Watching an NFL group follow in coaching camp is usually a two-hour blur. There’s exercise on a number of fields on the identical time, making it laborious to understand simply how a lot is occurring in a given second.

Last 12 months, we stored an eye fixed on quarterback Tom Brady for a complete follow, taking note of every throw he made and swig of water he took, and as a wrinkle on that, we sought to do the identical with a defensive participant this time round. Defense has usually been the uncared for aspect of the Bucs on this coaching camp, with high-profile offensive additions akin to Julio Jones and Kyle Rudolph, harm information with Chris Godwin and Mike Evans and, properly, Brady.

So on Sunday morning, we spent what ended up being three hours watching solely security Antoine Winfield, an important a part of not solely the Bucs’ secondary however your entire protection as Tampa Bay seeks one other championship. Coming off his first journey to the Pro Bowl and nonetheless solely 23 (for every week, anyway), he’ll be all around the discipline in a flexible function this season, and Sunday supplied a glimpse of that. Of course, as a fan favourite, he additionally made a while for the followers.

Editor’s word: While the group was conscious we had been monitoring Winfield on Sunday, they mentioned they didn’t inform him.

Antoine Winfield posing with a fan. (Greg Auman / The Athletic)

8:42 a.m.: Pre-practice begins

Just minutes earlier than the Bucs heat up as a group, Winfield steps out of the power with a purple T-shirt untucked underneath his purple No. 31 jersey (defensive gamers are in purple, offensive gamers in white immediately). Players are of their white pants with purple, orange and pewter piping on the edges. Winfield is carrying a pewter/grey NFL cranium cap underneath his helmet and a pair of black Nike cleats, however he brings out a purple pair as properly in case he needs to swap them out.

Nearly your entire group, minus quarterbacks and injured gamers, spreads out throughout the top zone in the course of three follow fields. They high-step out to the 40-yard line, then again, then sidestep out and again, then stroll backward, stretching down to the touch the alternative foot as they go, the final 10 yards in full backpedal. Winfield’s stretching has solely begun.

8:52 a.m.: Special groups/stretching

Most of the group is busy with particular groups work, and although Winfield doesn’t play on protection models, he’s busy on the center discipline, doing an intensive private routine. He reties his sneakers, pulls a water bottle out of a Gatorade-branded caddy loaded with bottles.

All types of stretching continues, and cornerback Carlton Davis shadow-boxes him with a number of proper jabs to greet him. More stretching, extra water, then linebacker Devin White greets him with a fake proper jab. He reties each sneakers, will get a pat on the again from normal supervisor Jason Licht, then begins engaged on his backpedal on the center discipline. Backpedal and run to the best, backpedal and run to the left. Then he’s on his again, pulling up every leg to his chest, then each. He works on a brief backpedal and surge again towards the road of scrimmage, stopping after one session to shake fingers with former Bucs kicker Martin Gramatica, a visitor at follow along with his three youngsters.

Maral Javadifar, the group’s director of rehabilitation and efficiency coach, helps him with one final stretch, then Winfield places on a pair of gloves, white on the surface and blue on the within. He stands on the Gatorade caddy, swinging every leg ahead and backward, then extensive backward and forward. Defensive backs want unfastened hips to alter course rapidly.

“You’ve got to,” Winfield says after follow of his stretching routine. “Always been that way. You’ve got to warm your legs up, and the more you get into camp, your body gets fatigued and tired, so you have to spend extra time warming up and getting everything going first.”

As the air horn sounds for the beginning of the primary interval of positional work, Winfield breaks right into a full dash, working from the sphere nearest the followers in bleachers and clear throughout two fields, all the best way to the far sideline of the far discipline, then again to the center discipline the place the safeties will likely be working.

9:12 a.m.: Position work with safeties

The Bucs have eight safeties on their 90-man roster battling for what will likely be 4 or 5 spots. Four appear to be locks in Winfield, fourth-year professional Mike Edwards and two veteran newcomers, Logan Ryan and Keanu Neal. There’s additionally Ross Cockrell (who usually works as a nickel defensive again) and three youthful gamers: Chris Cooper and Troy Warner, who spent final 12 months on the Bucs’ follow squad, and an undrafted rookie in Clemson’s Nolan Turner. Warner hasn’t practiced in latest days attributable to a minor harm, so there are seven safeties for Sunday’s follow.

They’re working with safeties coach Nick Rapone, 66, who is aware of this protection properly. He was Bruce Arians’ defensive coordinator at Temple in 1985 when Todd Bowles performed security for the Owls, and he coached with each for the Arizona Cardinals as properly. Assistant defensive backs coach Tim Atkins can also be working with the safeties, as is Rashad Johnson, a Bill Walsh Coaching Fellow who performed underneath Rapone, Bowles and Arians as a security in Arizona.

It’s a 20-minute interval, and Winfield is the primary by way of every drill. First the safeties backpedal, dash towards the road of scrimmage, then drop again in protection to catch a go. Next, the safeties work on partaking with an preliminary block and getting by way of that contact to assault a ball service.

“You have to engage, then you have to disengage,” Rapone tells the safeties.

It’s psychological as a lot as bodily, specializing in recognition and communication. A security and coach line up as twin receivers bunched collectively, and the security lined up in protection should present which route he follows as a part of every scheme. All safeties, together with Winfield, rotate in because the scout receiver in these drills. They work on masking a receiver’s preliminary route and adjusting to cowl a zone, they usually even line up in a full defensive backfield, with Johnson mimicking a receiver in movement pre-snap to allow them to talk how the protection is handed from one participant’s accountability to a different.

9:32 a.m.: One-on-one go protection drills

Brady and the opposite quarterbacks and receivers stroll over to the top zone of the center discipline, and this second interval has quarterbacks throwing from the 10-yard line towards the top zone and receivers in one-on-one matchups with defensive backs.

There is not any offensive line, only a supervisor tossing the snap underhand to Brady, and Winfield units up store on one knee immediately subsequent to that supervisor. That permits him to look at Brady and talk with the defensive backs that alternate on the left and proper aspect of the sphere, taking up receivers one after the other.

Winfield watches as a number of pairings undergo an assortment of throws, then walks out for his personal matchup towards undrafted rookie receiver Jerreth Sterns. Sterns is getting further work with the primary offense as a result of 4 receivers aren’t working towards Sunday, with Godwin recovering from knee surgical procedure, Evans and Breshad Perriman nursing minor hamstring accidents and Jones getting a veteran upkeep day.

Winfield is barely 5-foot-9, however Sterns is probably shorter; he’s listed at 5-foot-9, however was prolific sufficient to have led the FBS in catches (150), yards (1,902) and touchdowns (17) for Western Kentucky final 12 months, a uncommon school triple crown. Sterns, cut up to the left aspect, makes a lower to his left, turns rapidly and catches a crisp go from backup Blaine Gabbert, reaching the ball out on the pylon for a rating.

Winfield goes to the sideline and takes a knee, and Bowles walks over and talks with him, getting him into stance and demonstrating along with his fingers what he needs him to do. They discuss for a number of extra minutes as different receivers and defensive backs undergo their pairings.

In a second rep, Winfield attracts Russell Gage, the Bucs’ finest receiver working towards on this present day, and Gage runs a crossing route and makes the catch, although cornerbacks coach Kevin Ross reminds each gamers that Winfield would have had assist in the protection they had been in.

9:47 a.m.: Goal-line set up

This is a shorter (eight-minute) interval, with the Bucs in goal-line protection as backup defensive gamers simulate totally different offensive seems to be, highlighted by Bowles in a cameo because the scout-team quarterback.

A goal-line protection is stacked with defensive linemen, all carrying the “guardian cap” padding on the surface of their helmet as an additional security measure throughout the NFL within the first two weeks of coaching camps. Winfield is a uncommon defensive again on the sphere on this look, so his naked helmet pops out by comparability. The scout-teamers are carrying shiny blue and inexperienced helmet covers to indicate their positions, and the drill serves as a reminder that Bowles is a left-handed passer.

The protection collects in a single huddle, as a lot of the remainder of follow is 11-on-11 work on the sphere closest to followers.

9:55 a.m.: 11-on-11 work begins

This interval begins with the Bucs’ No. 1 offense going through the No. 1 protection, however each side will change out for backup models and never at all times on the identical time, so we’re seeing a number of seems to be inside every group of gamers. What is usually known as the bottom protection for the Bucs has 4 defensive backs working behind two inside linebackers, two outdoors linebackers and three defensive linemen, however the look they’ll line up extra usually in a pass-happy league is their nickel, with a fifth defensive again taking the place of 1 defensive lineman.

More usually than not final 12 months, the Bucs’ nickel had three cornerbacks, with Sean Murphy-Bunting within the slot or nickel spot and Davis and Jamel Dean outdoors, not less than once they had been all wholesome. The alternate look, usually known as a “big nickel,” has a 3rd security as an alternative of a 3rd nook, and the Bucs have proven a whole lot of three-safety seems to be this coaching camp.

Bucs opponents threw the ball an NFL-high 680 occasions final 12 months, precisely 40 passes a sport, and although that quantity ought to go down if they’ve a wholesome secondary in 2022, it’ll keep excessive as groups attempt to maintain tempo with Brady and the high-flying offense. That makes the nickel a main defensive look. Bowles can even make the most of a dime, with a sixth defensive again subbing in for a linebacker in third-and-long and different apparent passing downs.

So Winfield is all around the discipline. He’s the nickel with Edwards and Ryan at security, then a conventional security, each in two-safety and single-high seems to be, typically within the field, typically in middle discipline. The ball hardly ever comes his method, and the second protection comes out after a couple of minutes, sending Winfield and others to the sideline for a breather. The second protection works, the third group will get a fast look, then the starters are again out with two minutes left within the interval. The temperature is approaching 90 in Tampa on a sunny August morning, and Winfield has already absolutely sweat by way of the shirt underneath his jersey.

10:08 a.m.: More 11-on-11 work

Another 15-minute full-squad 11-on-11 interval follows, with the primary protection once more exhibiting a number of seems to be in three minutes on the sphere. Ryan picks off a Gabbert go for one more of a number of interceptions by the protection. Second-year quarterback Kyle Trask throws two, one picked off by Cockrell and one other by rookie outdoors linebacker Jordan Young.

Next is a kicking interval, showcasing one of many group’s few true competitions for a beginning job, with veteran Ryan Succop and second-year professional Jose Borregales battling and alternating days in follow. Today is a Borregales day and Winfield remains to be on the sphere, because the Bucs have a tendency to make use of a whole lot of defensive regulars on their field-goal protection unit. They’re not truly making an attempt to dam something immediately, however they line up as in the event that they had been and simply cease in place on the snap. Borregales is an ideal 6-for-6 on the day, transferring out from 28 yards, including 5 yards at a time till he’s hitting from 50 or so.

10:34 a.m.: Even extra 11-on-11

The Bucs have usually blended in 7-on-7 intervals within the second half of follow, however immediately it’s a ton of full-squad work, ramping issues up as they put together for joint practices with the Dolphins on Wednesday and Thursday, then their preseason opener vs. Miami at dwelling Saturday night time.

It’s practically two hours into follow and Winfield has had a quiet day in 11-on-11 reps, with nary a go thrown his method and even a lot of the runs going to the alternative aspect. Gabbert steps up and throws a go throughout the center for undrafted rookie receiver Kaylon Geiger, however Winfield places his shoulder into him and the ball drops incomplete.

Then Gabbert seems to be deep down the best aspect for one more undrafted rookie, former Yale tight finish JJ Howland, however Winfield is taking part in deep and strikes rapidly, selecting off the go as he and Howland each fall backward. Like any good follow decide, Winfield is up in a rush and working it again throughout the sphere and round gamers to the top zone.

Asked in regards to the decide later after follow, Winfield says he was camped in the course of the sphere, studying the quarterback. “They actually had run the same play a few plays before, and I’m like, ‘If I get that look again, I’m going to go pick it.’ So I went over there and made a play. You have to capitalize when the opportunity comes.”

10:48 a.m.: Live interval with full-contact tackling

This is the tenth follow of coaching camp, and get in touch with has been fastidiously averted to restrict accidents earlier than preseason video games. But Sunday’s closing interval is a long-awaited deal with — a “live” interval with greater than the “thud” periods which might be a notch above two-hand contact, all with security and preservation in thoughts.

The Bucs had no follow Monday, so Sunday’s follow is likely one of the longest to this point, stretching previous 11 a.m. with temperatures hitting 90 by the top of it. Winfield comes up in run assist and goes low to make a cease on a Leonard Fournette run. It’s ramped up much more with full-contact goal-line work, and rookie working again Rachaad White is twice in a position to squeeze by way of for brief touchdowns.

The Bucs put eight seconds on the clock in a goal-to-go scenario, and Brady finds receiver Tyler Johnson, who has had a robust camp, in the long run zone, with Johnson toe-tapping as he twists behind the top zone with Edwards in protection. The media is requested to not take video clips of 11-on-11 work, however there are followers a number of toes behind us, and one posted a very good clip of the catch to Reddit.

One extra play, and Brady has an excessive amount of time and finds receiver Jaelon Darden behind the top zone, a late victory for the offense in what has been a robust defensive follow. There’s small comfort from the second protection, which will get a whistle-sack from outdoors linebacker Elijah Ponder on Gabbert on the follow’s closing play.

11:05 a.m.: Post-practice, Winfield nonetheless hasn’t stopped

The group breaks briefly into place teams, and Ross gathers all of the defensive backs in a circle. Hats come off for a quick prayer, everybody on one knee, then a closing message and gamers are off. It’s an autograph day for teenagers, with sufficient to kind a “U” from one 10-yard line across the again of the top zone to the opposite 10.

Winfield is exhausted however he’s a fan favourite, so he units his helmet down on the purple cleats in the course of the sphere, takes a Sharpie from a Bucs staffer and greets the youngsters with a pure smile. He’s a chatty signer, and the youngsters have nice child questions. Asked if he had enjoyable, Winfield says it’s at all times enjoyable taking part in soccer. Hitting a run of 4 followers all in Brady jerseys, he asks them if Brady is actually their favourite, including that that’s OK as a result of he’s “the best quarterback to ever play the game.”

Hearing youngsters speak about Minnesota — the place his father, Antoine Sr., performed the ultimate 9 years of his 14-year NFL profession, and the place Antoine Jr. went to varsity — he asks the place they’re from. They’re from Andover, Minn., and he’s from Eden Prairie, on the alternative aspect of the Twin Cities. They admit that they aren’t Vikings followers, they’re Packers followers, however he’ll let it slide.

One fan is carrying a T-shirt capturing Winfield’s most well-known second, flashing a peace signal again at Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill within the Super Bowl after a go breakup, a nod to Hill doing the identical to the Bucs in a regular-season win that very same season. When followers take a selfie with Winfield, he at all times flashes the peace signal with a smile, they usually often do the identical. They remind him he acquired a penalty and a tremendous for that peace signal to Hill. “It was definitely worth it,” he responds.

Winfield is dexterous sufficient to push the button for a selfie on a fan’s cellphone whereas carrying his follow gloves, and when two boys ask, he takes off the gloves and offers them every one, signed. A visually impaired fan is in attendance, cane in hand, and after a photograph, he asks Winfield for a favor, saying he’d like to carry his helmet so he is aware of what an NFL helmet looks like.

The air horn sounds that the 15-minute autograph session is over, however Winfield indicators a number of extra, jogs to midfield for his helmet and brings it again for the fan, even posing carrying a helmet made to appear like Optimus Prime, however within the Bucs’ old-school creamsicle orange.

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Antoine Winfield tries on a Transformers helmet. (Greg Auman / The Athletic)

There are but extra autographs and selfies as he walks again to the group facility, however he isn’t finished.

The Bucs have two JUGS machines — a pair of spinning tires on a tripod — that may launch footballs to assist gamers work on their fingers earlier than or after follow. Winfield is an everyday on this machine, and even after two and a half hours of follow, he’s lined up 10 yards from it. There are massive blue plastic trash cans at every finish, and a can has possibly 25 balls, a supervisor pulling from one finish to feed into the machine and the participant dropping them within the different can, then the 2 buying and selling cans when one is empty.

Winfield fills one can, pumping his arms in a working movement earlier than catching the ball, then begins to fill a second can, this time beginning behind the can and working ahead and round it from the left for a extra acrobatic catch. He stops mid-can to toss the soccer with younger youngsters, first underhand till he sees they’ll catch, then lobbing a number of common passes. There’s a 3rd can, this time approaching from the best, then a closing few autographs for followers nonetheless ready. It’s 11:48 when he walks again into the group facility, greater than three hours after he got here out.

(Photo: Julio Aguilar / Getty Images)

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