Head Coach Jon Gruden believes his team made a lot of progress in three weeks at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex
"We've made progress, but we've got a long way to go."
Sound familiar? It's the refrain Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Jon Gruden — and numerous other coaches around the league — usually echo at the end of any training camp, and for good reason. The Buccaneers may be headed back to Tampa soon, but they are still almost a month away from forming the 53-man roster and heading into the regular season.
But as the Bucs zero in on the last few hours of their stay in Central Florida, Gruden did take a minute Wednesday morning to give his overall impressions of the team's work at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex.
"It's been very good," Gruden said. "I think, as evident today, our No. 2 offense was horrific in spots against the No. 1 defense. I'm disappointed today in that, but all in all I've seen a lot of positive things. But we have a lot of work to do. We have some tough decisions to make. Some of the decisions will be made by the players. That's why we practice the way we do."
There have been high points and low points, of course. There have been great catches, as well as some untimely interceptions. There was the team's spirited rendition of the famed "Oklahoma" drill mixed in with endless repetitions of the same plays as the team worked to grasp the offensive and defensive schemes. But when pressed for specific positives, Gruden was more interested in praising the overall attitude and work ethic of his team, both players and coaches.
"I don't have a list," he said. "I'm pleased with the effort of the football team. The coaches and the players are working together and I'm really pleased with that."
One new aspect of camp that has contributed to a more efficient level of work this year is the team's indoor practice facility. The tent adjacent to the east practice field, new to the Disney grounds this year, has allowed the Bucs to move parts of their afternoon practices indoors to limit injuries and heat-related issues while continuing to go through reps to master the playbook.
"I think it's been good," Gruden said. "The trainers have all the statistics of injuries. The numbers are way down. We haven't had guys miss practice. When we've called practice, we've had guys on the field. We counted IVs — we had over 120 last year, and we've had close to 40 this year. So I think from a heat standpoint, it's really paid dividends.
"We also haven't sacrificed reps. If anything, we've gained reps, although they're not full-speed ones, indoors. I think it's been a huge upgrade to our training camp here and I'm very thankful obviously to the owners for going to that expense to provide that to us. It's hopefully going to be a winning edge for us."
Tiger on the Prowl
The Bucs have had some special guests at various points throughout camp, everyone from former stars Warren Sapp and Mike Alstott to war veterans and numerous groups of young children.
But you can add one more person to the visitor list after Tuesday evening, and it's about as prominent a name as you can find on the sports landscape: Tiger Woods.
The world's No. 1 golfer — and arguably the world's No. 1 athlete, period — took a break from rehabbing his recent knee surgery to pay a visit to the team's hotel in Celebration.
Woods lives in the Orlando area and has been spotted at Bucs games in the past, so an opportunity to speak to the team was a joy for both parties.
"I'm president of his fan club," Gruden joked. "He spoke to the team and got a chance to visit with a lot of the players. If you ask me, and this is just my opinion, he is global. He is the number-one superstar in all of sports, at least on my list. He hits all the shots, all the time. He's got complete mental control. He's unbelievable, and hopefully some of that rubs off on us. Let's just hope it does, because he's high-class, character, a great role model for just about every phase of life. I can't say enough about him."
Gruden didn't get into specifics on what Woods' told his players, but said the encounter was a special experience.
"I can't comment for everybody, but he had a couple great messages," Gruden said. "He doesn't say a lot, at least he didn't last night, but he was cordial, he was polite, he was outgoing with the players and I think everybody gained something. I know I did. I'll treasure that for the rest of my life."
Like some of the Bucs' star players, Woods is trying to bounce back from an injury. He underwent surgery on his knee after famously winning the U.S. Open in June while playing with a torn ACL. Jokingly asked how Woods' rehab was going, Gruden said he hoped his players would use the golfer's efforts to recover as motivation.
"I think he's doing well," Gruden said with a smile. "Again, nobody is going to outwork the guy. Nobody. What an inspiring guy. It was awesome."
Bucs Run Drills for Special Olympians
The Bucs have made a habit of sharing their practice fields with various youth groups as training camp has progressed, and on Wednesday it was a handful of Special Olympians who got the opportunity to run around in the sun and go through some drills.
Over 60 individuals from Special Olympics Florida, a statewide organization, were on hand for over an hour to participate in the Gatorade Junior Training Camp with a handful of Bucs players. The Olympians also posed for pictures with their new friends and collected a few autographs.
Wide receiver Michael Clayton, running backs Michael Bennett and Clifton Smith, linebacker Barrett Ruud, quarterbacks Jeff Garcia and Chris Simms, safety Jermaine Phillips and defensive ends Kevin Carter and Marques Douglas all stuck around after their morning session had ended to run the young Olympians through some football drills and offer their encouragement.
"It really is a special opportunity to be out here with this group," said Garcia. "Whether we are offering high fives and hugs or leading them through drills, it brings a smile to their faces. Participating in an event like this and seeing their positive attitude out here really brings things into perspective."
Phillips, known for his ever-present smile and fun-loving attitude on the football field, said the event was one of the highlights of camp.
"It kind of feels like the last day of school, and I haven't had more fun in all of camp than I had out here today."