At One Buccaneer Place, a television monitor hangs on one of the walls in the hallway leading to the exit nearest the players' parking lot. This screen rarely is rarely tuned to any TV programming, but it does periodically bear a message the Tampa Bay Buccaneers coaching staff wants to emphasize to the players. It's placement means it's the last thing they see before leaving the workplace and heading home for the night.
On Wednesday, that monitor displayed just one short word, writ large enough to fill the entire screen: REST.
Players who saw that message were leaving One Buc not for one night but for an entire four-day weekend. This is a once-a-season treat for every player in the NFL, the bye week that gives them a break from the grind once every fall. Most players are in the league because they love the game of football, but even the most intense competitors relish an occasional break.
Bucs Head Coach Greg Schiano hopes his players use their bye-week off time to do…well, not much. That's the idea behind the final message above the exit doors.
"I don't require them to do anything," said Schiano of his directions to the players for their Thursday-Sunday sabbatical. "I really would like them to relax and get feeling good again, get refreshed. We'll have an extra day of preparation for Kansas City with Monday being a practice day and they'll have the plan in their hand, at least part of it, before they normally would. A good two days before they normally would so that's enough of an advantage for us. I think again, looking at the one game season of Kansas City then also as a head coach looking at 12 straight, we don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves."
The Bucs could have been scheduled to take their bye anywhere between Weeks Three and 11 this year but ended up drawing one closer to the beginning of the schedule. All things being equal, later byes are generally considered more favorable, and the Bucs don't have a lot of serious injury situations that could benefit from the early week off. Still, even though the team is only a fourth of the way into its regular-season schedule, Schiano thinks the bye comes at a perfectly acceptable time, noting how hard his crew has been working since well before September.
"I'm not sorry that the bye is now," he said. "I think this group has gone incredibly hard from July 26th until now. That sounds like a long time ago, right? But they've busted their hump and this comes at a good time. Then we'll have 12 straight, which will be good."
That's the roll of the dice of an early bye week, though no team has any say over when they're going to get the time off. When the Atlanta Falcons are enjoying their bye week later this month, the Bucs will be in the middle of a grind that won't stop for three months. Schiano doesn't have a problem with that long stretch of work, though, provided his team encounters good fortune in terms of injuries. Indeed, if the team starts to win more consistently, the coaches and players will prefer to keep the momentum going, anyway. This bye week comes on the heels of a three-game losing streak, all close calls, so the mental break is actually well-timed.
"It all depends how healthy you stay," said Schiano. "If you stay healthy it's not a challenge, you get on a roll and you get going and it's great. Again, I don't make the schedule, but as hard as we've worked I'm not sorry it's now. Maybe in Week 10 I'll say I wish we had it but right now I'm glad that these guys get an opportunity to get a rest."
Quite a few players take advantage of the consecutive off days to leave town, often to visit family back home. Quarterback Josh Freeman said he was likely to head back to Kansas City for a short while, for instance. The coaching staff used the first half of the bye week, in part, to review the first quarter of the season with Freeman and work on finding his comfort zone in Mike Sullivan's offense. After that mental exercise, and the rigors of September and training camp before that, Freeman is looking forward to the time off from that part of the grind of his chosen profession.
"That's why the bye week is built in," said Freeman of the welcome mental break. "For a lot of players it's a physical break but for quarterbacks, especially in the first year in [a new] offense, that's going to be it. You just kind of step back and reflect for a second, take a little time off and come back energized, ready to go."