Greg Schiano thought "urgency" was the right word, since his team already establishes a serious intensity level every day in practice. Doug Martin saw it as an "opportunity" to try out some new moves. Mike Williams pegged "competition" as the key concept. Johnthan Banks even thought it was "fun."
The one thing all Tampa Bay Buccaneer players and coaches could agree on when it came to Tuesday's joint practice with the New England Patriots in Foxboro, Massachusetts was that it was "different." And that was a good thing.
It seems obvious that any NFL players who has been locked into the grind and repetition of training camp for several weeks would welcome a change of pace of any variety, even if it meant several extra days in a hotel and a handful of additional bus rides. That's the tradeoff the Buccaneers have made to spend three days working in tandem with the Patriots leading up to the two teams' nationally-televised preseason game at Gillette Stadium on Friday night. A year ago, the Patriots did the same thing in Tampa, spending a portion of their training camp at One Buccaneer Place.
"It was a good opportunity to go up against another team," said Martin, the second-year running back. "The Patriots are a good team. It's good competition out here, it's a time to compete and try ourselves against another team. It's fun to go up against another team. You're going against the Buccaneers all the time [and] they know your moves, they know what you're going to do. It's good to try some new stuff out here to see if it works."
The Buccaneers arrived at Gillette Stadium on Tuesday morning, after a scheduled afternoon practice was moved up in an attempt to avoid an incoming storm. After changing into their gear in the visitors' locker room within the stadium, the Buccaneers trekked outside to a pair of nearby practice fields surrounded by bleachers filled with Patriot fans. For approximately 30 minutes, the Buccaneers and Patriots worked on separate fields, going through their usual early-practice work on fundamentals and individual-position techniques.
And then the white and blue jerseys began to mingle, and the two teams tested each other for the next 90 minutes, using the customary drills – one-on-ones, seven-on-seven, special teams, full-team, two-minute, etc. – to create an atmosphere somewhere between a practice and a game.
"It's about competing," said Williams. "When you go against somebody else, definitely a different team, you want to compete, you want to win. So both sides had a different intensity. It felt good to go against a different team."
On the practice field, a "win" can be something as simple as a single successful pass play, and Williams was certainly involved in several of those. He caught a big pass on the very first play of the seven-on-seven drill that pitted the Bucs' first-team offense and the Patriots' first-team defense, for instance, and later caught another Josh Freeman throw at the goal line in the same period. There were, of course, plenty of "wins" for players on both teams, and the home crowd certainly enjoyed having the Patriots Tom Brady-led offense performing on the field closest to the bleachers.
In fact, even though Brady was quite sharp throughout the morning – or rather, because the Pro Bowl passer was that sharp – the challenge posed to the Buccaneers' revamped secondary was probably the most worthwhile part of the morning for the visiting team.
"I think it's really valuable," said Schiano of facing Brady. "You're talking about a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer to go out and play your craft against; that is a good challenge. The good thing is, there isn't a pass-rush in a lot of those drills. He's not going to get hit, so the ball's going to get thrown every time so you can really challenge the defensive backs, which is right up our alley right now."
Banks said he could tell that the Brady was targeting him, the rookie the Buccaneers may be counting heavily upon this season in their defensive backfield, for much of the morning. Banks gave up a couple deep balls early in a seven-on-seven period but also broke up two consecutive passes in the end zone against Brady later in the practice.
"We faced Brady all day; Brady was really good," said the Bucs' top draft pick of 2013. "He put the ball where it needed to be, he got his guys in the right spot. That's the big difference [from college football]. You can be right on guys and these quarterbacks will get the ball in there. [Brady] was doing that. He was on those guys and was getting it in there. There's a big learning curve. It's just good work to come here and get a good workout with a guy like that."
Even Darrelle Revis, who is far from a rookie and has had his share of game-day battles with Brady, thinks he could have benefitted from being on the practice field with his former AFC East foe on Tuesday. The former New York Jet took part in the early part of the morning workout but did not participate in the Bucs-vs.-Pats portion of the day, as was planned.
"It's kind of weird watching one-on-ones and seeing Tom throw at our DBs," said Revis. "It's just something that I'm taking in stride, and I wish I could be out here to practice. That would give me some tips, if I could be out here in one-on-ones and go against Tom, because it's great competition at the end of the day."
Indeed, and the competition will continue on Wednesday and Thursday as the Bucs and Patriots hook up two more times in the shadow of Gillette Stadium. On Tuesday, the first-team players saw the majority of the action as the two teams took turns trying to move the ball in full-team drills, and there were some specific game situations addressed in the final few periods. Thanks to a mutual planning session between the two coaching staffs on Sunday, the next two days will cover additional ground in a very structured and precise manner, as well.
"It was a lot of different situations," said Schiano of Tuesday's field session. "Just to go against another team is very beneficial. It was all good work. There was very little that was not beneficial from our standpoint. All we're trying to do is get efficiency out of practice. You only have so much time and how many hits your guys can do so you hope to do it the best you can. I always talk to our players, we're never going to waste their time or their bodies, so what you do has got to be very efficient."