The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are about to kick off the NFL's training camp season, albeit in a relatively quiet way.
Thirty of the NFL's 32 teams, including the Buccaneers, will throw their 2013 training camps into full gear during a four-day span from July 24-27. Tampa Bay is one of 12 teams that will require veteran players to report on Wednesday, July 24 before holding its first full-scale camp practice on Thursday, the 25th. However, the Bucs are exercising their option to bring rookies and first-year players into camp earlier than the veterans, which means the official reporting date for the team's youngest players is next Wednesday, July 17.
That just happens to be the earliest any team will be bringing in any of its players; the New Orleans Saints follow the next day by summoning their rookies to Metairie, Louisiana. Rooks for San Francisco and Cleveland get busy on the 19th. And on the 20th, the very first NFL veterans arrive at training camp in Miami and Dallas…or, rather, in Oxnard, California, where the Cowboys will train this year.
The structure of that rookie-only first week mirrors the first week of training camp proper. That is, only conditioning is allowed on the first day, with non-padded practices permitted on the second and third days. The rookies may put on pads on the fourth day of that week, but that doesn't mean the Buccaneers will necessary elect to do so. Last summer, in Head Coach Greg Schiano's first season at the helm, the rookies got in some valuable work, particularly in terms of reinforcing the playbook knowledge they had added in May and June, but didn't get quite as intense as they would in a regular training camp.
What that first week means for Buccaneer rookies is some very useful "face time." There will be close to 90 players in action on the 25th when the full-team camp begins, but only 28 rookies and first-year players on the field on the 18th. Last July, Schiano said this about the value of the rookie-only opening week:
"Maybe just the individual attention. Maybe a week from now they're not going to get as much individual attention. We're going to work our tails off through organization to make sure they do get repetitions because that's the only you way you get better and prove if you can or you can't. But when there's more people here there's less reps."
The reporting date for veterans is anything but random. Teams are not allowed to have their veterans report to camp any more than 15 days before their first preseason game, which means every team has their veterans report exactly 15 days before their first preseason game. Count backwards from the Bucs' preseason debut against Baltimore on Thursday, August 8 and you arrive at July 24.
That also explains why the Cowboys and Dolphins will have their veterans in camp roughly a week before the rest of the league. Those two teams will kick off the preseason schedule in the Hall of Fame Game on Sunday, August 4. Both of those squads, however, are bringing their entire rosters in at once, so it's still the Buc rookies who officially get the first 2013 wake-up call.
While the Bucs may be straying from the league-wide trend a bit by taking that extra week with the rookies – 16 teams report all at once and only four are bringing in their rookies at least five days early – they are very much in the majority now in terms of camp location. While the '80s and '90s brought an exodus of teams to remote locations for training camp, the last decade or so has seen most of them head back home. The construction of state-of-the-art team headquarters-slash-training facilities around the league has had a lot to do with that trend. It certainly played a big role in the Buccaneers' return from Disney's Wide World of Sports – their camp home from 2002-08 – to One Buccaneer Place in 2009.
Three more teams are following suit this year. The Arizona Cardinals are leaving their long-time camp home at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff to train at their home stadium. The New York Giants are moving from the University of Albany back to their training complex. The Philadelphia Eagles are doing the same after previously training at Lehigh University.
Camps used to be so far-flung that an entire "Cheese League" sprung up in Wisconsin around teams such as Kansas City and New Orleans training in that state. Now only two teams (not including the Redskins) leave their home states for camp: Dallas and Carolina. While the Cowboys go all the way to California, the Panthers merely cross the border from North Carolina to South Carolina to take care of business at Wofford College in Spartanburg.