An NFL training camp can be described in many ways: Necessary, grueling, repetitive, formative, indispensible but unpopular. And if it's a training camp in Florida, hot. Always hot.
Then there's the interpretation offered by Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie linebacker Najee Goode. It's one you won't hear often, though he certainly sounded sincere in his delivery…and this was right after a two-hour full-speed practice nearly three weeks into camp.
"It's been a lot of fun for us throughout the whole camp," said Goode. "Days that we don't want to come do it, we still have fun with it."
The emphasis was added, but it wasn't hard to pick out the unexpected word in that sentence. Not many equate hard work in padded clothes under a broiling sun and an extremely demanding taskmaster with fun, but then again, the base of everything going on at One Buccaneer Place is the game of football. That's a game that Goode and his mostly young teammates obviously love, and so even hard work in the service of mastering that game could be considered fun. The exuberance of youth is certainly a factor as well.
The young Bucs enjoy the game and their team so much that they attacked camp with just as much effort as the hard-driving head coach, Greg Schiano, had hoped he would see.
"I love what he's doing with us," said Goode of Schiano's high-tempo work, which is designed to produce a supremely-conditioned squad. "He's pushing and getting the best out of us in the heat. He's being safe about everything. He's not doing anything crazy, he's being smart about it and bringing us together. The best part is, everybody wants to play for him and we're all buying into it."
During the last week of the Bucs' 2012 training camp, which officially broke on Thursday with an hour-long walk-through session, Schiano was asked several times if his team had accomplished what he had hoped it would. Each time, he responded that camp was a success due to the level of effort the players gave him each and every day.
There are, of course, several other ways to measure the success of training camp, and here are a couple:
- Health: The Buccaneers lost wide receiver Arrelious Benn (knee) and cornerback E.J. Biggers (foot) to injuries on the first day of camp, and both could be out for the remainder of the preseason. Otherwise, there were no other new long-term ailments suffered during the three weeks of camp. Benn and tackle Donald Penn, who started camp on the active/NFI list due to a calf strain, have recently started running on the practice field.
- Conditioning: The Bucs had little trouble getting through Schiano's required conditioning test to start training camp, and then they only got stronger as the weeks progressed. Very few players lost any practice time due to conditioning issues, and none complained.
- Position battles: Tampa Bay put out its first depth chart during camp (only because it was required by the NFL for the preseason opener) and while it contained few surprises it did indicate that some decisions are drawing closer in terms of the starting lineup. The picture looks a little clearer now than it did during the offseason program in such areas as safety, linebacker and running back. There are still plenty of depth chart decision to be made, but camp has provided some pretty strong evidence in difficult-to-predict areas like reserve cornerback, third and fourth receiver and kick returner.
- Game-day readiness: Tampa Bay played only one preseason game during the three weeks of training camp, last Friday in Miami, but it was a very encouraging start. Not only did the Buccaneers win the game, 20-7, but they looked relatively sharp for the first game of the year, particularly in the opening half.
Practice will continue at One Buccaneer Place in the coming weeks, and in some ways will look a lot like training camp. But the team's 2012 camp is now in the books, and it looks like a success from almost any angle.