Bucs Week 1 notes: Jamel Dean to start at CB, Vita Vea added as new captain – The Athletic

With the Bucs likely using a three-safety look prominently in their nickel defense, the battle for the starting cornerback job opposite Carlton Davis has been closely contested for the last month. But on Monday, coach Todd Bowles announced that Jamel Dean has won the job, edging out fellow fourth-year corner Sean Murphy-Bunting.

“He’s made great improvements since he’s gotten here,” Bowles said of Dean earning the starting nod. “It was a tough battle because Sean had a heck of a camp, he really did. Dean had just a notch better, and they both will play a lot.”

Both corners were on the field in the nickel package last year, but the Bucs have leaned toward a bigger nickel package this year with safeties Antoine Winfield, Logan Ryan and Mike Edwards on the field together. Bowles said he doesn’t plan on rotating his outside corners, but Murphy-Bunting could be involved in nickel and dime and other specialty packages.

Tampa Bay dealt with injuries to all of its corners last year, but Dean said he’s excited to earn the starting job and be part of a deep group that should be much improved if they can stay healthy.

“It’s just another opportunity to make plays,” he said. “The competition, somebody’s got to win the spot. I have just been out there playing. I wasn’t thinking about it.  I feel like everybody’s capable of playing. After what happened last year, we have to be prepared for the next man to be up, because we don’t know what’s going to happen. … It feels like football is actually back now. You can watch college football, you can prep for Week 1. It feels like you’re getting back into the routine.”

Video: Bucs corner Carlton Davis says the depth of this year’s secondary is improved to be able to handle any setbacks without much dropoff from the starters. pic.twitter.com/dZfmybS0Ad

— Greg Auman (@gregauman) September 5, 2022

D-line coach and run game coordinator Kacy Rodgers said the competition was close, but Dean has improved his awareness and recognition to add to his physical skills.

“Each day, Dean just kept making plays,” Rodgers said. “I sit next to Rock (cornerbacks coach Kevin Ross) in our meeting room, and every day, we’d point out he’s getting his hands on the ball. With the style of defense we play, our corners are out there, so you have to be able to get your hands on the ball and cover X and Z. He stepped up and really did it. It was really close because Sean had a good camp, but to see the growth he made was really impressive.”

Captains announced

Bowles announced the results of player voting for team captains this season, with four returning — quarterback Tom Brady and receiver Mike Evans on offense and inside linebackers Lavonte David and Devin White on defense — plus defensive tackle Vita Vea joining the group for the first time.

“That’s a feather in those guys’ caps. To have the respect of the players is more important than anything else,” Bowles said. “When your peers vote on you being a captain, it means a lot more.”

Video: Devin White says the Bucs have strong leadership on defense, not just in three captains but others like Antoine Winfield as well. pic.twitter.com/IhyjbK4CUn

— Greg Auman (@gregauman) September 5, 2022

It’s mostly the same core group from the Bucs’ Super Bowl season in 2020, with Brady and White in for the third straight year, Evans for the sixth straight and David for the ninth straight. Vea joins the group as a third defensive captain, and the team will select a new special teams captain in the near future, Bowles said.

“Vita got a lot of votes,” Bowles said. “He had a good offseason, he came back in shape, shed some weight. He’s been leading the film-room charges, and he’s become a leader on this team. I think that speaks a lot about him.”

No knee brace for Godwin

Receiver Chris Godwin’s slow and steady progress while recovering from ACL surgery in January took another step Monday, as he practiced for the first time without a brace on his repaired knee. He has carefully ramped up his activity from individual work to 7-on-7 to non-contact 11-on-11 work, but it’s too soon to know if he’ll play in Sunday’s opener at Dallas.

“We’re in spiders (pads), but it’s a plus to see him running around, which means his confidence has grown,” Bowles said.

The Bucs, hit hard by injuries in the first half of training camp, look to be much healthier now, with receiver Russell Gage back practicing and all three questionable offensive linemen — tackle Tristan Wirfs (oblique), center Robert Hainsey (ankle) and backup Nick Leverett (shoulder) — all practicing and in good shape to play Sunday. Of the players on the current 53-man roster, only rookie cornerback Zyon McCollum (hamstring) appeared to be limited Monday.

“Everybody’s trending toward playing Sunday night,” Bowles said.

The Bucs completed their 16-player practice squad by adding veteran inside linebacker Kenny Young, who started 13 games last season between the Rams and Broncos, finishing with 75 tackles, including a sack of Brady in the Bucs’ regular-season loss to the Rams. Young, 27, adds experience to their young depth at linebacker, and he’ll potentially be elevated to help on special teams.

Video: Co-DC Kacy Rodgers says this year’s Bucs defensive front, with Akiem Hicks added and rookie Logan Hall, might be the most talented group they’ve had in four years in Tampa. pic.twitter.com/TupIR0y1Ow

— Greg Auman (@gregauman) September 5, 2022

Trask says Gators’ opening win over Utah was ‘electric’

Players had three days off this weekend to rest ahead of the opening week of the season, so second-year quarterback Kyle Trask went up to Gainesville to watch his alma mater take on No. 7 Utah and pull out a thrilling upset Saturday night.

“It was great. The atmosphere was electric,” Trask said. “I haven’t been to many games recently, but it was as loud as it was vs. Auburn in 2019. It was great to see all the support and all the fans come out. It shows how much support (new head coach Billy Napier) has around him in Gainesville. It looked like the team had a lot of fun and loved playing for him, and hopefully they can keep this momentum going.”

Billy Napier’s opener at Florida had the hero you expected and one nobody saw coming — especially Cam Rising. https://t.co/ptiN6eFViG

— G. Allan Taylor (@GAllanTaylor) September 4, 2022

It wasn’t a great weekend of college football for all the proud alums in the Bucs’ locker room, including a handful of LSU alums who saw the Tigers lose to Florida State on Sunday night on a blocked extra point with no time on the clock.

“I turned it off,” running back Leonard Fournette said. “It wasn’t the type of football we thought, but my Tigers, they’re going to get better. I believe in them.”

(Photo of Jamel Dean: Nathan Ray Seebeck / USA Today)

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