Johnthan Banks, Mike Glennon and the rest of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2013 draft class will put on pewter helmets for the first time this weekend. They won't be alone; even though the Buccaneers made only six picks in last weekend's draft, the locker room at One Buccaneer Place will be packed on Friday, Saturday and Sunday as the team conducts its annual Rookie Mini-Camp.
Approximately 80 young men will participate in the brief but useful mini-camp at Buc headquarters this weekend. That group will include the team's newest draft class; the 13 players it was able to pluck from the pool of rookie talent remaining after the draft; another 10 or so "first-year players from the pre-draft roster who are still eligible for the camp, such as quarterback Adam Weber and WR Eric Page; and, providing the bulk of the weekend, roster, about 50 players who will be participating in the camp on tryout contracts.
The players will arrive at One Buc Place on Thursday, giving them time for equipment distribution, contract signing, orientation meetings and other necessary details. The actual field work begins Friday, with the group practicing twice each on Friday and Saturday. The players will still be at the facility on Sunday but will not be practicing.
The rookie mini-camp is a good opportunity for the coaches to focus their efforts on their least experienced players, both in terms of their NFL exposure and their knowledge of the Bucs' offensive and defensive systems. In the coming weeks, the veterans will join in as the team conducts its 10 allotted "organized team activity" days, or OTAs. New Buc defensive tackle Akeem Spence won't know the Bucs' defense as well as Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy does by that time, but he'll have a small base of knowledge that will help him keep up.
It is also a wonderful opportunity for those players on tryout contracts to catch the coaches' eyes. If past years are any indication, it's a virtual certainty that a few of the tryout players will subsequently earn contracts and officially join the offseason roster. That was the path followed last year by Toledo tight end Danny Noble, who didn't immediately find a team after the 2012 draft but agreed to come to the Bucs' camp on a tryout contract. He not only got a spot on the roster in the days that followed but eventually performed so well in training camp that he made it onto the 53-man roster for the regular season.
In fact, the Bucs signed 11 new players after last year's rookie camp, including safety Sean Baker, who spent a portion of last year on Tampa Bay's practice squad and is back in 2013 for another crack at making the active roster. Having dozens of tryout players on hand allows Buccaneer coaches to conduct full-scale practices with training camp-like depth at every position to absorb all the reps. And for some of those players, it will mean even more practices with the Buccaneers in the months to come, and perhaps even a future in the NFL.