton and possibly the most interesting player, rookie Lamar Miller from Miami. Miller was the Dolphins fourth-round pick and he has enough size to run between the tackles and may be faster than Bush at this point in his career.
– After finishing 2011 with the sixth-ranked scoring defense in the NFL, Miami is switching from their 3-4 scheme to a 4-3. New defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle might be trying to fit square pegs in round holes as linebacker Cameron Wake might struggle playing with his hand on the ground. Wake has registered 22.5 sacks over the past two seasons.
– To add some depth on the offensive line the Dolphins came to terms with former Bengals second-round pick Eric Steinbach. Amid back problems which kept him on the open market, Steinbach has started 124 of 125 games in his career and if healthy figures to be the best starting option for the team at right guard.
– The big news out of Jaguars camp isn’t exactly who is performing poorly or well, but who isn’t performing. NFL rushing champion Maurice Jones-Drew is MIA as he has dug his feet into his contract holdout. The Jaguars and owner Shahid Khan have iterated that they have no intentions on re-working MJD’s deal as he signed a 4-year, $32 million deal just two seasons ago.
– Also missing at Jaguars camp is 2012 fifth-overall pick Justin Blackmon. The wide receiver is one of just two unsigned rookies as sources say the biggest contract issue is offset language as the team is concerned with his past. Blackmon was arrested for DUI shortly after being drafted by the team.
– On the field second-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert has taken control of the starting job. Gabbert is head-and-shoulders above what he was with the abbreviated offseason of 2011 and looks considerably better than free agent signee Chad Henne. Expect to see Gabbert as the Jags starter all season long barring injury.
– 2011 Jaguars leading receiver Mike Thomas has struggled mightily through the first few days of practice. After showing questionable hands and courage late last season, the Jaguars upgraded the position by inking veterans Laurent Robinson and Lee Evans in free agency, then trading up to select Blackmon. Thomas is clearly on a hot seat despite the team picking up a roster bonus of better than $2 million earlier in the offseason.
Charlie Bernstein is the NFL Insider for SportsTalkFlorida.com and ESPN 1080 and 1040 in Orlando/Tampa and Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive, covering the National Football League, NCAA, and National Basketball Association. Charlie covers the Jacksonville Jaguars for FoxSports and has been featured on the NFL Network and Sirius NFL Radio. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Charlie on Twitter @nflcharlie