NFL coaches are fond of saying that the best ability is availability, and by that measure Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Todd Bowles delivered a positive two-word assessment of where his team stands at the start of its 2022 training camp.
“Everyone’s here,” said Bowles shortly after the team’s first camp practice on Wednesday morning.
Not only did every player on the 90-man camp roster show up for reporting day on Tuesday, but almost all of them were also fully cleared for practice the next day. Significant figures such as outside linebacker Lavonte David, safety Antoine Winfield, Jr., special teams ace and inside linebacker Grant Stuard, kicker Ryan Succop and wide receiver Russell Gage all reported to camp early on Saturday due to lingering injury concerns, but all were full-go on the practice field on Wednesday. Bowles said that was the product of a lot of hard work in the weeks leading up to camp.
“Yeah, it’s been good,” he said. “They worked on their off time, during vacation. A lot of guys worked, they came in and they worked out pretty good. So we’re happy with that.”
Wide receiver Chris Godwin also reported early as he continues to recover from last December’s ACL tear, and he did not take part in Wednesday’s practice. However, the start of camp for the Bucs’ star receiver can still be considered good news for a move that wasn’t made. The Buccaneers did not place Godwin on the active/PUP list before he reported, which means they cannot – and obviously did not expect to have to – put him on reserve/PUP for the start of the regular season. Remaining off active/PUP means Godwin can take part in more parts of training camp, such as walk-throughs, even before he’s ready for a full-speed practice.
All of which means the Buccaneers can hold out hope that Godwin won’t miss any time at the start of the regular season.
“Chris has been working like crazy,” said Bowles. “He’s getting better every day. We don’t have a timetable yet but when he comes out we’ll be happy to have him come out. But he’s still just working and we’re pleased where he is.”
Gage, who signed with the Buccaneers in free agency after four seasons in Atlanta, was seen as a potential insurance policy for the start of the season if Godwin was unavailable, particularly given his ability to work out of the slot. However, Gage was unable to get the process of his integration into the offense going during offseason work because he was slowed by his own unspecified injury. Fortunately, the work he put in between minicamp and the end of July allowed him to hit the ground running in training camp.
“Russ looks great,” said Bowles. “He came back in great shape and we’re happy to have him moving.”
Late last season and in the playoffs, David fought through a knee injury that caused him to miss four games and, upon his return, operate at about 60% capacity by his own estimation. Bowles says that David is also moving around well and looks like his old self. David added that the injury is completely behind him.
“My foot is feeling great,” said David after a 90-man practice in which he ran with the first team without limitations, declaring himself to be back to 100% health. “I’m out here—I was cleared and came back with the rookies for my physical. Got cleared and everything was ready to go. I’m happy to be back out here and play football again, so I’m definitely excited.”
Winfield also ran with the defensive starters without issue while Succop nailed all seven of his attempts during a field goal period and Stuard had no trouble jumping back into action. Bowles also liked what he saw from another one of the team’s key contributors, saying that running back Leonard Fournette looked explosive and quick on his carries. During minicamp in June, Fournette conceded that he needed to trim down before the season, and it appears that process is well underway. Notably, the sixth-year back had no problem in the mandatory conditioning test on reporting day.
“I feel like he’s in great shape right now,” said Bowles. “Obviously everybody can get in a little better shape. You don’t want to come into camp in tip-top shape. You want to get into some better shape, playing shape, as you get into camp. So that’s natural that he’s going to drop about four or five pounds – not just him but we have several guys like that, which is only natural. But as far as running the ball and playing in games, he can play right now.”
The Buccaneers’ 90-man camp roster was actually running at 89 players at the start of practice Wednesday morning following the waiver of tight end Codey McElroy on Tuesday. But it was back to 90 before the workout was over, as wide receiver Julio Jones officially signed his deal while his new teammates were still on the field. Count Jones among those players who came to camp with good new on the health front.
Over the past two seasons in Atlanta and Tennessee, Jones missed 14 games, primarily due to hamstring troubles. The Bucs may ease him into action gradually in this training camp, but he’s starting from a good spot.
“His health has been an issue in the past and he’s healthy right now, so we’re going to monitor that and keep it up and make sure he can help us,” said Bowles.
Basically, the Buccaneers got their 2022 training camp rolling without any drama, whether that were to come from bad injury news, contract disputes or other off-field issues. That allows Bowles, in his first year as the team’s head coach, to easily keep all the focus on football.
“That’s a great job by the front office, getting these guys signed up and getting them in,” he said. “You don’t have to worry about that stuff. Nobody has to read anything about somebody holding out, and we’ve got continuity coming on. We’ve just got to keep that up and build culture and chemistry in this camp. I think we’ll be fine.”