Some highlights from Saturday night’s practice at Raymond James Stadium:
Warm Welcome: As the Bucs took the field, they did so in positional groupings, firing up the crowd as they emerged from the tunnel. The group which seemed to draw the biggest roar from the crowd was the wide receivers, as fans for the first time saw Vincent Jackson run onto the turf at Raymond James Stadium.
Timing is Everything: Although Saturday’s practice was a limited contact workout, there were plenty of fireworks for the fans, both during and after practice. The Bucs spent a good portion of the practice in scrimmage format, with the first and second team offense and defense rotating in against each other. Though players weren’t tackling each other, it was an opportunity for the quarterbacks and wide receivers to continue to work on their timing, with a live pass rush coming at the quarterbacks.
Mount Nicks: Nicks showed off the size, quick feet, and impressive use of hands that made him a Pro Bowler. In a compelling matchup, he kept Adrian Clayborn at bay during the 11-on-11 scrimmage between the first team offense and defense.
Hot Potato: Jackson, Doug Martin, Mike Williams, LeGarrette Blount, and Dallas Clark formed a circle on the sideline, and Jackson explained to his teammates that they had to toss the ball around the circle to each other, grab it with one hand, and keep it going. The ball moved around at a swift pace until one player dropped it or made an errant throw, as the players argued whose fault it was that the chain broke.
Martin Makes Moves: Martin continued to show an impressive burst between the tackles, but it’s his lateral quickness and ability to run outside that could create a new dynamic in the Bucs’ offense. On a draw play, Martin cut hard to his right after the running lane closed and beat the entire defense to the edge on the back side of the play.
Return to Sender: The Bucs have no shortage of candidates for return specialists. On consecutive kickoff returns, Preston Parker, Michael Smith, and Armahd Lewis took turns ripping off long runs. Parker led the Bucs last year in total return yardage with 649 yards. Smith and Lewis both attended Utah State, although Lewis, a track star with the Aggies, transferred to Central Washington, where he took part in his only season of organized football. Sammie Stroughter led the Bucs in yards per kickoff return average last year. Mike Williams also has spent time returning punts this offseason.
Making Their Push: George Johnson and Demar Dotson both saw time with the first team units and made the most of their opportunities. Johnson created pressure and Dotson did well in keeping Josh Freeman’s blindside clean during the scrimmage. Johnson saw time at left defensive end, which is where Michael Bennett would normally line up. Bennett has been sidelined after experiencing dizziness in camp last week. Dotson has received the majority of the snaps at left tackle, as Donald Penn has been out with a calf injury.
Amazing Spiderman: Parker continues to be one of the first players that Freeman looks towards. After several consecutive targets from Freeman on a drive with under two minutes on the clock, Parker created separation from Larry Asante and Anthony Gaitor for a big gain over the middle and into the red zone. Parker, the Bucs’ leading receiver, has established himself as the team’s third-best receiver, although Tiquan Underwood has provided a strong challenge as of late.
Big Boot: Connor Barth connected on a 53-yard field goal to cap off a scoring drive by the first-team offense. Barth, who signed a new 4-year $13.2 million contract back in May, made 26 of 28 kicks last season for a franchise record 92.9% field goal percentage.