Buccaneer players have quite enough of banging into each other
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers play their first game of 2006 on Friday, and boy are they ready.
Actually, in the traditional sense, the Bucs are about as far from ready as a team can be. That is, they are not specifically well-prepared for the New York Jets, the opposition in Friday night's contest at Raymond James Stadium. Of course, it's a good bet the Jets aren't particularly well-versed on Tampa Bay's schemes and subtleties, either. The two teams are in the middle of their respective training camps, where the focus is always 95% internal.
That approach offers the side benefit of surprise for the young players who will dominate the game's playing time. The game is already a challenge for the rookies and newcomers trying to win roster spots, and the unfamiliar look of the Jets will only raise the level of difficulty. Those who perform well in that situation will doubly impress the coaches.
"Obviously, we're not game-planning," said Buccaneers Head Coach Jon Gruden. "I don't believe the Jets are game-planning us. We're going to have to respond to different things – different fronts, different coverages, different blitzes, different formations. It will be a great test for us and it will be a big evaluation."
The Bucs have spent a few scout-team periods in recent practices skimming the Jets' offensive and defensive tendencies, but more importantly they've gradually geared their workouts toward game-type conditions.
"The coaches will be off the field [in the game]; we've tried to do that in the last five days," said Gruden. "Get the coaches off the field and let the players handle the execution."
But the Bucs are ready for this game. Just ask any of them. They've spent two weeks trading sweat with their teammates and they don't have a single touchdown or sack to show for it. All of the Buccaneers, not just the young players, are eager to hit a jersey of a different color and play a snap that actually means something. The chance to do all of that in front of the home crowd is particularly welcome.
"I think they're looking forward to playing together as a team," said Gruden at the end of a final walk-through on Thursday morning. "They've been playing against each other most of the time. A chance to play a home game, the preseason opener…we're looking forward to playing in Tampa. I do think the guys are eager to play another opponent. I'm sure New York feels the same way."
If it sounds like the Bucs might be wearying of the grind of training camp, well, could you blame them? Away from their families, trotted out into oppressive heat twice a day, in meetings late at night…it's not exactly a tropical vacation. But it has been a productive two weeks, which is why Gruden feels good about his team headed into the first game.
"It's been good because we haven't been interrupted by rain," said the coach, who has responded by working some extra rest into the schedule. "In previous years we've had the hurricane problem that's forced us to cancel a lot of work. Injuries have been kept to a bare minimum. The team's in a lot better shape than they've been, better shape than any team I've been on. I don't know if that's going to win us a game, but it's allowed us to have a lot of guys compete every day in training camp. We had 11 straight days of pads. Some of our young players have gotten better and some of our veteran players have, I think, improved and kept their games where we want them."
In Good Health
The Buccaneers have only a few injury situations to consider as they make up their lineup and rotation plans for Friday's contest. Most notably, tackles Kenyatta Walker and Torrin Tucker have essentially missed a week of camp and are thus significant question marks for the game.
There are no official "inactives" for preseason games, but teams commonly identify a few men who will definitely not play due to injury. The Bucs probably won't make those identifications until the hours leading up to kickoff.
"There might be a couple [players out]," said Gruden. "We're not going to make any announcements at this time. We still have all day today and all day tomorrow. Some of these guys will go to the football stadium on Friday night and we'll take them out and see if they go."
Gruden did reveal his expected quarterback rotation. Chris Simms will start, of course, but he likely won't play very long. He'll be followed by Tim Rattay and then rookie Bruce Gradkowski, who will likely see a large chunk of playing time. First-year man Jared Allen could see some action toward the end of the game.
The Buc quarterbacks will have a healthy and deep group of receivers to target. That will include third-year man Michael Clayton, who has sat out the last two days of practice due to a mild turf toe ailment. Gruden said on Thursday that Clayton would play in the game, though, as a starter, he probably won't be on the field long.