While some claimed to have seen Jameis Winston limping a bit after practice Friday, a day that saw Gerald McCoy accidentally bump his franchise quarterback during practice, there was surprise Saturday when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback came onto the practice field sporting a new knee brace.
When the team broke the huddle at the beginning of practice, Jameis sprinted down the field, running about as fast as he could, with an enormous smile on his face. I suspect the sprint wasn't about hustling down the field (although, he always does) as much as it was about sending a message to his teammates and those of us watching in attendance. Despite the brace on Winston's knee, the message on his face was clearly, don't worry about a thing. I'm fine.
As you'd expect when the face of the franchise hits the field sporting a new knee brace, it wasn't long after practice before Dirk Koetter was answering questions about why his signal caller had some new gear. Koetter explained that this is a new knee brace, with new technology (Bluetooth, or what?), and the plan was (supposedly) for Jameis to wear that brace Friday, but was unable to because of a bad fit.
"So, Jameis was going to start wearing that brace yesterday; the brace that they sent didn't fit right so they had to get a new one sent in. We're demo-ing it out. A lot of quarterbacks in the league wear knee braces on one leg. That's the latest and greatest technology. He's demo-ing it out to see how it goes. It has nothing to do – he doesn't have any injury, there's nothing there. It's all preventive and precautionary and we'll see how it goes."
Asked if Jameis would continue to wear the brace on his knee Koetter could see the writing on the wall that the brace might become more of a story than he'd like it to be and again assured the media that it's just something is trying out, and completely precautionary.
"Don't go crazy on it. This isn't your story of the day, that Jameis had a knee brace on, okay? We'll see how it goes, like I said. He's just trying it out."
Dirk has always been very forthcoming, so it's hard to suggest he's not telling the truth here, but the fact that Jameis just happens to be trying out a new brace a day after being seen limping around sounds a little fishy.
One Buccaneers rookie that has a chance to compete for playing time is second-round pick Justin Evans who is part of an interesting position battle at safety. Keith Tandy seems almost certain to start at safety, but it seems possible Evans or free agent signing (Cowboys) J.J. Wilcox could supplant returning veteran Chris Conte (who has been working with the starters) at the other safety position if they can outplay Conte this preseason.
One of the concerns about the rookie safety from Texas A&M is that he was an inconsistent tackler at the college level. While Evans might be the most physically talented safety on the roster, he has some things to clean up and prove to the coaching staff before he'll get enough snaps to prove it.
"What we liked on Justin coming out of college was his range, his ball skills. He's also a big hitter. When the pads go on, we need to see him be a consistent tackler, but we can't really work on that right now," Koetter explained.
Safety won't be the only spot in the defensive backfield to watch this camp and preseason as the depth at corner and in the slot is very interesting, or probably better than many realize. While Jude Adjei-Barimah was the team's nickel corner for much of 2016, his late season suspension opened the door for Javien Elliot to perform well and become part of the conversation for 2017, and the team signed Robert McClain in free agency who has played in this system, for Mike Smith before. When asked, Koetter explained that position hasn't been decided, and there's enough depth there that the job will have to be earned.
"It is. No, it is – good competition there – Jude. We've got three guys that have all started at slot corner in this league between Jude, Javien Elliott and Bobby Mac [Robert McClain], and they're all battling right now."
Despite the rain late in practice, Bucs fans were treated to another day of high octane offense with a sprinkling of plays defensively which is usually the case when there's no pads on. Fans were loud on several occasions as Winston found Desean Jackson on a couple of nice deep balls, and also had another solid day tossing the rock to Chris Godwin who just seems to stand out every day.