The new week has actually already begun at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp, with Saturday's day off followed by a return to the field on Sunday. One position in particular will have to play catch-up when practice rolls around again on Monday morning, but by the end of the week the entire team needs to be ready to take the action up a notch.
"I thought it was a pretty solid practice, a good start to the week," said Head Coach Bruce Arians after the two-hour Sunday workout. "I don't think our running backs were particularly sharp today catching the ball, and it started in warmups. We addressed it after practice and everybody's got to be ready to go. But that's the only group – everybody else was ready to roll."
Sunday kicked off a string of five straight training camp practices at the AdventHealth Training Center, all of them except for Wednesday to be conducted in full pads. The team will wear "spiders" on Wednesday and may choose to utilize the indoor facility as it did last week to take advantage of the air conditioning. On Friday, however, the Buccaneers will be on a different field altogether as they try to figure out a way to get game-ready without any preseason contests.
Arians first revealed his plans to hold a pair of game-like intrasquad scrimmages at Raymond James Stadium last Wednesday.
"We're going to have a game in the stadium," he said. "Two of them, actually, so that we're in the stadium, the lights are on and everything is game ready, so we can know the stadium is ready, too. To get in that atmosphere and play a game live, special teams live, offense, defense – we'll try to do two of those."
Arians has already sprinkled a series of "live-tackling" periods into camp practices, but Friday's efforts will take it to another level. Essentially, the two planned trips to the team's usual home venue are taking the place of the canceled preseason games and will be the closest thing the Buccaneers can get to real game action before they have to take on the Saints in New Orleans on September 13. That's true in terms of players going against players, but also for everybody involved in staging an NFL contest.
"The scoreboards will be on, we'll do all that kind of stuff – instant replay," said Arians. "Make sure the stadium's operational for the first home game and get a good scrimmage in. Live kicking, offense, defense – kind of like we just did for the last 20 plays of practice [but] we'll do a full game's worth."
View some of the photos from Buccaneers Training Camp practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.
Like the practices at team headquarters, Friday's "game" will not be open to the public due to COVID-19 restrictions, and since the team is already game-planning for the upcoming regular-season games, certain information from the scrimmage will be restricted for strategic purposes. The good news is that by the end of this week of practice, the Buccaneers will only be 14 days away from taking the field in the Superdome.
In addition to the running backs improving in the passing game, there are a couple of on-field developments worth watching this week. One is the performance of the placekickers, Matt Gay and Elliott Fry, who are battling for that one position on the roster. Last summer, Gay won a similar competition with incumbent veteran Cairo Santos, and on many camp days both Gay and Santos were close to perfect. This year, Gay and Fry are still searching for those perfect days. Arians doesn't feel the need to discuss the situation with the two kickers because they both know what is at stake.
"I have not had a conversation [with the kickers]," said the coach. "They both missed one again today, so it really was a wash today. It will take care of itself so I don't need to have any conversations."
Another ongoing storyline of training camp regards the rookies and their efforts to win roster spots and significant roles on Sundays without the benefit of an offseason program or a preseason slate of games. First-round tackle Tristan Wirfs has already been working hard at that, taking the first-team reps at right tackle, according to Assistant Head Coach/Run Game Coordinator Harold Goodwin. On Sunday, second-round safety Antoine Winfield got a larger opportunity to show what he could do when safety Mike Edwards was held out of practice due to an eye infection.
"He just makes plays every day," said Arians. "He's had a lot of volume of information passed to him; he handles it really well. He executes the defense, really, with great instincts. You can't stay out of practice very long or you're going to get beat out by him."
After the simulated game at Raymond James Stadium caps six straight days of work, the players will get the day off again on Saturday. The third and final week of full-scale camp practicing will begin on Sunday, August 30, with a schedule very similar to what the team has planned for this week. And the week after that is the beginning of preparations for Game One in New Orleans.