The Bucs held a productive two-hour practice on Wednesday, though no contact was allowed
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers scheduled the first three of their 14 allotted "organized team activity" days for the opening week of April. Happily, both Mother Nature and the Bucs' own roster cooperated with the timing.
On Wednesday, 60 players showed up at One Buccaneer Place for the second of those three league-sanctioned workouts, enjoying the type of weather that only adds to the early-spring optimism every NFL team feels. The coaches got in a very useful, two-hour practice and the players enjoyed a chance to get out of the weight room or the classroom for a little while.
"The NFL created organized team activity days for it to be a learning process, so guys can learn and get our tempo down, learn what we do and our type of defense," said defensive tackle Anthony McFarland. "It's always good to get out and practice, but as we all know the game is played in pads."
OTA days must be voluntary, which makes the Bucs' heavy attendance on Wednesday particularly encouraging. Though a handful of those 60 players didn't practice due to injuries, the team still had the majority of its training camp roster (sans new draftees) on hand.
Teams are allowed to run fully organized practices on OTA days and also have short classroom meetings. However, there may be no contact on the field and one-on-one drills (e.g. cornerbacks against receivers) are not allowed.
As a team with a returning coaching staff (as opposed to a new group, such as in San Francisco or Cleveland), the Buccaneers are allowed only one mandatory veteran mini-camp, and that will be held near the end of June, at the very end of the team's 14-week offseason program. There will also be a rookies-only camp after the NFL Draft. In the meantime, the team has to utilize its 14 OTA days as judiciously as possible. These relatively small blocks of hours on the field can be very important, even for veteran players.
"The thing about it is, you never know it all," said McFarland. "In these past two days, just out there with the guys, we're putting in different things, new things. You're out there learning.
"You can always look at a projector and see things, but you never really understand it until you get out there on the grass. Grass makes stuff come alive."
McFarland, Wade Coming Along Fine
McFarland was one of those handful of Bucs who showed up for the week's work but was not cleared to participate in practice. The seventh-year defensive tackle sustained a triceps injury midway through the 2004 season and didn't play after game eight.
Though he wasn't cleared to practice fully with his D-line mates on Wednesday, McFarland was optimistic about his progress.
"I'm just getting strength back, but it's good," he said. "Everything's going well. I'm just following the trainers' script."
McFarland also missed the second half of the Bucs' 2002 championship season due to injury, but he doesn't consider his misfortune a pattern.
"Sometimes you get a little unfortunate, but that's part of life," he said. "Sometimes you travel a straight road, sometimes it has curves in it. It doesn't really matter as long as the road gets you where you want to go. That's the way I approach the game. My road has had a couple curves in it, but it will eventually get to where I want to go."
Center John Wade has also lost a few half-seasons to injury, including the second half of 2004. He sustained a knee injury in game eight last season but had surgery and is well into his rehabilitation cycle. He suited up on Wednesday and participated in the workout, if only to take a series of snaps.
"It's been about five-and-a-half months since my surgery, I guess, and I'm doing good," said Wade. "The surgery went well – that's the first step – and the rehab's been going well, too. I don't have anything to compare it to because I've never had a knee injury before...and I hope I never have another one."
Wade's injury was rather severe, but he's never shown any signs of discouragement. The perpetually-upbeat veteran has taken a matter-of-fact approach to his recovery. He says he will be ready to go at the beginning of training camp, barring any unforeseen developments.
"You have surgery to get things fixed, so I'm just taking the mindset that it's fixed," he said. "I've just got to get my strength back and my motion, and make sure that it's as good as it was before. I've got to get used to doing football stuff again. All I'm doing now is taking snaps, but that's something, so it's nice."