For Stephon Gilmore, Cordy Glenn and the rest of the Buffalo Bills' rookie class, the 2012 NFL season has begun.
Opening day for the Bills is still almost nine weeks away – they play the New York Jets on September 9, the same day the Tampa Bay Buccaneers open against the Carolina Panthers – but that's hardly relevant. Every coach and player in the NFL views the opening of training camp as the de facto start of the season. The offseason program is in the books, the last bit of vacation time is gone and for the next four months (and hopefully a bit longer), it's time to eat, drink and sleep football.
Gilmore and company are the first players in the league to begin camp, as the Bills had their rookies report on Monday. The rest of the Buffalo squad will join them on July 25, which is around the time that most veterans around the league will be starting up. Next in after the young Bills are the rookies for the Panthers and the Washington Redskins, both reporting next Monday, July 16. The first veterans to report will be those of the Arizona Cardinals, who will gather in Flagstaff, Arizona on Monday, July 23.
The Buccaneers are among a group of 11 teams that have asked their veterans to report on Thursday, July 26. That creates a staggered four-day reporting window for NFC South veterans, as the New Orleans Saints will gather on the 24th, the Atlanta Falcons on the 25th and the Panthers on the 27th. The last two teams to bring their veterans in will be the Oakland Raiders and Dallas Cowboys, both due to start on the 29th.
For most of the teams on the list, the Buccaneers included, the first full-scale training camp practice is scheduled for the next day after the veteran reporting day. Nine of Tampa Bay's camp practices will be open to the public; click here for a full schedule.
For the most part, the preseason schedule dictates when camp begins for the league's veterans, as teams are not allowed to start camp more than 15 days prior to their first game. The Buccaneers will start their preseason on Friday, August 10, exactly 15 days after the full team gathers for training camp. That also explains why the Cardinals and the Saints will be the first two teams to start camp for their veterans; those two squads will meet in the annual Hall of Fame Game on August 5 in Canton, Ohio.
The new collective bargaining agreement does allow teams to bring their rookies in earlier than that, and for the first time in a decade and a half the Bucs will have a two-stage start to their camp. Tampa Bay most recently started their rookies early in 1997, with what was essentially a three-day orientation period for the newcomers. This year, the Buccaneers will open the doors to their rookies on Wednesday, July 18, eight days before the veterans arrive.
The trend towards keeping training camp close to home continues across the NFL, as opposed to the common practice in the '80s and '90s of far-flung camp sites. The days of the "Cheese League" in Wisconsin, where teams such as the Kansas City Chiefs and New Orleans Saints trained in cooler weather and relatively close proximity to each other, are a thing of the past. That is due in part to more teams building state-of-the-art headquarters, such as One Buccaneer Place, where the Bucs have trained since 2009.
There are now only two teams that are leaving their home states to conduct training camp, and one of those is the Panthers, who play in Charlotte, North Carolina but hold camp in Spartanburg, South Carolina. The Dallas Cowboys are the only remaining old-school travelers, holding training camp once again this summer in Oxnard, California.
About a third of the teams in the NFL still make use of college campuses for their camps, much like the Buccaneers used to do at the University of Tampa before leaving for Disney's Wide World of Sports complex in 2002. The Panthers, for instance, go to Spartanburg because that's the location of Wofford College. The Bills (St. John Fisher College), Colts (Anderson University), Chiefs (Missouri Western State University), Jets (SUNY Cortland), Steelers (Saint Vincent College), Cardinals (Northern Arizona University), Bears (Olivet Nazarene University), Packers (St. Norbert College), Vikings (Minnesota State University), Giants (University of Albany) and Eagles (Lehigh University) join the Panthers in this group.
It's the City of Oxnard Fields (and the dry mid-70s climate in August) that draws the Cowboys to California, and the Raiders train at the Napa Valley Marriott. A majority of the 32 teams now use their own homes, however, including the Bucs' NFC South mates, Atlanta and New Orleans. All three Florida teams choose to embrace the Florida heat and humidity and stay home, with the Jaguars and Dolphins joining the Bucs in camping at their own facilities.
For more information about the Buccaneers' training camp, and for updates on times, dates and other developments as camp takes place, please visit the team's training camp Facebook page.