It has higher ceilings than a parking garage, better turf than a hotel ballroom and more room for route-running than the Club Lounges at Raymond James Stadium.
All in all, Tropicana Field was a very inviting place for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to conduct practice on Thursday.
"The Trop," of course, is home to the Buccaneers' MLB neighbors, the Tampa Bay Rays, but the Rays are currently touring the Northeast as they chase down an American League playoff spot. That left the Trop's spacious interior open on Thursday, and the Buccaneers took advantage, holding what was essentially a bonus practice in the outfield of that St. Petersburg dome.
That dome, and the air-conditioned atmosphere maintained inside, was the primary draw for the Bucs, who are in the midst of their preparations for the season opener against Cleveland on Sunday. Because this practice week started a day earlier than usual, on Tuesday, the team has time for two of the 90-minute review sessions it normally conducts on Fridays. Head Coach Raheem Morris felt the first of those two would be best spent indoors.
"We called an audible," said Morris, who hatched the idea to move Thursday's practice after watching tape of his team working particularly hard in the heat on Wednesday. "We got over to the Trop and beat the heat. We had an extra day this week. You know you want to embrace the heat, you just don't want it to be a factor on your body and a factor on your players. Yesterday was a pretty rough practice for those guys. They went hard. You've got to see where your team is and what you can do for them."
The Buccaneers have never moved their training camp out of Florida and they've never considered the heat of the summer and early fall months to be a disadvantage. In fact, the team has long believed that constant exposure to the conditions in Tampa works in its favor, getting its players more acclimated to it than incoming opponents. The Bucs hope that holds true this Sunday against the Browns, and they'll be back out in the heat on Friday. But Morris also knows he has to strike a balance between preparing his players for the heat and overdoing it.
One solution would have been to slow Thursday's practice down and just have his players walk through the scripted periods. Instead, Morris found a way to keep his players moving at full speed without getting worn out by the sun.
"We had a practice indoors with full tempo and full-speed, and not a walk-through, so I was fired up about that," said the coach. "I saw how hard they worked [Wednesday] and I was very pleased."
The Bucs have gone indoors in the past, usually with less warning and to a venue that didn't allow such free movement as the Trop, which was even good for punting practice. Few of the current Buc players were around before the team moved into the new state-of-the-art One Buccaneer Place, but the old One Buc had a parking garage next door that was occasionally used during heavy storms.
"You've got to work through it," said Morris. "This is the first time I've practiced in the Trop since we've been here in Tampa. We've had days where we've had walk-throughs, we've had days where we practiced in our old indoor facility over next to 'Three Buc' in that parking garage. We've tried the stadium walk-through. We've done a bunch of different things to beat the heat."
Had Morris opted for a walk-through outdoors rather than the Tropicana Field practice, he would have lost a little of the anticipated practice time he had scheduled for starting quarterback Josh Freeman, who is returning from a thumb injury. Freeman practiced on Tuesday but then was held out of Wednesday's work to give his sore hand a little rest. On Thursday in the Trop, Freeman was back in the mix and once again throwing passes without any apparent difficulty.
"Josh looked good," said Morris. "That was part of it, too. You want to get him the speed days, get him out there and get him going. Part of the plan was for him to practice three times a week, once with the pads and two times with the helmets – full-tempo, full-speed. We really found a great plan for how to practice a quarterback.
"He did everything. No limited participation. He was out there going full-go, full-speed, full-bore. He's ready to go."
In fact, the entire team was able to take advantage of practicing in the Trop's cool climes. All 61 current Buccaneers (including the eight practice squad players) were cleared for practice and in action on Thursday. Freeman and three others – linebacker Niko Koutouvides (neck), defensive tackle Brian Price (hamstring) and wide receiver Maurice Stovall (ankle) – are still listed on the midweek injury report but all participated fully on Thursday.
Barring any setbacks over the next two days, the Buccaneers will thus be able to select their 45 active players on Sunday without having to consult the injury report.
"There are things you can't control, whether a helmet hits a thumb or not," said Morris. "But all the things that we can control, all the things that we have done, I believe we have the healthiest team that we can assemble at this point. Right now we're very fortunate where we are and how we're going to pick our team on Sunday."
The Browns submitted an updated injury report on Thursday, as well, and it included one player who had not been listed on Wednesday. Rookie guard Shawn Lauvao, who is listed behind starting right guard Floyd Womack on the Cleveland depth chart, did not practice on Thursday due to an ankle injury.
He joined linebacker D'Qwell Jackson (chest) and safety Nick Sorenson (head) on the sideline, and Jackson has already been ruled out for Sunday's game. For the other players on both teams' lists, game status designations will not be included until Friday's injury report.
Two Cleveland players did see their status improve on Thursday. Tight end Robert Royal (ankle) was limited on Wednesday but full-go on Thursday while linebacker David Bowens (knee) went from limited participation on Wednesday to fully off the report on Thursday.