Lovie Smith will tell you that every single practice is extremely important, even in early June, a month and a half before training camp. That's true for the team as a whole, as it tries to absorb the new playbooks being taught by Smith and his staff, and for individual players trying to prove they deserve a spot on the 53-man roster.
Only a few players have as much at stake during the three practices of this week's mini-camp as David Gettis, however. Gettis, the former Carolina Panthers' receiver, is one of six men who are participating in the practices on tryout contracts, hoping to parlay them into spots on the 90-man roster that the Bucs will take into training camp in late July. That is not a lot of time to get acclimated to a new team and make a lasting impression, but Gettis thinks his three seasons in Carolina – much of it unfortunately spent recovering from injuries – have made the transition easier.
"It would have been worse if this was my first year, but being my fourth year I've kind of been around, even though I've been with one team," he said. "I feel like I have a good grip on it, just being able to understand what you're in control of and what you're not in control of. Whenever you're in on a certain play, it's just making sure you know everything you're supposed to know and not being worried about everything else. Just let everything else happen."
Gettis actually went to four training camps with the Panthers; he was released this past September and later signed by the Washington Redskins in January. The Redskins let him go in mid-May but the Bucs are giving him a chance to earn a spot in a fifth camp, knowing that even humble roots can sometimes lead to lasting careers. Gettis showed promise as a rookie in Carolina before running into a string of injury woes, and the Bucs wanted an opportunity to see if he was the same player four years later.
"As I talked to our rookie group and told them about [the tryout players] – [tackle] Demar Dotson, he came in on a tryout basis, nothing promised," said Smith. "I had two defensive backs that started for me in Chicago on that. It's important. A lot of guys get overlooked. You come in and you make some plays and you get noticed. [Gettis] has done that and of course we give guys opportunity. With injuries, you get a chance to show what you can do also. We know who he is now."
Tryout players weren't the only topic being discussed on the practice field and in the press conference room on Wednesday. Below is a selection of quotes from Smith and Buc players Lavonte David and Evan Dietrich-Smith.
Head Coach Lovie Smith
"Trying to get used to what we have to talk about; when we talk it seems like 30 minutes ago – yesterday. Not much has changed since then; A few more situations. One day closer to finishing up the mini-camp. Guys have done [well], the way they've performed every day. We had a few more situations today though. We are continuing to put them in game situations, two minute situations – most games come to the two minute drive at the end it seems like, so that's important. I guess if you're on the defensive side of the ball you feel pretty good about how it finished today. On the offensive side of the ball, of course you can't turn the ball over in those situations. Besides that, I think we're going to be a good football team. I think it's been the same message I've given every time I get up here: I'm excited about the team, we get better every day, like most teams do."
(On the progress the team has made during his time)
"That question is hard to answer, because I think you end up where you should be. Where we want to be – if you go back, we're a different team, the roster has changed. We feel like we have the guys in the right positions, have the right guys competing for certain positions. We have put in our packages. Again, they know how we're going to do things, they know what's expected. We have a few injuries, quite a few injuries right now, but that just tells guys what they need to do during this break. The way we leave and we finish right now says so much. Now you know but you get a chance to go and do something about it. If we don't work harder than every team in the league, you stay the same. 4-12 is not good enough for us, so we need to do a lot more. Again, our guys have done that, they're trying to get better."
(On if any kick returners have stood out)
"Again, it's early. It's not even really fair to talk about anybody standing out except for maybe receivers catching the ball, but you know you're not going to get hit. Right now, we see progress and we feel like we know who we're going to look at closer, once we get the pads on, but that's the next step. To point somebody out right now would be an injustice, really."
(On cornerback Rashaan Melvin's play)
"I think every day we talk about one of the corners. Yesterday Danny Gorrer had a big day. You guys see the way we practice: guys are stripping the ball right up until the end. It's about taking the ball away. To a man, they'll talk to you about that. There's nothing like finishing. Talking as the head football coach of our defense, that's a great job, to finish the game off like that. But again, if we talk about ball security and winning the turnover ratio, offensively we've got to give ourselves a chance, got to protect the ball."
(On looking forward to the break and to spending time with his family)
"We moved in last week. Mary-Anne [wife] can't wait for me to get home, to see me now, to help empty boxes and things like that. Jason [Licht] and Blair [Licht] are moving in this week also. We as a coaching staff all look forward to the break. That's a part of the season, of preparing for the season, to get away. Establishing things, get your game plan together, then take a break, recharge that battery and all that good stuff. I talked to y'all about taking the year off and what that did. Now it's a little mini-break that we're getting ready to take – and when I say take I mean just getting away from it. We never now get totally away from football with iPads and the technology we have, you're never that far away. That little break will be gone before you know it and it'll be for real and then I can really tell you something and it really mean a little bit more."
(On defensive tackle Clinton McDonald's leadership)
"When we talk about leadership, most people talk about that guy that's firing guys up and screaming and yelling and saying what they're going to do. Clinton is one of those guys, you don't hear him an awful lot, it's just the way he works. As you look at Clinton McDonald, you would assume he's a tough guy, just from talking and looking at him, but he backs it up with how he goes through every drill. It gives you a little bit of credibility too when you can flash that [Super Bowl] ring out. And when he and [defensive coordinator] Leslie [Frazier] talk about the ring, they're in that little elite group that a lot of us aren't in, so we are listening to them. The defensive line group in general, they work hard every day. How can you not, with Gerald McCoy and your best players leading every day?"
(On Tony Dungy attending practices and being able to use him as a sounding board)
"I think it's documented on what Tony means to me and what he has done for a lot of us. Leslie, a lot of the guys around here, when you have a mentor like that and a football mind like that, why wouldn't you want him to be around as much as possible? When I first got here, it went without saying Tony, we want you around here as much as possible, show up, you don't have to tell us you're coming, just show up and get that football fix that I think all coaches need when they're away from it.' It's good for him to come out and give a few pointers here and there. A lot of the players come up to Tony and start talking to him. [Cornerback] D.J. Moore today was picking Tony's brain. It's special for our guys to have a guy like that around."
(On the positivity surrounding the team)
"To me, it's the only way to have. I'm not going into the meeting saying 'Hey guys, we were 4-12 last year, we've got to get to 5-11, we've made improvement.' No, you talk about winning the division, making Raymond James Stadium a place that people don't want to come to and play at. It's about winning. As we talked about Clinton McDonald, it'd be hard to convince Clinton McDonald that we can't win the Super Bowl, so you talk about those goals. We realize that everybody is saying the same thing, but we haven't lost a game together. To me, there's reason for optimism when you come here and you work hard every day. And players know. They look to the guy next to them – and you know good players in the league, if a guy can play and if he can't, we have a lot of guys that can play."
(On if Smith has talked to ESPN analyst Herm Edwards following Edwards' pick of the Buccaneers to win the Super Bowl)
"People have told me Herm said that. I didn't hear it, I don't watch a whole lot of TV and read the papers an awful lot, but I would be excited about this team also if I was an announcer. Herm knows football, so if Herman Edwards says, he's not just throwing out stuff without having something to back it up with."
(On working with linebackers coach Hardy Nickerson both as a player and as a coach)
"Special relationship with Hardy Nickerson, and I don't hide it at all. Love the guy, love what he stands for. As a young coach, having an opportunity to go into the room and be around a guy like that, I've talked about how Derrick Brooks and Hardy Nickerson and how much they helped me. You think you know what you're doing as a coach and you put a product on the field, you tell the guys what to do. But when you have guys like Hardy and they do everything the right way, it gives you confidence. Hardy was a coach on the field when he was playing. It's a natural move for him to become a coach. I hired him in Chicago, and I got an opportunity to come back here and I knew what he could do with the group. We have a young linebacker group. Young players listen to guys that have played the game. If you're a Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker, you're going to listen to what Hardy Nickerson has to say. We can talk about Hardy the rest of the time, he's doing an outstanding job."
(On what Lovie is looking for out of the linebackers)
"I think once you become a real good football team, you have a lot of coaches on the field. We want guys to know our offense as well as our offensive coaches, to know our defense and special teams. If the headphones go out, know what we're going to call in every situation. Once we start playing the type of football that we eventually will, that will be the case."
LB Lavonte David
(On working with Linebackers Coach Hardy Nickerson)
"It's amazing, he's always got a smile on his face, he's always getting guys amped up, he always gets the adrenaline like he wishes he could be out there and [when] you see that out of your coach, it kind of raises your level. You kind of want to see him put a smile on his face the ways he coaches us, the way he teaches us."
(On how much the linebacker copse has grown since the beginning of OTAs)
"We've grown a lot. He's [Coach Nickerson] a real warm guy, he's easy to get along with, he's played in this league so he knows what it takes, and so all we do is listen. We just follow his lead, he's the coach and we just follow his lead."
(On his Pro Bowl snub)
"Every time I come out I have a chip on my shoulder, that's just the way I play. I love the game, I love the game of football and I just go out and just try and have fun. I've put that behind me, it's a whole other year."
C Evan Dietrich-Smith
(On helping out the younger offensive lineman)
"I think a lot of that has to come to the guys who are playing next to you. I know I come from a small school, too; it took me a little bit to figure it out, but if you have veteran guys that are going to help you out and point you in the right direction, it's definitely going to work in your favor, but sometimes if you're a small school guy playing with some young guys upfront it might take a little bit longer. I'm not going to steer these guys the wrong way at any point in time, I'm going to make sure whoever is out there, the five guys that are with me, that we're going in the right direction and we're not getting our quarterback hit in the back of the head."
(On the difference between playing at a small college and playing in the NFL)
"Just the fact that everybody is good. It's the NFL. You're here for a reason. Obviously you have some talent, everybody is big, everybody is fast, everybody's strong. Biggest thing for those guys is just learning how to play the game, be a pro, be mentally sharp all the time, see things before they're going to happen, that kind of stuff. It's going to help you slow the game down and become a better player."
(On working with quarterback Josh McCown)
"I love Josh, Josh is a good guy. We're able to sit there and go back and forth and bust each other chops pretty good, but I know when it comes down to playing in a game situation or anything like that, I have a true competitor behind me that's going to basically go out there and play with me and if he's not right, then I'm going to make him right and vice versa. It's one of those things that you know the guy has been around for a long time, he knows what he's doing and he's going to make sure we're winning ball games when it comes down to it."