Making the jump from college to the NFL level is always a daunting task for rookies coming into the league. Throw in a global pandemic and the pressure of being a first-round pick and welcome to being Buccaneers tackle Tristan Wirfs, currently.
The 13th overall pick of the 2020 draft is the presumed starting right tackle for the team after Tampa Bay traded up to get the freakishly athletic former Hawkeye. It was the last hole to fill on a line that will now be charged with protecting the greatest quarterback of all time.
"When that time comes, I'm going to have to get pretty detailed in my preparation," said Wirfs on a Friday Zoom call. "To protect a guy like Tom [Brady] is a pretty big deal."
How's that for a first job out of college?
But Wirfs is taking it in stride. So far, he's had a few days to get used to the facility, and some of his new teammates. Though he wouldn't know, this isn't the same building that last year's rookies came into. In an effort to adhere to CDC guidelines and coronavirus safety protocols, AdventHealth Training Center has been transformed to allow players to do their jobs both effectively and safely.
"We have these restricted areas and they knocked down some walls to make meeting rooms bigger," said Wirfs. "I didn't really get to see what it was like before that, but now, I feel like there are some pretty good protocols in place. They want to keep us as safe as possible and, at the same time, make sure stuff flows pretty smoothly. I think they're doing a great job."
It has come with a cost, though. The NFL had canceled the entire offseason program for the first time since the labor stoppage in 2011, which robbed the rookies of valuable interaction and prep work heading into their first professional season.
"I think [we are] probably just going to have to hit the playbook more," Wirfs said. "We missed out on 400 or 500 live reps of plays, so just trying to make that up as best we can is going to be really huge for us."
In an effort to further offset the effects of missing that time, Wirfs took matters into his own hands a little bit. He decided to make the move down to the Tampa area early, anyway, hoping to dive right into his new home.
"I moved down to Tampa on June 6 – just kind of wanted to get acclimated to the heat a little bit, then I was able to train," Wirfs said. "There's a field down here, it's called Skyway Park. I was able to train over there and get my running in [and] get some drills in with a couple of my teammates. That was a lot of fun – that was good. Now, just getting things rolling – it's exciting."
View photos of Buccaneers quarterbacks and rookies on the third day of training camp.
Getting things rolling will turn into real responsibility here soon. The Buccaneers will embark on a strength and conditioning program beginning on Monday, August 3 through August 11 with the full team in attendance. There will then be a 'ramp-up' period from the 12-16 that will resemble what OTAs usually look like, followed by 14 padded practices starting August 17 and ending September 6.
Tampa Bay then opens the season on September 13 in New Orleans against the division-rival New Orleans Saints and if all goes to plan – Wirfs will be among those tasked with blocking a Saints' defensive line that includes guys like defensive end Cam Jordan, who recorded the third-most sacks in the league last year. But that's okay with Wirfs. He's been through it before.
"That's kind of how my college career started – I was kind of just tossed in there," said Wirfs. "It happening this way, at this level – I'd be all right with it. I've just got to go out there and do my best – that's all I can ask of myself. You've got to prepare every week and come out and execute. That's really what it comes down to. If that's the case where I have to get tossed in there, then so be it. I'll be as ready as I can be and give it my all."
Confident, yet realistic; two traits usually found in players with much more experience under their belts, suggesting he may just be a bit ahead of the curve as far as rookies, and especially rookie offensive linemen. He's been able to catch on quickly. It's just one of the many reasons Wirfs was touted as highly as he was coming into the draft and why the Bucs ultimate chose him to join their squad.
"When you get pads on, it's a lot different," Wirfs said. "You can go through the motions now in walkthrough and everything and feel pretty good, but then it's a whole different animal once you put pads and a helmet on. I'm not sure off the top of my head how many practices we have, but you just want to get as comfortable and as in shape as you can really for the season. It might take a game or two into it because this is definitely a weird year, but you just want to do that as fast as you can."