Rookie G Davin Joseph reported to camp on time, made a strong impression on the practice field and started in the preseason opener
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers officially opened training camp at 1:00 p.m. on Thursday, July 27, at the beginning of a three-hour reporting window for the players, and officially closed it shortly before 10:00 a.m. on Thursday, August 17, at the end of a brief morning walk-through.
That's 405 hours of camp life, give or take an afternoon off here or a game day there. For the players, it may have felt like twice that. Four or five months from now, depending upon how long the Buccaneers' season lasts, those three weeks in Lake Buena Vista will seem like no more than a blip on the radar screen.
The players who stampeded out of Central Florida on Thursday were certainly eager to put training camp in the rear view mirror. If the 2006 season goes well, however, they may look back on this sweaty sliver of time at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex as an essential ingredient to their success.
The 2002 team certainly did. That was the first Bucs squad to train at Disney and, five months later, the first to hoist the Lombardi Trophy. They left camp saying all the right things about being forged into a united team in the intense heat, about learning at a fast pace and about being ready to compete for a title.
Of course, that 2002 team had no idea in August what lay ahead in the fall or in January. Neither does this 2006 squad. Nobody makes grandiose predictions during training camp; rather, they set in motion a plan they hope will lead to the Super Bowl, then follow that plan as well as possible.
"That's why you just better take it one step at a time and just worry about your own house here," said Head Coach Jon Gruden on the day his players reported to camp this summer. "Try to keep developing players, try to manage your training camp creatively and get the most out of your players and try to stay injury-free. I think that's the goal. You can't really worry so much anymore about the other guys because they change so much. We respect that and yet we don't fear it."
Three weeks later, as camp broke, Gruden declined to grade his team's progress too specifically. The proof, he said, will be reflected on the scoreboard once the regular-season games begin in September. But as to the list of goals he outlined on that first day, the Bucs seemed to have placed a check mark next to each one.
Develop young players? Davin Joseph and Jeremy Trueblood started next to each other on the offensive line last Friday night in the preseason opener. Manage camp creatively? The Bucs were rarely interrupted by weather, so Gruden inserted special off-days, a trip to the movies and a few indoor sessions into the mix. Get the most out of your players? Gruden's most common end-of-the-afternoon assessment during the dog days of camp was that his team had worked hard and once again proved that they loved the game of football. Stay injury-free? Knock on wood…so far the shell-shock news of major preseason injuries have come from other corners of the NFL.
In many, many ways, this year's camp resembled that first one under Gruden, the first one at Disney in 2002. This summer's edition was actually less injury-plagued than that one – the '02 Bucs lost Michael Pittman and Keenan McCardell for good chunks of camp – but it was a near match in terms of atmosphere. Distractions were few and far between this year as in 2002, and the focus was squarely on football. A trip to Japan garbled the '03 camp, hurricanes swamped all of Florida during the '04 camp and relentless O-line injuries made it hard to hold a meaningful workout in '05.
This summer, the Bucs arrived at Disney, put their heads down, worked non-stop for three weeks and, with a collective and audible sigh of relief, left town feeling quite satisfied. No drama, just a lot of sweat.
"We've worked hard and gotten some work done," said Gruden, simply. "We've got a long way to go but I'm pleased with where we are. We got a lot of things done."
Like what, specifically? Using the Buccaneers.com Training Camp Central section as a guide, let's take a look back at the timeline of Camp 2006.