No Buccaneer has ever demonstrated the importance of turnovers as frequently as CB Ronde Barber
On Wednesday afternoon, at the end of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' two-day mandatory mini-camp, Head Coach Raheem Morris reiterated something he first mentioned two weeks ago during organized team activity (OTA) days: In his mind the Buccaneers are ahead of schedule in their preparations for training camp.
Given the underlying aversion of most NFL players and coaches to standing still — if you're not getting better, you're getting worse — being ahead of the game simply pushes them to want more. If he could, said Morris, he would have his players ready to play in an actual game, here in mid-June.
"But that's a little bit unrealistic, to be honest with you," he admitted. "We're searching for more. We've still got a long way to go to be ready for a football game, but the guys have progressed well. You hear our guys talk about situational football constantly. When I'm reading some of the quotes from some of our guys, it's exactly what I said to them. It's exactly what we're preaching in our meetings, and it's what you want to hear from our football team. We want to be a smart football team, and that's what I'm getting right now."
The Buccaneers ran a bookend practice to their morning workout in the afternoon, albeit with a few periods excised out of the middle in order to make it 40 minutes shorter. Morris said the team's last workout of the offseason was a good one, and that the test run of a schedule with the practices earlier in the day went well. That left him with a positive impression, overall, of what the team had accomplished since the middle of March.
"We got through it, had a bunch of fun doing it," said Morris. "That was the last day of a team deal before we get to training camp. I'm really pleased with how it went but we've got a long way to go, a long way to go, obviously. We've got to get some more situational work done, got to get these guys ready to play a football game, got to increase these guys' mental toughness. But we did get a lot of productive work done over this offseason and I'm proud of them. I'm happy with the results."
As an example, the Buccaneers spent a portion of their work this week stressing ball security, using a variety of drills to prevent turnovers on offense and increase their occurrences on defense. If you're going to stress that issue as being central to victory — and the Buccaneers certainly do — then you have to make it a central part of your preparations.
"What you get is what you emphasize," said Offensive Coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski. "We did a drill for 15 minutes on nothing but ball security, everybody on the offense. The two main things on winning or losing a football game in the NFL are turnover margin and big plays. If you win both of those categories, you're going to win 90% of your football games. That is a huge, huge coaching point, hanging onto the football. You just cannot turn the ball over and win games. That's something that you can coach and control, those turnovers."
Repetition of key issues is something Buccaneer players should expect during training camp, as well.
"The only way you can become stronger is if you practice it," said Morris. "You keep reminding them, you keep talking about it, you keep emphasizing it in your practices. You keep doing all the things you need to do as a coach to prepare your team to be fundamentally and technically sound throughout the season. Hopefully that's going to help us finish strong down the stretch like we did not do the last two years. There's no secret about it. I've stressed it to our football team, I tell them why we're doing it, they understand why we're doing it, they understand the importance. I show it to them in video, I give them visual evidence, and we have to get stronger in that suit."
Taking Shots at Each Other
Buccaneer players found out on Wednesday what they will be doing on Thursday in lieu of practicing: paintball.
The Buccaneers will travel as a team to a nearby paintball park on Thursday morning, hoping to use the fun and strategic activity as a way to build unity. It's not a novel idea for the end of an offseason program — the Bucs have done something similar at local bowling alleys in recent years — but it's definitely something the Buccaneers have never done together as a team.
The paintball outing will be the last official function for the team in its 14-week offseason program. After finishing up with the shooting games around noon, the players will be on their own, beginning a six-week hiatus from practice. Various players will still visit One Buccaneer Place between now and the start of training camp — some for treatment, some for weight-room workouts, some to get in a little extra film study — but there will be no organized football activities in that interim.
Buccaneers.com will have exclusive coverage of the paintball outing on Thursday, including a video report from the scene.
Keeping the QB Clean
Some lessons are learned best when a mistake is made.
Late in Wednesday morning's practice, rookie defensive end Jarriett Buie mistakenly knocked quarterback Byron Leftwich to the ground, drawing a swift and negative reaction from Morris and the coaching staff.
Offseason practices are geared to avoid contact in the first place, as per NFL rules. However, even when the pads go on in training camp the coaches will still be prohibiting hits on the quarterback, for obvious reasons. Morris knew that Buie's mistake was both unintentional and born of an effort to impress, but he still used it as an opportunity to stress the importance of "practice etiquette," as it is called.
"That's just some of the stuff we've got to learn," said the coach. "We've got to learn to play with better tempo. You can't run into the quarterback by mistake. Those are just inexcusable mistakes that you can't have. We've got to learn how to protect each other, we've got to learn how to practice, we've got to learn how to do all those things."
Such things will become a little harder to avoid in training camp, when linemen are finally allowed to bang into each others' shoulder pads and pass rushers and blockers are truly going at top speed. It's important, then, to lay the foundation of how a practice will be conducted now, so that the lessons are ingrained.
"If we're not practicing to protect each other as a team, then we've got no chance. We've got to be conscious of that. I know we all want to work hard, I know we're all making efforts to make this football team, but you can't hurt your football team in those types of plays."