On Tuesday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers opened their three-day mandatory mini-camp, the final act of a nine-week offseason program, and in some ways it was a good preview for the team's upcoming training camp. It was hot and humid, the pace was intense and both the offense and the defense finally had most of their respective playbooks installed.
In form and function, however, Tuesday's 100-minute session was more like the 10 organized team activity days (OTAs) that had preceded it during the three weeks prior. There were still no pads, and no real contact, and only one full-speed practice plus one walk-through allowed per day. The only two significant differences between OTAs and mini-camp – both of which are part of Phase Three of the CBA-regulated offseason program – are that mini-camp is mandatory and teams can work with their players up to 10 hours per day instead of six.
Even those two differences were essentially nullified by the way the team and its players have approached the offseason program. OTAs may have been voluntary, but virtually 100% of the team was on hand for every workout; thus, it was no real change when 86 players* were on the field and running at full speed Tuesday. And while the Bucs had more time with their players at team headquarters, they basically used the extra hours to add more rest into the schedule instead of more work.
Head Coach Greg Schiano certainly hasn't gone soft in his second year at the helm. He simply thinks his players have earned their upcoming time off over the last nine weeks.
"Guys have worked hard and I think when Thursday comes they're going to be ready to get a little break," said Schiano. "And as I've said from the beginning, this is all just one thing to get us ready for training camp. The guys have approached it, I think in a great way."
Schiano said that the OTAs and the work done before them during Phase II of the offseason program has allowed the team to get almost all of its offensive and defensive systems installed, which was the goal prior to training camp. He intends to use the next two days of mini-camp mostly for review rather than further installation. He also thinks the team is farther along than it was at this same point last year in terms of understanding the coaching staff's vision. Building on that during training camp should help the team avoid the fairly significant ups and downs that marked Schiano's first season at the helm.
"Everybody's coaching their deal and I'm kind of standing there and making sure we're staying on the road to that vision," he said. "You get out of whack sometimes, it happens. So when you're in a slump, you lose a few games and you have to go back and say, 'What's the vision and why are we out of whack?' Hopefully we won't have to do that too much in Year Two. We know where we're headed and everybody is seeing that same deal. I think our players are seeing it better too. This game is about the players so we have to make sure they can see it, feel it, do it. We're a lot further along than we were this time last year."
One could reasonably claim that the Bucs' roster is a lot further along than it was a year ago, too. The team has added quite a bit of talent and experience in the likes of Dashon Goldson, Darrelle Revis and others and also has some very important pieces returning from injuries, such as Carl Nicks, Davin Joseph and Adrian Clayborn. Watching his team work hard on a steamy Tuesday morning, with a long summer break tantalizingly just a few days ahead, Schiano liked what he saw in terms of both the talent and how it is meshing together.
"I feel like we have a good group of guys," he said. "Once we get everybody healthy, I like our team and I like the chemistry that's starting to come together. Like I said, I think they do need a break. They've pushed really hard, they've trained really hard in the weight room with [Strength and Conditioning Coach Jay Butler]. They're still going to continue to train and get ready for camp, but I think they need to get out of here for a little bit."
( There were actually 91 players on the field Tuesday because the Buccaneers entertained five players on a tryout basis during the practice: CBs Michael Adams and William Middleton, WRs Seyi Ajirotutu and Derek Hagan and C Ivory Wade. While Wade is a rookie looking for his first NFL opportunity, the other four are veterans who have accrued between four and eight NFL seasons each. Hagan, for instance, has played in 83 NFL games and has 129 career receptions.)*