"We're starting from scratch. That was last year's team. This team, we can't assume that we know anything. We have to go back to the beginning, start all over, listen in the meetings and learn more from the film we have from last year."
That was the beginning message from Head Coach Bruce Arians to his team as training camp kicked off this week. The beginning of training camp, and its myriad possibilities, is a place this team – in fact, nearly this exact team – has been in before thanks to the return of every 2020 starter to the roster. But this is the first time they'll be entering a season as 'Defending Super Bowl Champions.'
And that comes with its own set of challenges. You have a target on your back, sure. But it's a target based on what you did last year, and, well, you heard the man, last year don't mean you-know-what.
There's a reason only seven teams have managed to repeat as Super Bowl Champions in the history of the NFL (Pittsburgh has done it twice) and that no one has done it since 2005. Usually, and especially in the salary cap era, teams aren't able to maintain any sort of consistency the following season. It means teams often have to drastically shift how they do things and maybe without as high caliber players as they had the year prior. Then, of course, you have the omnipresent issue of health and the fact that it's just flat out hard to win in the NFL.
View some of the photos from Buccaneers Training Camp practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.
However, barring the latter generic issues, this Bucs seem sort of set up to overcome the others. The continuity is there, not only with the roster, which is a first in the salary-cap era, but also with the coaching staff. And oh yeah, that 2005 team to last repeat? That was the New England Patriots with a certain quarterback named Tom Brady under center. The same Tom Brady that currently sits under center for the Buccaneers.
Having a resource like Brady and even tight end Rob Gronkowski, who has never repeated as a Super Bowl Champion but at least has experience with defending the title, can go a long way in assuring against the dreaded 'complacency' which can plague teams who have seen the mountaintop. You don't get to sit there and enjoy the view very long. You have to continue to level up, as Gronkowski knows.
"I would say find a way to push yourself to another level of whatever aspect you feel like you need to work on in order to take your game to another level," Gronkowski said this week. "So, if it's getting in better conditioning – learn how to take that conditioning to another level to push yourself. If it's becoming a better blocker or learning the playbook in more detail, then it's that. It's just pushing yourself to another level that isn't that big of a strong suit."
And it's not just Brady and Gronk. There are other players on the team with now multiple Super Bowl rings, like outside linebackers Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett. Pierre-Paul won Super Bowl XLVI with the New York Giants, while Barrett was part of the Denver Broncos' Super Bowl 50-winning squad. Between those guys, all of whom are locker room leaders in their own right, it's easy to see why Arians can say with confidence he hasn't seen any complacency in his team through the first week of camp.
"I think offensively, those guys – that's never going to be a problem offensively," Arians said. "Defensively, it's guys like […] Shaq [Barrett] and JPP (Jason Pierre-Paul) has been there. So, they know what it takes. And our guys know what the film [says]. When they look at the film, they know what work looks like, and good work. If it's not good work on tape, they'll address it. I don't have to say anything."
Not that he didn't say anything, of course. Arians turned the page as early as mandatory mini-camp back in June in front of the team.
"I think it's as simple as it's a new year," said defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who played in Super Bowl LIII while a member of the Los Angeles Rams, last month. "I think Coach [Bruce] Arians did an amazing job of setting the tone in our first team meeting today. Our focus is not living in the past and being able to celebrate that."
The defense, as a result, is putting their heads down and setting their sights on a new goal: being the best defense in the league. Inside linebacker Devin White said Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles went around the room in their first defensive meeting of this year's training camp and told each player what their weakness was and what they needed to work on in order for the defense as a unit to get better. It wasn't malicious. It wasn't intended to embarrass. It was all in the name of getting better, which Bowles' players understand thoroughly.
"I mean we weren't perfect [last year] and we can never be perfect," said cornerback Carlton Davis this week. "There is always work to do, and there's always something to get better at. Complacency is the worst thing for an athlete so we are just trying to correct what we didn't do well and get better at that while continuing to do the things we did do well."
And if you need proof that players aren't resting on their laurels from last year and indeed trying to get better, look no further than Tuesday's practice where a 340-plus pound Vita Vea to chased down running back Ronald Jones in a routine 11-on-11 drill in practice. Or where a frustrated Mike Evans slammed his helmet down after failing to make a catch, only to catch every ball and run every route full out for the rest of practice. It's even apparent in how much more vocal Brady has been in practice.
Players on both sides of the ball are benefitting from the experience of their coaches and their teammates who have been in this situation before. So far, that is. The pads come on Saturday for the Buccaneers, at which time the competition and effort should level up even further. But at this point in training camp, the work ethic and desire to get better are both there, while complacency is decidedly not.