In practice, football coaches occasionally like to throw a "sudden change" period into the middle of a normal routine. It's meant to prepare the players for the way circumstances during a game can pivot in an instant. One second your defense may be catching a breather on the sideline, the next second they're on the field protecting the goal line after a turnover.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Miami Dolphins are facing a sudden change of a much larger magnitude. The impending landfall of Category Five Hurricane Irma has forced the season opener between the two teams in Miami to be postponed until Week 11, when the Buccaneers and Dolphins were going to be on a bye. There is no game this weekend. There will be for the next 16 to follow, without a break.
"It's a new feeling," Buccaneers wide receiver Adam Humphries admitted on Wednesday, not long after the league's decision to reschedule. "You're pumped up, your adrenaline's flowing, you're ready for Week One and you think it's coming, then all of a sudden you get news of the hurricane. So it's a quick change but it's just like a game. Things can change in a game and you have to react, prepare in a different way and do things differently. We'll face this, try to get better this week and get ready for Chicago."
First and foremost, what every member of the Buccaneer and Dolphin organizations are facing, as are all of their fellow Florida residents, is the matter of staying safe in a potentially very dangerous situation. That larger reality made it nearly impossible for anyone at One Buccaneer Place to complain about their new 2017 schedule.
"The number-one thing any of us should be thinking about is safety of everyone involved, not just our people but everybody's families and the communities," said Head Coach Dirk Koetter. "This is a natural disaster. Football takes a backseat to all of that."
Football, of course, will be nowhere near the top of anybody's priority list in Florida during the coming weekend. Still, it will eventually go on and the Buccaneers (and Dolphins) will do their best to adjust to a new situation. The Bucs will need to be ready when the Chicago Bears come to Raymond James Stadium on September 17 for what would have been their home opener.
"Obviously, nobody wanted it, but it is what it is," said defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, a team captain. "We've got to be professional. We're in this situation and I don't think people are going to really care. I don't think the Bears are going to care when they come here next week. They aren't going to care that we didn't play. They are coming in to win, so we need to take the time off to prepare and come back ready to win."
The postponement of Sunday's game in Miami effectively turned Week One into the Buccaneers' bye week, and they quickly changed the schedule to adhere to bye week standards. That included an abbreviated practice on Wednesday – no point in game-planning for the Dolphins, as would have been the day's focus – and an early departure for the players. They will all get the following four days off, and most will leave town. The players have to also get a day off during the Chicago week, which will probably occur on Monday. Koetter hopes everyone will be able to make it back to One Buc Place for an extra practice on Tuesday, though that is no guarantee.
"We'll do something on Tuesday, God willing that everybody can be here safely. That will be a normal week in preparation for Chicago, but that's all based on if everything's good to go here. "That's why we have to be flexible on Tuesday. I'm standing here now hoping we're good to go on Tuesday. I don't know that."
Assuming things have returned to a relative level of normalcy in Week Two, the Buccaneers will face a Chicago team that already has a game under its belt. That could be an advantage for either side.
"I think the biggest concern right now – take the hurricane out of it, because when I talk about anything I'm taking that out on the side – will just be that Chicago will have played a game and we haven't," said Koetter. "The conditioning level, we've been off for a few days. But those are things we don't have control over right now. We have to do the best we can."
In the Bucs' favor, obviously, is the extra time off. Tampa Bay's roster is already mostly healthy, but there are a handful of players who could get closer to 100 percent with the extra time off, including defensive end Jacquies Smith and linebacker Devante Bond.
"We've got four or five days off, so if guys are smart about this they can spend that time doing stuff for their bodies, and that's going to be huge for us," said center Ali Marpet. "Five days off is massive."
That extra break comes on the heels of a fourth preseason week in which all of the starters sat out. Some of those starters were even sidelined for the third preseason game, which means they will go a month without playing an actual game. That sounds like a cause for mild concern, but Marpet doesn't see it being a problem.
"There may be an adjustment, but I think everybody here is going to be ready to play football against Chicago," he said. "It really shouldn't be an issue. I think honestly we're going to be fired up. It could be an advantage for us."
If that long break is a concern, it's not a concern for the moment. The Buccaneers have been dealt a sudden change period, and they are swiftly changing their focus from football to family, and safety for everyone. That is clearly the top priority in the days ahead.
"We've got to control what we can control," said quarterback Jameis Winston. "Of course, we were all excited and wanted to play and see how we would do. But safety is the most important thing – taking care of our families is very important right now."