When Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Greg Schiano ended his team's offseason program in mid-June and saw his players off on their final pre-training camp break, he hoped they would use the time to rest and recharge.
And, hopefully, retain.
The Buccaneers believe they made very good use of their allotted work time during the offseason, and they definitely needed to with a new coaching staff importing a new playbook. Schiano said his offseason goal was not to have the team peak in June, but to reach a point where the players could hit the ground running in training camp and get the maximum value out of those three important weeks. The program was right on target at the end of June's mandatory mini-camp, but that break loomed and with it the minor threat of what schools call "summer vacation backsliding."
Thus the hope the players would retain as much of the gains they had made, both physically and mentally, during the previous three months. With a roster of 90 men, many of them very young, it was inevitable that some would do better in this regard than others. But if the youngest of those men – the 2012 rookie class – are any indication, the coaching staff will be pleased at the start of camp next week.
While the report date for Tampa Bay's training camp (July 26) is still almost a week away, the team's rookies were gathered at One Buccaneer Place on Wednesday to get a head start. This subgroup of Buccaneers didn't quite have the same amount of time off as their veteran teammates, as there was the NFL's Rookie Symposium and a string of community appearances for them to take part in, but there was still potential for backsliding. Instead, Schiano welcomed back a rookie group that retained their gains well as a whole and, in some individual cases, may have even progressed during their downtime.
"Some guys I can tell went home and studied their tails off," said Schiano, after running the young group through a practice on Thursday morning. "As I tell the rookies all the time, 'You're being evaluated on everything.' Everybody here is. Whether it's on-field, off-field, in the media, in the community – we look at the total picture. It's not just one thing. I'm really excited about the way some of these guys got after it during the break."
The current CBA rules allow teams to bring in their rookies earlier than the rest of the roster, and the Buccaneers could have scheduled activities as involved as a regular training camp day. Schiano and his staff aren't going quite that far, but they are getting plenty of good work in with their NFL newbies.
"I think you have the opportunity to do it so you take advantage of it," said Schiano. "That's how I look at it. Our guys that are rookies, I told them, 'These are great opportunities for you to get yourself prepared to battle for a job.'"
"Well I think, as you say, maybe just the individual attention. Maybe a week from now they're not going to get as much individual attention. We're going to work our tails off through organization to make sure they do get repetitions because that's the only you way you get better and prove if you can or you can't. But when there's more people here there's less reps."
There are roughly 30 players taking part in the week of pre-camp activities, a fairly large group but only a third of the entire roster that will be on the field when the full camp begins. That means there are three times as many reps to go around this week than there will be next week, though the math is a little different from position to position. For instance, four of the team's six tailbacks are rookies, so that's still a deep group this week, but Wagner's Quentin Anderson is the only defensive end among the rookies and first-year players.
At every position, though, there is a chance for some more direct attention from the coaches this week.
"[There's value in] just the individual attention," said Schiano. "Maybe a week from now they're not going to get as much individual attention. We're going to work our tails off through organization to make sure they do get repetitions because that's the only you way you get better and prove if you can or you can't. But when there's more people here there's less reps."
The arrival of the rest of the team may cut into the rookies’ reps, but it will also bring one more layer to practice that everybody, from the coaches to the veterans to the newcomers, has been looking forward to for some time. A few days into full training camp, the Bucs will put on the pads for the first time and actually hit each other. Contact between players of any significance is not allowed at any point during the offseason, which eliminates some of the more common drills fans are used to seeing during training camp. Schiano is eager to add that kind of work to his team’s preparations.
"I can't wait,” he said. “I was excited for today, just to get back on the grass and be with the guys. But really, when we get everybody back and we start going. Really, Sunday or Monday when we actually put the pads on and get after it, that's going to be [good]. We haven't been able to do that. The things that you can't do in the spring – press coverage, one-on-one pass rush, those kinds of things, blocking people – now you'll be able to do that. Because at the end of the day it's still about blocking and tackling. This game is about blocking and tackling, throwing and catching, running the ball, and a lot of that does not come through when you're in shorts. Some of it does – the execution, the speed, the athleticism – but it's still about contact."