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Buccaneers Enter Dog Days of Camp

Posted Aug 8, 2017

Players are battling heat and fatigue as training camp rolls on, but Friday's preseason opener promises to break up the monotony…Plus, young backs excel and the Hard Knocks premiere approaches.

NFL training camps may not be quite as grueling as they used to be in the post-two-a-day era, but they're still a grind for the players, particularly in the Florida heat. There's no way to avoid the gradual buildup of monotony and fatigue.

Truly, the dog days of training camp have arrived at One Buccaneer Place. There is a solution, however, and it's right around the corner: Real live game action. The Buccaneers' preseason slate starts on Friday night in Cincinnati. The Bucs will practice once more on Wednesday and then head up to Ohio on Thursday.

READ: 5 STANDOUTS FROM PRACTICE

"We've got to get ready to play real football here," said Head Coach Dirk Koetter after Tuesday's practice. "It's going to be good to play preseason football. We're at that point. Today was really that day where…today was the first day of training camp where we were just kind of dragging all day."

After a rainy opening week of camp, Week Two has brought the inevitable Florida heat and humidity to bear. Monday and Tuesday ranked as the two most sweltering practices of camp so far, which clearly took their toll on the players. The new week has also featured a crew of game officials, whose flags are helpful but also serve to underscore the players' mistakes. The Bucs have also started to encounter that other camp inevitability – injuries – though fortunately to a very minor degree. Center Ali Marpet and wide receiver Donteea Dye were two players held out on Tuesday due to minor ailments.

"The heat had something to do with it," said Koetter of the team's lackluster beginning to Tuesday's practice. "You can always tell when it's getting close to that time. You get into that preseason game and you find out you're not as good, maybe, as you think. Pluses and minuses."

Roughly halfway through the practice schedule, Koetter huddled the entire team up during a transition between periods. It was an impromptu move, not on the schedule, and it was intended to make sure the second half of the workout was more productive.

"We just weren't practicing very good," said Koetter. "When you start going through the motions you either have to practice better or go in."

The Bucs stayed out and finished the entire 128-minute practice. Some of their work focused specifically on blitzes, with the defense trying out what Koetter called a new and unique package. That's an indication that Buccaneer defenders have a much better grasp on Mike Smith's system than they had a year ago, which is allowing the coordinator to flesh out the playbook.

The blitz work was also typical of the second week of camp as it leads up to the preseason opener. Teams spend very little – if any – time specifically game-planning for their opponent early in the preseason. However, they do work their way through various situations that are likely to come up in any game throughout the season, from two-minute drills to the red zone. Having done much of that, the Buccaneers will also now spend some time on less common game occurrences.

MORE: 3 BUCS TO WATCH ON HARD KNOCKS

"There's still some situational things that can come up," Koetter explained. "There are always those plays that happen at the end of the game, the Hail Mary, how are we going to throw a Hail Mary, defend a Hail Mary? What if it's an onside kick, both sides? You've got to work those game situations that come up rarely but they're probably going to come up Friday night."

Essentially any game situation will be welcomed by Buccaneer players who have fought their way through a series of taxing practices. The dog days of camp may be here, but they're about to give way to some very welcome live action.

* The game on Friday necessitated the release of the team's first depth chart on Monday. It came with a caveat from Koetter about the document being very much a work in progress.

Koetter advised against using the first depth chart to draw any conclusions about how certain position battles are shaking out. However, he did feel the need to explain one listing on the page to a young player on Tuesday morning during the pre-practice stretch. Most rookies debut at the back end of the depth chart, behind returning players. At the running back spot, 2017 draftee Jeremy McNichols had been listed ahead of second-year man Peyton Barber, which Koetter said was an accident. He explained that to Barber but the young back just laughed it off.

It helps that Barber, who made the team as an undrafted free agent a year ago, is having a strong training camp. As a rookie, he did well with a handful of opportunities, rushing 55 times for 223 yards and one touchdown. He might find another opportunity early in the season while Doug Martin is serving a three-game suspension. What the Bucs' depth chart actually demonstrates, rather than a strict hierarchy in the backfield, is that the team has, well, depth at the position.

"He's doing really good," said Koetter of Barber. "Him and Jeremy, that's a nice [duo]. I've been telling you all along: We're deep at running back. It's going to work itself out because of the suspension with Doug. I think Charles Sims has had a good camp, Quizz [Jacquizz Rodgers] solid, but those two young guys, Peyton and Jeremy, we like what we see from both of those guys."

As the clear starter and most experienced back on the roster, Martin probably won't make an extended appearance in Friday's game. That should leave plenty of reps for the other seven backs on the roster. Last summer, Koetter's team averaged nearly 30 carries per game, and Barber led the way with 39 totes. Russell Hansbrough, then another undrafted rookie, was next with 22. This year, Barber will likely get another heavy August load, as will McNichols. How they perform will lead to a more meaningful depth chart in September.

READ: BUCS RELEASE FIRST DEPTH CHART

* A much-anticipated new series kicks off on HBO on Tuesday night, but center Ali Marpet won't be watching. It's past his bedtime.

That show, of course, is Hard Knocks, the popular reality show featuring an NFL team in training camp. That team, for the first time since the series debuted in 2001, is Tampa Bay. The first episode airs at 10:00 p.m. ET, which is a bit late for many players who want to get a good night's rest between those dog-day practices. Marpet spoke positively about the show and might even find himself getting featured treatment, but he'll have to catch up with it at a later date.

Actually, he'll probably get a synopsis from his relatives well before that, especially if he has any major scenes. Marpet obviously knows that he's had cameras trained on him from time to time, but the Hard Knocks crew shoots up to 350 hours of footage for every one-hour episode, so there's no guarantee.

"I have no idea what makes it," he said. "They film it; if it makes it, it makes it, cool. My family will love it. My family for sure will watch it."

Koetter won't have to wait until 10:00 to see the show. As is standard procedure, Hard Knocks producers give the head coach an advanced screening to see if any of the selected material is objectionable. This is primarily for strategic reasons; Koetter wouldn't want any information that could help Buccaneer opponents making it to the screen.

In this case, Koetter says he found nothing to which he objected. He also reiterated that the presence of the camera crew has been no distraction for his team, though it has been a frequent topic in his post-practice press briefing. That seems to be the only part of the experience the coach would like to eliminate.

"That's my main hope, because my job is to coach the football team, not to worry about that," said Koetter.

While coaches prefer to focus on coaching and players prioritize sleep over late-night viewing, the organization as a whole is very excited about the show's premiere. Buccaneer fans surely feel the same way. And even those players who choose not to stay up on Tuesday night understand the positive impact the show can have on the team.

"I think it's going to be good for a lot of guys," said Marpet. "The past couple years, the Bucs haven't had so much exposure. There are some good dudes on this team and some good personalities, and people will be able to see that."