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Bucs Beat

Rick Stroud, Greg Auman and Matt Baker

Jameis Winston as 2017 NFL MVP? 66-to-1 odds from Vegas

Bucs fans would be very happy if quarterback Jameis WInston can put himself into consideration for the NFL MVP award during the 2017 season.

CHARLIE KAIJO | Times

Bucs fans would be very happy if quarterback Jameis WInston can put himself into consideration for the NFL MVP award during the 2017 season.

Could Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston be an NFL MVP in 2017? It's certainly unlikely, but the sports book at Bovada has opening lines with Winston getting 66-to-1 odds, worse than 22 other players across the league.

It would take the Bucs becoming a playoff team and Winston radically lowering his turnovers for the third-year quarterback to be realistically an MVP candidate. Another way to get into the conversation -- beat the presumed favorites, as the Bucs will face Bovada's top two choices, Patriots QB Tom Brady (4:1) and Packers QB Aaron Rodgers (7:1) head-to-head this season. Raiders QB Derek Carr, who just signed a $125-million, five-year extension, is third at 9:1, with Cowboys QB Dak Prescott, Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger and Seahawks QB Russell Wilson next at 12:1.

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Bucs fans ranked 25th in study of NFL teams

Bucs fans were on their feet for this fourth-quarter play at home against the Carolina Panthers at Raymond James Stadium in 2015.

DIRK SHADD | TIMES

Bucs fans were on their feet for this fourth-quarter play at home against the Carolina Panthers at Raymond James Stadium in 2015.

The Bucs and their fans are ranked 25th in an Emory University study of NFL teams' "fan base and branding analysis."

The Bucs ranked 25th overall and held the same ranking in "fan equity" and "social equity," with measurements weighted against market size to lessen the significance of major markets like New York, Los Angeles or Chicago.

There's complicated metrics involved, but the rankings seem to be generous to the Bucs -- the Tampa Bay market is generally ranked between 11th and 14th nationally and the Bucs ranked 28th among 32 NFL teams in home attendance in 2016. On social media, the Bucs have the 29th-most Twitter followers and the 29th most Facebook fans, ranking 29th in combined following as well.

The Bucs are ranked 13th in "road equity," which measures how well the team's fans travel on the road, and that measurement seems impressively high -- the Bucs have more of a national profile in two years with Jameis Winston at quarterback, especially after going 9-7 in 2016 and barely missing their first playoff appearance since 2007. …

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Bucs' first practice set for July 28, with 13 open to public

Head coach Dirk Koetter and the Bucs will open training camp on on July 28.

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

Head coach Dirk Koetter and the Bucs will open training camp on on July 28.

The Bucs have announced the dates for the 2017 training camp and preseason practices, with the first on July 28 and 13 sessions open to the general public.

Tampa Bay's rookies will report on July 25 and veterans on July 27, and as was the case last year, the Bucs will practice early in the morning to avoid midday heat -- nearly all the practices start at 8:45 and should be done around 10:30 a.m.

The team has set aside its July 31 workout as a "military appreciation practice," with two others -- Aug. 3 and Aug. 8 -- exclusively open to season-ticket holders. There will be higher interest in the Bucs this preseason because their training camp will be featured on HBO's "Hard Knocks" show for five weeks, starting Aug. 8.

The dates open to all Bucs fans: July 28, 29, 30; August 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 19, 20, 22, 23, 24. In addition, the Bucs will have two joint practices with the Jaguars in Jacksonville on Aug. 14 and Aug. 15 and both are expected to be open to the public there.

The Bucs play four preseason games -- at the Bengals Aug. 11, at the Jaguars Aug. 17, at home against the Browns Aug. 26 and at home against the Redskins on Aug. 31.

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Players Win as Aguayo, Folk Battle Remains Undecided

The ending of the final Buccaneers minicamp of this year’s offseason came down to the two players involved in the team’s most talked-about position battle.

Though this time kickers Roberto Aguayo and Nick Folk weren’t competing, but had to team up to make four consecutive kicks — one each from 44 and 52 yards — to let practice finish early. Both players made their first two kicks, to the joy of the players who swarmed the pair in celebration, but leaving the debate for a roster slot alive. Head coach Dirk Koetter said the team was continuing to evaluate the two players and is still far from deciding on its choice for Week One.

“We’re just going to leave it as a competition,” Koetter said. “We obviously know the numbers, we’ve charted everything this whole spring and we’ll let that thing keep going.”

Instead of further practice, the team were able to enjoy cold treats on a hot day from a Kona Ice truck that waited at One Buc Place. Tight end Cameron Brate, enjoying a strawberry coconut ice cream, said the team had made a tradition of rewarding players at the end of minicamp. …

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O.J. Howard might be biggest reason to believe in Bucs' ground game

Tight end O.J. Howard, picked 19th overall in this year's draft, has a reputation as a strong run blocker.

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

Tight end O.J. Howard, picked 19th overall in this year's draft, has a reputation as a strong run blocker.

Last season, the Bucs finished 24th in the NFL with 101.0 rushing yards per game. The team's 3.6 yards per carry was the fourth-worst in the league. After rushing for a combined 1,931 yards in 2015, running backs Doug Martin and Charles Sims had just 570 yards in 2016.

Throughout minicamp at One Buc Place, coach Dirk Koetter has voiced his confidence in the retooled offensive line, with guard J.R. Sweezy rebounding from back surgery and Ali Marpet moving to center. He's also spoken highly of Martin and Sims for their play in limited action during minicamp.

But the biggest reason to believe in the ground game might not be a back or a lineman. Tight end O.J. Howard, picked 19th overall in this year's draft, has a reputation as a strong run blocker.

"There's so few tight ends coming into the NFL that can block anybody now," Koetter said. "(Howard) is a really good blocker coming out of college - one of the few - and he's going to get better."

After 2016 - Howard's final year at Alabama - Pro Football Focus named him the top run-blocking tight end in the country. That season, the Crimson Tide ranked 12th in the nation with 245.0 rushing yards per game. And Koetter expects that ability to translate to the pros.

"A lot of people are focusing on what O.J. can bring in the passing game, but O.J.'s going to help our running game," Koetter said.

At the NFL Combine in March, Howard displayed a wingspan of 80-5/8 inches - meaning the 6-foot-6 tight end has a few inches more reach than most players his size.

Tight end Cameron Brate highlighted Howard's height and arm length, saying the rookie "has the tools to be a really good blocker in this league."

"Going to a school like Alabama definitely helped him out - he's faced really good competition before," Brate added.

Brate has worked on his physicality this offseason, after a breakout 2016 campaign in which he reeled in 57 passes for 660 yards and eight touchdowns. He looks forward to playing alongside Howard during the season.

"Me and him together, we can both kind of do different things for us," Brate said. "When we're both on the field together, it'll be hard to defend, whether we're running the ball or passing the ball."

And Howard himself said he's willing to block and catch passes to help the team.

"(Blocking is) part of the game," Howard said. "You've got to be able to do both, and that's what'll make you a great tight end."

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Jameis Winston is 'aiming to be elite,' his head coach says

"Jameis, no one has higher expectations for his performance than he does,'' Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said. "He's aiming to be elite, not just one of 32.''

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

"Jameis, no one has higher expectations for his performance than he does,'' Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said. "He's aiming to be elite, not just one of 32.''

Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston wrapped up his third NFL off-season Thursday and he is a far different player than the promising Heisman Trophy winner from Florida State who was the No. 1 overall pick in 2015.

The biggest difference? Winston is now aiming to become elite, according to coach Dirk Koetter. …

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Just how fast is DeSean Jackson? The Bucs are starting to understand

Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver DeSean Jackson runs a route during the first day of mandatory minicamp at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Tuesday, June 13, 2017.

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver DeSean Jackson runs a route during the first day of mandatory minicamp at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Tuesday, June 13, 2017.

TAMPA -- Cornerbacks usually know how DeSean Jackson is going to beat them. With speed.

It’s no secret. It’s been known since before he entered the NFL, and cornerbacks have been reminded again and again since his 2008 debut.

How fast is Jackson? His 22.6 mph recorded on a 56-yard reception against the Arizona Cardinals was the second-highest top-speed of any ballcarrier in the league last year, behind Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill. His 17.7 yards per reception, the product of countless deep balls behind burned defensive backs, are first among all active players. Last year he gained 17.9 yards per catch, enough to lead the league for the third time in his career, no player in history has placed first in the league more often.

On a team with one of the NFL’s biggest receivers in Mike Evans, Jackson changes the way defenses approach the Buccaneers. Where before, Evans earned extra attention because of his size, teams now know they can’t take an eye off Jackson either. Second-year cornerback Vernon Hargreaves said Jackson’s speed wasn’t like anything he was used to. …

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Toughest job may be managing expectations for the Bucs

While admitting he has a good football team, Dirk Koetter is quick to remind his team they haven't accomplished anything yet.

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

While admitting he has a good football team, Dirk Koetter is quick to remind his team they haven't accomplished anything yet.

Expectations are good to have in the NFL. Following a 9-7 season in which they missed the playoffs by the third tie-breaker, the Bucs have become a popular pick to win the NFC South or even (gulp) a surprise team to reach the Super Bowl. …

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Bucs rookie Chris Godwin draws comparisons to Roddy White

Chris Godwin is primarily an outside receiver, although it's not inconceivable he could play in the slot.

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

Chris Godwin is primarily an outside receiver, although it's not inconceivable he could play in the slot.

Wide receiver Chris Godwin has made more plays for the Bucs than any rookie since the draft. In fact, his size (6-1, 210 pounds) and ability to compete for the football drew comparisons Wednesday to former Falcons receiver Roddy White, who recently retired.

Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith, the former Falcons head coach, first raved about Godwin's ability to compete for the football. Head coach Dirk Koetter, who was Smith's offensive coordinator in Atlanta, drew the parallel to White. …

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DeSean Jackson awaits another premier: 'All Eyez on Me'

Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver DeSean Jackson watches action from the sidelines during the first day of mandatory minicamp at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Tuesday, June 13, 2017.

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver DeSean Jackson watches action from the sidelines during the first day of mandatory minicamp at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Tuesday, June 13, 2017.

Two practices remained in the mandatory minicamp Wednesday, the calendar flipping ever closer to DeSean Jackson’s debut with the Bucs, when the veteran receiver turned his thoughts to another premier.

Jackson is a co-producer of All Eyez on Me, a biopic on hip hop artist, rapper, poet and activist Tupac Shakur that opens in 2,450 theatres in North America on Friday.

Titled after Shakur’s 1996 fourth studio album by the same name, the film stars Demetrius Shipp Jr., as Tupac and co-stars Kat Graham, Lauren Cohen, Hill Harper and Danai Guirira. Jackson became involved as an investor and partner with longtime friend and business partner L.T. Hutton, one of the film’s producers who owns Program Pictures, a movie company  in conjunction with Morgan Creek Pictures.

Growing up in Long Beach, Calif., in the 90’s, Jackson said he was influenced by Tupac’s music.   

“For me it was All Eyez on Me, Better Days – I still to this day listen to all of Tupac’s music,’’ Jackson said. “It still influences me and it keeps me thinking you’ve got to keep going out there and bettering yourself day in and day out. …

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Observations from day two of Bucs minicamp

The Bucs brought in nine-year veteran receiver DeSean Jackson to complement All-Pro Mike Evans, and Jackson is excited about their 1-2 punch.

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

The Bucs brought in nine-year veteran receiver DeSean Jackson to complement All-Pro Mike Evans, and Jackson is excited about their 1-2 punch.

3:26 p.m.: A bit of deja vu here. On two consecutive possessions, Ryan Fitzpatrick has underthrown a receiver running a post route — first it was Adam Humphries, then it was Donteea Dye Jr. Each time, Javien Elliott was on coverage, and each time, the receiver slowed down, beat him to the ball and made the catch. For a quarterback with 32 interceptions over the last two years, those kinds of throws are a bad sign; the same goes for a cornerback trying to earn a starting spot.

2:51 p.m.: Jameis Winston is consistently able to evade defenders to make the pass. In a red zone drill, he twice moved around in the pocket and found Cameron Brate down the field (although one of the passes was behind him, and Brate reached back to grab it). At the same time, however, he had another near-interception, misreading Robert McClain's position across the middle. After that, he somehow managed to overthrow the 6-foot-6 O.J. Howard in the back of the end zone, on a play where he had protection. …

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Bucs' ball-hawking defense could help Winston limit his turnovers

Jameis Winston's spent plenty of time praising those around him, but he has an equal level of respect for the guys on the other side of the ball.

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

Jameis Winston's spent plenty of time praising those around him, but he has an equal level of respect for the guys on the other side of the ball.

Jameis Winston has an impressive-looking group of weapons on offense for 2017. With Mike Evans, Cameron Brate and new additions OJ Howard and Desean Jackson to throw to, he may be perfectly set to take his game up a level in his third year.

Winston's spent plenty of time praising those around him, but he has an equal level of respect for the guys on the other side of the ball. And they might play their own part in helping Winston improve going into this season.

"We have a great defense," Winston said. "Everyone looks at the offensive production and things on this side, but we wouldn't have won the games that we won without our defense last year. And I think everyone knows that especially inside this building. Our defense is a great defense and the challenges they throw at us every single day, it really helps us." …

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Early observations from Bucs minicamp

Jameis Winston completed his first three passes before being picked off by Robert Ayers.

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

Jameis Winston completed his first three passes before being picked off by Robert Ayers.

UPDATE: 1:44: The quarterback performance at Bucs minicamp has been up-and-down, to say the least. Ryan Griffin looked better on the second series, throwing a couple of crisp downfield passes to Chris Godwin. Jameis Winston flung a ball right at William Gholston, who was standing there with his arms in the air and exuberantly batted it down; he followed up with two completions. And Ryan Fitzpatrick hit Derel Walker cutting across the middle, but the ball went through his hands.

12:52 P.M.: First possession of the Bucs' first minicamp: Jameis Winston completes his first three passes, then Robert Ayers Jr. picks him off. Ryan Fitzpatrick goes 5-for-7 with a touchdown pass to Jacquizz Rodgers, and Ryan Griffin had too many incompletions for me to keep track of. Robert McClain has made some nice plays in coverage; Maurice Fleming has held some receivers in coverage. And Josh Huff is having some trouble holding onto the ball.

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Five things to take away from the Bucs mandatory minicamp

Jameis Winston has to become efficient throwing to newcomers DeSean Jackson, Chris Godwin and O.J. Howard.

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

Jameis Winston has to become efficient throwing to newcomers DeSean Jackson, Chris Godwin and O.J. Howard.

The Bucs begin their three-day mandatory minicamp today, the last time the team will be assembled until training camp in late July. By then, HBO’s Hard Knocks will have cameras everywhere at One Buc Place.

To the naked eye, there’s not much difference between this and an Organized Team Activity, other than everyone must attend.

Here are a few things we will be watching, understanding that the storylines will continue well into the summer.

Jameis Winston and his precision with receivers: This is something that will be demanded of Winston in his third season. His 33 interceptions over the past two seasons is unacceptable.  Knowledge of the system and NFL experience should help. But Winston has to become efficient throwing to newcomers -- WR DeSean Jackson, WR Chris Godwin and TE O.J. Howard.

Ryan or Ryan? The backup QB battle will get a little more scrutiny with Ryan Fitzpatrick and Ryan Griffin battling for the No. 2 spot. Fitzpatrick’s lack of arm strength is a concern but he throws with anticipation and isn’t afraid to take some chances. Griffin has come on the past few weeks but will have to make his case in the preseason. Koetter says not to write him off yet. …

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Ten position battles ahead for Bucs training camp

Bucs rookie Justin Evans will be in the mix for a starting safety job and could also get a look on special teams for kickoff returns, two of several position battles ahead for the Bucs in training camp.

LOREN ELLIOTT | TIMES

Bucs rookie Justin Evans will be in the mix for a starting safety job and could also get a look on special teams for kickoff returns, two of several position battles ahead for the Bucs in training camp.

The Bucs have four more days of OTA workouts this week, then a three-day mandatory minicamp next week, but after that, they're done until the start of training camp, which should be right around July 27. HBO's "Hard Knocks" will be here in town, chronicling the Bucs for five weeks of training camp and preseason, so there will be a national audience as the buildup to Tampa Bay's 2017 season unfolds in August.

With that in mind, here are 10 position battles that will be among the major storylines of preseason -- some will be answered when final cuts are made in early September, but others will be answered as the season progresses. Drum roll ...

10. Fourth defensive tackle: Stevie Tu'ikolovatu and Sealver Siliga. Literally the biggest battle in training camp, with both hovering around 350 pounds as massive run-stoppers who may only play 15 snaps a game, but key the Bucs' run defense in short-yardage situations. The two were actually college teammates at Utah and are only 18 months apart in age, despite Siliga being in his seventh year trying to make NFL rosters. …

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