Rookie S John Howell, who will provide Buccaneers.com users with a first-hand account of training camp, believes his first imperative is to excel on special teams
If you've ever combed through the classifieds, you know what John Howell is facing. It's the most dreaded two words of the young job seeker: 'Experience Required.'
Make no mistake, Howell is seeking a job this summer. His interview begins on July 29 and lasts about a month. He won't be wearing a tie. He will be proving himself to the point of exhaustion.
Howell's interview is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2001 training camp. A fourth-round draft pick out of Colorado State, he heads into it looking for a spot on the 53-man roster and, more than that, a significant role this fall, whether it be on defense or special teams. Howell is a very well-regarded candidate for the position and he meets all the job requirements – he's talented, physical and smart – but he does lack NFL training camp experience. Fortunately, the Bucs are willing to let him learn on the job, which should help him resolve the Catch-22 of the job search.
How do you survive training camp? Mental toughness. How do you acquire the necessary mental toughness? Survive training camp.
"The only way to do it is just to go through it," said Howell. "I don't think there's any way you can practice for it or prepare for it. You can just expect it. You go in there day by day, pay attention to film and do the best you can on the field. Experience, I think, is the big key and unfortunately, as rookies, we don't have that."
Experience is going to hit Howell hot and heavy, like the Tampa air in August. After checking in and holding preliminary meetings on the 29th, the Bucs will jump right into two-a-day practices on Monday, the 30th. Throw in several meetings a day and a nightly bed check and the schedule can be brutal, even for peak-condition athletes like Howell.
How will he handle it? You can find out first-hand this summer through the daily training camp coverage provided on Buccaneers.com. Howell has agreed to give a first-hand look at the rigors of camp through an on-line Training Camp Diary, to be posted twice weekly. He doesn't mind the extra mental effort because he believes his mind is going to be given quite a workout anyway.
"The general consensus and the advice of the veterans is that you must be mentally tough," he said. "They say, 'It's two-a-days. You're going to be running, you're going to be lifting, it's going to be hot, you're going to be tired. But the way it really hits you as a rookie is mentally. You're going to be here all day long. The meetings before and after both practices…that really begins to wear on you.'
"Then you go right into preseason games and it's all just very mentally tough."
On first impressions, that would not seem to be a problem for Howell. He's thoughtful and direct, without an apparent hint of cockiness. He's determined to prepare himself for camp, which is why he's here in Tampa now, when many of the Bucs are taking a final break. He doesn't want the training camp heat to take him by surprise.
"I've never practiced in anything like this before," said Howell. "It gets hot back home, where I grew up in Nebraska, and where I played ball in Colorado. It's hot, but the humidity isn't anything like this. Ninety degrees back home is better than 80 out here. That's why I came back here early. I went home and relaxed a little bit, but I wanted to get back here and start working out in order to stay acclimated to this weather."
Howell must also adapt to the Bucs' defensive system, though that may be less of an issue for him than it is for some of the other rookies. The Colorado State defense ran a system based on the one employed by the Buccaneers, even to the point of terminology.
"I came here and a lot of the defenses were similar, but they're a lot more complex here at the professional level," said Howell. "There's just a lot more checks, a lot more reads, a lot more assignments. There are also a few defenses that we didn't have at Colorado State that I've had to adjust to. But it's a lot of the same terminology and alignments, so I have the base for it."
At this point, Howell is working exclusively at free safety in the Bucs system, which means he is being primed to back up new starter Dexter Jackson, a third-year pro out of Florida State. However, Howell is considered an eventual candidate for either safety spot.
"In this defense, there's not a big difference between the two, but just enough that you really have to pay attention if you want to run both of them," he said. "They're just enough alike that they can confuse you a little bit."
Of course, for this fall Howell is a much stronger candidate for special teams work than for extended action at either safety spot. Like most rookies, Howell has quickly grasped the importance of performing well on special teams when it comes to nailing down a roster spot.
"That's where I really want to try to shine and catch people's eyes, on special teams," he said. "That's what I had to do in college to make the team, and I love playing special teams. Hopefully I can do good things there and then make this team."
History would seem to favor Howell in this quest. Of the five players picked in the fourth round by Tampa Bay since Tony Dungy took over as head coach in 1996, all five made the team at some point and three remain with the team. S Eric Austin, the second of two fourth-round picks in 1996, played only two games with the team and T Jason Odom had a very promising career cut short by a back injury, but Jackson, G Todd Washington and LB Alshermond Singleton are all valuable contributors for the Bucs heading into 2001.
Come July 29th, Howell will be fighting to earn a spot beside those players, and he'll allow you an inside look at his efforts. It should be quite an 'experience.'