With preseason games on three Fridays and one Wednesday in August, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers haven't had what a player would recognize as a normal weekly schedule in a while. The last half-dozen days have been particularly unusual, with a Wednesday road game followed by five alternating days of practice and rest. The trend will continue on Tuesday when Buccaneer players get the day off following a steamy practice on Monday afternoon.
But it's all part of the plan.
Head Coach Greg Schiano ran his training camp practices at a blistering pace and, at the end of the three weeks of camp, acknowledged that his team had a general sense of fatigue. That was somewhat evident in the preseason game the team played right after camp, a 30-7 loss to the Tennessee Titans. It was also not unexpected. Schiano said the goal was not to have his team peak, in terms of conditioning, in mid-August but rather to be running at full speed on September 9.
"Coming out of camp, guys have a couple [issues] – this hurts, that's a little sore, this is keeping me from going full speed," said Schiano. "I think it's a gradual get back to feeling great and get them ready for Sunday, where they're feeling 100%."
The Bucs finished their Monday practice a little after 2:00 p.m. and will not be back on the field for almost 48 hours. Beginning on Wednesday, work will resume full-bore, aimed at Sunday at 4:25 p.m., when Tampa Bay and Carolina kick off their respective 2012 seasons. Schiano believes his approach will have his team ready to be the most physical team on the field in that game, and that the roster's high level of conditioning – the product not only of that tough training camp but a very high-tempo offseason – will continue to be an advantage throughout the season.
It might even help the team's rookies and young players avoid the legendary "rookie wall." Because the NFL season is roughly a month longer than the college football campaign, newcomers to the pro game sometimes see their productivity fall off drastically in December.
Schiano knows that's not a myth and is working with his young players to have a plan to get past it.
"The wall you're talking about, I remember in my time in this league, it was almost uncanny, you could see where they were going to hit it, the rookies," he said. "I think the difference is some of them were able to hit it and keep going and other guys hit the wall and that was it. Those rookies have a tough time of fighting through that wall. We try to educate them to that it is a longer season and you have to take care of yourself now."
The Bucs have been working hard to take care of their players throughout the preseason so they would have a healthy roster in Week One. The loss of Pro Bowl guard Davin Joseph to a season-ending injury was a significant blow, but otherwise the roster appears to be in good shape. Cornerback E.J. Biggers (foot) is unlikely to play but the team's other injury concerns do not appear serious. Specifically, Schiano was confident on Monday that wide receiver Arrelious Benn (knee), linebacker Mason Foster (hamstring) and cornerback Eric Wright (back) would all be able to play Sunday.