Postcard from camp: Buccaneers
The Bucs are positively responding to Greg Schiano's more structured approach
Josh Freeman is in better shape this year, and is working on his decision-making
Gerald McCoy needs to stay healthy and reach his potential in a weak front-seven
SI.com has dispatched writers to report on NFL training camps across the country. Here's what Peter King had to say about Buccaneers camp in Tampa Bay, Fla., which he visited on Aug. 2. Read all of our postcards here.
At the Bucs' training complex in Tampa. Three full all-grass fields, and I'm pleased to see what good shape they're in considering the beating they take from an unforgiving sun every day in the summer. I watch the morning practice at 9, pausing to speak with old favorite Mike Alstott, who's just taken a high school head-coaching job here at a small Christian school, then spend some time with players, GM Mark Dominik and coach Greg Schiano. Today, the community-minded Bucs are hosting the Special Olympics after practice, and there's a boisterous group of Special Olympians on hand.
1. No one seems up in arms about any of Greg Schiano's myriad rules. It's like what Aqib Talib told me (and he's not a guy to just automatically get in line): "All it is is hard work. You don't want to work hard, you're in the wrong place." Even if you're around the team for just one day, as I am, you get the sense the players and staff are thrilled for a more organized coach than Raheem Morris, and a more disciplined one.
2. Josh Freeman is cut and determined. The Freeman I saw on the field during practice was leaner (down to 237 from 258 last year) and seeming to move well and confidently in his new offense under coordinator Mike Sullivan, late of the Giants. The Freeman I spoke with after practice self-scouted in the offense and was disgusted by his minus-six touchdown-to-interception ratio last year. "I won't be as impatient this year,'' he said. "I tried to make too many things happen that weren't there last year.''
3. I'm not too optimistic about Da'Quan Bowers playing football after his May Achilles tear. He's on the PUP list, and the Bucs say they're cautiously confident he can play sometime this year. But really -- how likely, or smart, is it that a speed-rush player would be ready to play football six or seven months after Achilles surgery? Looks like Adrian Clayborn will get more attention than the Bucs had hoped from offensive protections, because there's no other pass rusher in-house who will scare foes.
Gerald McCoy, defensive tackle. With the losses of Brian Price (traded to Chicago because of a slew of distractions in his life) and Bowers, two of the supposed cornerstone young front-seven players are gone, meaning there will be even more pressure on McCoy to play well. That starts with staying on the field; he's missed 13 of his first 32 NFL games due to injury. But when he's played, he's played better than the locals think. He's very good against the run, and has penetrated well despite his anemic sack production. Schiano has been staunchly defending McCoy locally, and it's no show -- he thinks McCoy's a very good player.
Vincent Jackson, wide receiver. Schiano's been raving about Jackson's effort during camp and his leadership -- Tampa Tribune beat man Roy Cummings notes young wideout Mike Williams has been sitting next to him in meetings and watching how he studies -- and the $55 million relationship is off to a good start. Jackson showed flashes of speed during Thursday's practices, and it's clear Freeman was looking for him in competitive drills. "Great system for me,'' Jackson told me. "I can go downfield, and I can work underneath, and I know Josh has the arm to get me the ball anywhere.'' Jackson should get plenty of chances, and his leaping ability and wide catch radius is going to make Freeman a better quarterback.
In the Bucs' cafeteria, the PR staff put Team SI (We're on the SI-EvoShield Training Camp Trip, with a party of five) in a side room so we could grill Josh Freeman. And grill a turkey burger. I had the grilled turkey burger on a wheat roll with raw onion, lettuce and tomato (B-plus), along with a mixed salad with balsamic (C; the lettuce was a tad on the other side of ripe), and a bottle of fruit punch G2. Grade: B. Freeman rather enjoyed his healthy meal, led by turkey, lettuce and tomato on whole-wheat bread, with red beans and rice.
So, just how important is the tandem of Aqib Talib and Eric Wright (I still am stunned at him making $7.5 million a year), the nominal starters with Ronde Barber moved to safety? Consider that the Bucs will face Eli Manning, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, Cam Newton, Mike Vick, Tony Romo and Matt Ryan a total of 11 times this season. The pass rush and secondary will be vital to keeping the Bucs in games this year, because I don't know how many shootouts they're going to win.