TAMPA, Fla -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers wrapped up their final day of training camp practices Thursday. Here's what we learned watching them practice over the past month:
Jameis Winston is an improved quarterback
Aside from the near-interception that was ruled a fumble against the Jacksonville Jaguars last week -- a very, very poor decision -- Winston is getting the ball out quicker and is much more accurate. His completion percentage has gone from 59 percent last preseason to over 71 percent this year. He has thrown more check-downs this year -- like the five he threw in the first half against the Jags -- but that should be applauded because it means he's taking what the defense is giving him.
Winston still loves him Mike Evans
Don't we all though? There's a reason there's a billboard off Columbus Boulevard near Raymond James Stadium of Winston firing a pass and another billboard right next to it of Evans making the catch. There's also a reason Evans' 115 receiving yards this preseason are more than double the next-closest receiver. The two have enormous chemistry. You could feel the loss of that chemistry with Evans sitting out the final two days of practice and rookie Chris Godwin stepping into his role.
Evans isn't expected to play Saturday against the Cleveland Browns, which will force Winston to rely more heavily on Godwin, Adam Humphries and DeSean Jackson. Godwin did make a one-handed grab during one-on-ones against Keith Tandy this week and he made a diving catch on a short pass across the middle from Winston. He's been getting more in the slot recently.
Doug Martin is the Bucs' best option at running back
He showed that when he averaged 6.0 yards per carry against what was supposed to be a strong Jaguars' defensive front and scored on the opening drive. His burst is back. He's bouncing off tackles, his cuts are decisive and he looks explosive. Jacquizz Rodgers has also had a really solid training camp. There was, however, a drop-off between Martin and Rodgers last week. Rodgers is averaging 2.1 yards per carry this preseason compared to Martin's 4.6
O.J. Howard is going to be a really solid addition
You're going to see a lot of Howard, as seen by the number of two-tight-end sets the Bucs have been using. The impact of his run-blocking should be felt right away. He's going to produce some 'wow' plays as a pass-catcher, too, although the chemistry with Winston is still a work in progress. He caught a touchdown pass in the two-minute drill Thursday from Ryan Fitzpatrick, much to the delight of fans. During a 7-on-7 play with Winston, Howard sprinted across the middle and caught a beautiful pass between safeties Chris Conte and Tandy.
The kicking situation is looking a bit more settled
Bucs fans may never be able to sit comfortably when a kicker lines up for a field goal or an extra point attempt the way they did with Martin Gramatica, and you saw that last week when Nick Folk missed a 47-yard field goal and had an extra point attempt blocked, which head coach Dirk Koetter put on Folk by saying the kick was too low. But Folk did close out camp on a strong note, going 5-for-5 on the skinny goal posts Thursday, including one from 53 yards. Koetter said, "I joked with him that we were going to move the skinny goal posts over to Raymond James because he has been killing it on those skinnies."
Kendell Beckwith has come on strong in the final week
With Devante Bond still nursing a knee injury, Beckwith has stepped into the starting strongside linebacker role -- really an unbelievable feat for a player recovering less than nine months from a torn ACL. He's tied for a team-leading nine tackles this preseason with three tackles for a loss and a sack.
The safety position will look similar to last season
The Bucs set out to upgrade the safety position this offseason, but it would surprise if Conte and Tandy aren't the starters in Week 1. Both went on hot streaks late last season -- Conte with back-to-back interceptions and Tandy getting four interceptions over the last five games. J.J. Wilcox has made a couple splash plays practicing with the second-team defense and can deliver a big hit, but Conte and Tandy have been the most consistent. Evans is still finding his way in Mike Smith's defense and still has work to do wrapping up and as a communicator.
The nickelback competition has been fierce
Veteran Robert McClain notched the first pick of training camp. Then Javien Elliott began to emerge with several interceptions of his own, including one in 7-on-7s off Winston on Wednesday and an interception in the end zone Sunday. McClain also had a pick in 7-on-7s Wednesday. Either way, the Bucs should feel much better about who's lining up to defend slot receivers in 2017.
Outside corner depth is thin
The Bucs don't have quite that level of depth on the outside at cornerback, as seen with Brent Grimes' shin laceration, but Ryan Smith is coming along. He's gotten a ton of reps this preseason in Grimes' spot -- his first reps defensively as a pro -- but he's still learning the nuances of the position. He did close out camp with a nice pass breakup on a ball intended for Godwin. Expect to see him start opposite Vernon Hargreaves III Saturday.
Offensive tackle depth is an issue
If you watched David Irving in the fourth quarter of the Bucs' loss to the Dallas Cowboys, you understand why this is concern. Starting right tackle Demar Dotson has been nursing a groin injury and is not expected to play Saturday. Starting left guard Kevin Pamphile has moved outside and Evan Smith has stepped into Pamphile's spot. Ideally, you'd want to see Caleb Benenoch, Leonard Wester or Mike Liedtke -- who have all been vying for the backup swing tackle role -- to play there, but it goes to show you that nobody has really grabbed ahold of that position.