Jameis Winston was one of five players selected as a team captain for the 2016 season.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers put in a little extra labor on Labor Day, but the 53 players still on the roster were more than eager to get back to work after an extra weekend of rest.
"I think everybody's excited," said defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who was named a team captain over the weekend. "I think we showed a lot of positive things during the preseason. I [know] it doesn't matter until Sunday, but being excited going into the game [is good]. I think everybody is. We had a couple days off and we've got another day off tomorrow, so no excuses come Sunday. We've had plenty of rest; it's go time."
After a 2-2 preseason run that was highlighted by strong defensive play – and in particular by a league-high 16 sacks from McCoy and company – the games will start to matter on Sunday when the Buccaneers head to Atlanta for their shared regular-season opener. The Bucs are looking for their first Week One road win since 2005, when the team won its second-to-last NFC South title. That opening victory was in Minnesota; this one promises to be even more meaningful since it's against an NFC South foe.
"This is a divisional game on the road to open the season, so [it's a] huge game and the league wants it that way," said Head Coach Dirk Koetter. "You've got these divisional games and everyone knows that they count double, especially on the road."
The Buccaneers practiced for just under two hours on Monday, getting in what is essentially a bonus practice before the usual regular-season weekly schedule kicks in on Wednesday. The players will return after the aforementioned day off, and after the coaching staff has used Tuesday to finalize the game plan for the opener. Monday's workout was more introspective, with only a little time devoted to the Falcons.
WATCH: MONDAY'S PRESS CONFERENCES
"This is our last day to be able to take a look at a few plays on offense, schemes on defense that we may want to get one last look at before the Atlanta game plan goes in on Wednesday," said Koetter.
Some additional observations from the Bucs' laborious Labor Day:
* Josh Robinson, one of the six cornerbacks kept on the 53-man roster, got in some work with the safeties on Monday, at least during the period of practice open for viewing. That actually evened out the two groups of defensive backs during individual-position drills, as the team only retained four safeties.
The Buccaneers' 53-Man roster.
Koetter, who said the Bucs are not currently planning to look at cornerback Johnthan Banks at safety, explained that Robinson's new assignment was just another part of creating roster flexibility on game days.
"We have to cross-train guys," said the coach. "Those D-linemen have to play multiple spots, offensive linemen [do as well]. When you just do the math, we kept six corners and four safeties, so usually you're only going to have three safeties up on game day, so traditionally you do train your fifth or sixth corner to play some safety and Josh is one of those guys."
Robinson is happy to take on any role that will help him keep his roster spot secure. He also understands that, at some point during the season, he will likely be needed at his primary position.
"Any opportunity you have to play on an NFL team, it's an honor and you have to take full advantage of it," he said. "We know at any moment somebody can go down, and we know they've got confidence in six corners that can get in there and compete and possibly help this team win."
* Speaking of the Bucs' cornerbacks, they will be getting a very serious challenge right out of the gate.Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones tied for the NFL lead with 136 receptions last year, as he and Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown each put up the second-highest single-season catch total in NFL history. Quarterback Matt Ryan targeted Jones 203 times last year – nearly 13 times a game – and nobody else on the team had more than 97 targets.
A look at the members of the Buccaneers' 2016 practice squad.
"He's a big problem," said cornerback Alterraun Verner. "[He's] somebody that you definitely love to have on your team, somebody that you hate guarding against. But that type of challenge I think is what we all fuel off of because we know that he's going to get the ball, so whoever is going to be guarding him is going to have an opportunity to make a play on the ball. So it's very exciting, especially Week One, to go against somebody that caliber. It's going to be a challenge and we've got to come with our 'A' game because last year and the past couple of years he's kind of had some big numbers against us, but I think we're up for the challenge."
* And speaking of versatility, that quality helped two of the more unexpected additions to the 53-man roster earn their spots.
Auburn defensive tackle DaVonte Lambert and Ole Miss defensive end Channing Ward were two of the four undrafted rookies to last through the roster cut to 53, and they not only gave the team deep numbers on the defensive front but also some more lineup options. The Bucs appear to have more depth at end than tackle but that's a bit misleading because they are comfortable moving players such as Robert Ayers and William Gholston into the middle when needed.
Lambert and Ward can help in that regard, as well.
"Both guys can play inside or outside," said Koetter. "When they got their chances in the preseason games, they made plays, they flew around. Young, defensive linemen that you get a chance to develop, that can run and hit, those guys are hard to find. You just look around the league and big, strong, tough guys who can move, those guys are not just walking around everywhere."