Zyon McCollum didn’t find the heat and humidity of his first practice as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer too surprising, having spent eight years in a similar climate in Galveston, Texas. On the contrary, said McCollum, “the air sticks to you a little more” in Tampa.

The other thing that stuck with McCollum after practice on Friday was the wide smile on his face. Friday was the start of the Buccaneers’ three-day rookie mini-camp and former Sam Houston State standout had entered team headquarters for the first time a day earlier. His new team had a visit in the morning, then went full speed ahead in the afternoon, and it was clear the rookie cornerback was thoroughly enjoying his first taste of the NFL.

“I love life,” McCollum said, his smile growing even wider. “And doing what I love with good people, I can’t help but feel all that energy.

“I tried to figure it all out, but there’s so many things that happen to you so fast that you chain hits. So I just tried to stay in the moment, definitely, and then enjoy it. Definitely when I go back to my hotel room, I’ll have a moment to take everything.”

McCollum became a Buccaneer when the team traded a 2023 fourth-round draft pick to Jacksonville on the final day of this year’s draft to get the fifth-rounder they needed to select the tall, fast cornerback. Tampa Bay scouts and coaches clearly liked his combination of size (6-2, 199), length and speed (4.38 40-yard sprint), but he’ll obviously need time to transition from FCS college football to the NFL. McCollum wasted no time getting this process started by absorbing everything he hears from Buccaneers cornerbacks coach Kevin Ross, who is himself a former NFL corner.

“I’ve learned so much already,” McCollum said. “I mean, I’ve only met him a handful of times, but I’m definitely calmer on the pitch. I feel like I see a lot more. He makes the pitch look smaller than he isn’t, so I appreciate that.”

McCollum explained that Ross made the field look smaller by clearly defining what his responsibilities were and weren’t.

“In college, I feel like you’re asked to do so many different things, so you feel like you have to cover everyone at once,” the rookie said. “But here, knowing that you have high caliber talent around you and they’re expected to do their job, I just focus on my job. And then also understanding football IQ – which is what happens in certain situations – it makes me feel like I know exactly where to be before I even get there.

“It’s definitely very different technically. I played a lot of press and blocked a lot at the line of scrimmage. It was a bit more aggressive. This thing here, playing out of cover a lot for one, and then also being a bit more patient and straight on the line of scrimmage. It’s something I worked on in my training, so I’m pretty comfortable with it. But honestly, I’m happy. I want to learn every aspect of how to play this game, so I have no weaknesses.”

As expected, McCollum has already started working as a gunner on the punt team and there’s a good chance he’ll land one of those jobs as a rookie, given his size and speed. . The Buccaneers are firing their top three cornerbacks from last year – Carlton Davis, Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting – so there should be time to play a defensive role. Of course, that wasn’t really the case for Davis, Dean and Murphy-Bunting, and the possibility of injury means any player on the roster isn’t far off the starting lineup. McCollum isn’t intimidated by that thought.

“Just being on this pitch, the coaches see something in you, see something in me,” he said. “So I expect, and I know, that I can play in terms of talent and athleticism. So right now I feel comfortable with everything and everyone and I’m just trying to make sure everyone trusts me. Once these players and coaches trust me, then I can play at a high level.”

Even though McCollum enjoyed his first day on the job as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer, it was just one day. There’s a long way to go before he or one of his fellow rookies has a particular job locked in. Still, it’s good to get off to a good start, and McCollum’s smile made it clear that he thought he was, if only for the reason that football was back in his life.

“It was awesome,” he said. “I love this game so I’m really happy to be back here. And on the grass too. All those little things – I take the details into account and try to enjoy everything. But I really try to learn, especially from all the coaches and the program. Everything happens to you quickly, but you just try to be comfortable and I love that.”