RB Warrick Dunn felt good in practice Monday morning but said the offense was sloppy in its debut
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2001 training camp was preceded by two weeks of near-daily rain. The precipitation came and went but a cooling cloud cover was very common.
So, of course, on the first day of camp the sun blazed down on 84 Buccaneers with hardly a wisp of cloud to block it.
Quarterback Shaun King rolled his eyes Monday morning as he pointed out this meteorological development, but Buccaneer veterans have come to accept the stifling heat as a fact of life in camp. Perhaps, then, the timing of the sun's return is less punishment than symbolism.
Tampa Bay has designs on the Super Bowl this season, but that goal may be difficult to realize if the team's offense doesn't break out of nearly two decades of cloudy skies. The Bucs' attack has not ranked in the league's top half since 1984, but a look at the assembled talent on this unit – from stand-bys like Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott to relative newcomers like Brad Johnson, Keyshawn Johnson and Kenyatta Walker – has given hope that this will be a breakthrough year.
And Monday morning, a late-July dog day in West Central Florida, was supposed to be the first step in that breakthrough. Like many first steps, it was a little shaky.
"The first day was sloppy," admitted running back Warrick Dunn. "I think a lot of guys were tired a little bit. They thought they were going to be fresh, but they were tired from the heat a little bit.
"I told (Offensive Coordinator) Clyde (Christensen) on the field that the only thing you can do is improve after today. We had a lot of dropped balls, on the quarterback exchange we had a fumble, guys jumping offside. I don't know about the defense, but we can only improve on offense."
Head Coach Tony Dungy didn't quarrel with Dunn's assessment, but also didn't seem disturbed by the morning performance. It's generally expected at the beginning of training camp that the defense will be a bit more advanced than the offense, and that holds doubly true in Tampa where the team is working on its sixth straight year in the same defensive system.
"It's a little bit to be expected," said Dungy of the sloppiness pointed out by Dunn. "We haven't practiced together for about six weeks. You get the pads and helmets on and everything's a little different. Probably most of the guys were disappointed in just the little details of practice. But I thought the effort was good and we had guys working. Those things will come."
Dunn has had some problems with cramping in the heat of previous training camps, but was in good shape on Monday. He feels very prepared for the grueling schedule this year from a fitness standpoint, but he wasn't satisfied with his unit's first effort.
"Overall, as a team I think this was one of our worst days," said Dunn. "We didn't have good tempo and we didn't execute well. But like I said, all you can do is improve. Hopefully, this afternoon, tomorrow, next week, it will get a lot better."
If the tempo does not improve, it won't be for a lack of trying. Christensen has spent the entire offseason making sure his new charges understand the quick pace he intends to set. 'Tempo' has been a constant buzzword.
"That's something that Clyde is stressing," said Dungy. "He knows how I like to do things, and we've talked about accountability, about having guys know what they're doing so they can go hard. That's what he believes in. It's been good in our offseason work. Now we need to keep it going in training camp."
Dungy did mention that ailments at the quarterback position contributed to the practice's imperfect pace. Not only did Brad Johnson stand by idly due to a cut on his knee, but fellow hurler Ryan Leaf missed a portion of the first half of practice when he was temporarily overcome by heat. That left just Shaun King and Joe Hamilton to handle the passing, and with several drills running at once both passers were worked hard.
King responded nicely to the extra work, completing several downfield passes during team drills that set off the training camp crowd at Pepin-Rood Stadium. Notably, his two biggest crowd-pleasers were completed to veterans Dave Moore and Jacquez Green. The high number of rookies in the receiving and tight end units may have also contributed to the uneven nature of the first practice.
"I think when we get everybody on the same page you'll see a better tempo, because everybody understands where they're supposed to be," said King. "It wasn't as good today as it needs to be, but I think it's just a situation where guys need to adjust. For the guys that haven't been here before, it's an adjustment."
Dunn's attitude typified the impatience that the team's veterans seem to have in regards to the type of sloppiness they saw on Monday. After four weeks of very well-run team practices in May and June, the offense has come to camp expecting things to pull together quickly.
"We just didn't see it today," said fullback Mike Alstott of that same crispness. "The five weeks that we got in over the summer, we sensed it.
"We broke the ice with (Christensen) on what he wants to get done, and we're grasping onto that. Now, to take that tempo into camp when you're tired, you've got the pads on and the heat is going – that's the time to bump up your intensity level and continue what he wants to get done."
Other than the few players overcome by heat, the first practice was relatively injury-free. Guard Russ Hochstein, who just returned from an offseason foot injury, suffered a broken bone in his hand and will receive X-rays on Monday afternoon. It is hoped that he will be able to return immediately to practice after the hand is casted.
In addition, rookie receiver Frank Rice suffered a strained right hamstring.