There won't be any organized practices for weeks, but there are plenty of opportunities for young players to develop during the Bucs' offseason program
Depending on how you define it, the offseason is either nearly over or about to begin for anyone with the job description of "Tampa Bay Buccaneers player."
If you are using the term as a synonym for vacation or downtime, then those days are almost at an end. If instead you mean offseason the way it is typically defined in the modern NFL – that is, the weeks and months of inwardly-focused hard work before the actual games begin – then buckle up. It's time to get started.
The Buccaneers, like most teams around the NFL, will begin their official "offseason program" next Monday, March 19. It lasts 14 weeks and is, for the most part, voluntary. There is a rookie mini-camp in early May, on the weekend following the 2007 NFL Draft, and a full-team mandatory mini-camp in Week 14, from June 19-21.
The rest of the program is composed of workout days and voluntary "organized team activity" days, or OTAs as they are (somewhat) affectionately known. Each team is allotted 14 OTAs, which allow for more organized field work resembling a real practice. There are rules that limit what can be done at these workouts, of course; tackling, for instance, is strictly off limits.
Despite the voluntary nature of these workouts, the Buccaneers have always enjoyed very good participation. The Tampa weather obviously plays a role in the willingness of out-of-town players to come to Florida and train with the team. This year, though, the Bucs have an additional advantage – the team's new, state-of-the-art headquarters should attract out-of-town workers as surely as it does new free agent signees.
As usual, the Bucs will use a good portion of the first week of their offseason program to get the quarterbacks up to speed. Head Coach Jon Gruden routinely begins his team's spring work with a series of classroom meetings designed to implant the team's offense into the heads of the men who will be running it next fall. Informally known as "QB School" through the years, this string of meetings should be particularly useful to newly-signed passer Jeff Garcia. At his introductory press conference on March 3, Garcia indicated that he definitely would be on hand for "QB School."
The Bucs will use their first three OTAs during the second week of April. They'll spend five more in the middle of May and save the last six for the two weeks that precede the mandatory mini-camp. That schedule allows the team to train rigorously through June before taking a month off in advance of training camp.
And it all starts next Monday.
Two DTs Signed
Late last week, the Buccaneers added a pair of defensive linemen to the roster, signing veteran tackles Lance Legree and Kenny Smith.
Both Legree and Smith are former NFL starters who, after not playing in the league in 2006, are seeking to establish new footholds in the league. Legree got the bulk of his experience with the New York Giants while Smith has primarily played for the Oakland Raiders.
The 6-1, 300-pound Legree, a former Notre Dame standout, first entered the league as an undrafted free agent with the Jets in 2001. He made the team despite that humble beginning, appearing in 14 contests and even starting two. Filling in for an injured Keith Hamilton, Legree recorded 19 tackles, a fumble recovery and a pass defensed in his rookie season.
In 2002, Legree once again replaced Hamilton after an injury, this time pulling 10 starts among his 15 games played and contributing 32 tackles. He got his first two sacks in 2003 while playing in all 16 games with two starts, then added two more sacks along with a career-best 36 tackles in 2004.
After his fourth season with the Giants, Legree switched teams but not NFL cities, signing with the New York Jets as an unrestricted free agent. He went on to play in all 16 games in 2005, recording 29 tackles and a career-best three sacks. He was released after the '05 season and eventually signed by San Francisco during the 49ers' 2006 training camp. He later spent two weeks back with the Giants in November, appearing in two games, before returning to the 49ers in December.
Smith (6-4, 300) was a third-round draft choice of New Orleans in 2001 and he played three season for the Saints before spending the 2004-05 campaigns on injured reserve. The Saints made Smith, a four-year starter and two-time all-conference player at Alabama, the 81st player selected overall in '01.
Smith got into six games as a rookie, contributing 10 tackles. His role expanded for the Saints in 2002 and he responded with a career-high 3.5 sacks in just nine games, including one sack of Brad Johnson against the Buccaneers on December 1. Smith was strong against the Buccaneers a year later, too, racking up a career-high five tackles along with one sack in a December 7, 2003 game in New Orleans. He played in 15 games that season and posted 47 tackles.
Smith sustained an injury in the preseason the following summer and spent his 2004 season on I.R. That didn't stop the Raiders from signing him as an unrestricted free agent in March of 2005, but Smith's first season in Oakland also led to injured reserve. He did not play in the NFL in 2006.
A Running Start
The NFL Draft becomes a bigger event every year, and so does the Buccaneers' increasingly popular adjunct, the Draft Day Dash, presented by Verizon Wireless.
Returning for its seventh running, the Draft Day Dash gets the big weekend kicked off the right way, with competition, prizes and camaraderie. It also has an impact that lasts beyond draft weekend: All proceeds from the event are donated to The Spring of Tampa Bay, Inc.
As always, the 5K run will begin outside Raymond James Stadium and wind through nearby Al Lopez Park. Racers complete the loop by running through the stadium tunnels and onto the field for the finish line, with the BucVision videoboards showing each runner's finish.
This year's Draft Day Dash will be conducted on the morning of Saturday, April 28th, just hours before the start of the 2007 NFL Draft. Registration at the stadium begins at 6:30 a.m., and the race starts at 8:30 a.m. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers Cheerleaders will be on hand to lead a warmup session at 8:00 a.m.
After the race, runners are encouraged to stick around for the Post-Race Party, which features music, food and beverages, raffle prizes and the presentation of awards. The top 100 male and top 100 female finishers will receive a commemorative medal, and the winners in the male, female and wheelchair fields will receive honorary awards. All runners are automatically entered into the prize drawings.
To learn more about this year's Draft Day Dash and how to register in advance of the event, please click here.