Amsterdam Admirals defensive lineman Bernard Rozic, a Croatian 'national' player, was on hand for the first day of training camp at One Buc Place
On Thursday, One Buccaneer Place welcomed visitors from locales as diverse as Mexico, Japan, Norway and Croatia.
This was no tourist stop on a Tampa sightseeing swing. This was the beginning of NFL Europe's training camp, being held in the Bay area for the first time. The Amsterdam Admirals, one of six teams beginning their 2001 season preparations in Tampa and St. Petersburg, have been assigned the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' headquarters as their training field, and they began work early Thursday morning.
An uninformed observer might assume that the NFLEL is a pass-happy league, because the downfield bombs were flying on Thursday. In this case, that was simply a function of who was in camp; so far, only the passing-game components – centers, quarterbacks, receivers and tight ends – are required to be on hand. The rest of the roster will join them in a few days.
There was a smattering of defenders on the field, thanks to the league's required minimum of 'national' players. Every team must carry at least eight non-North Americans, a condition that becomes easier to meet each year as the popularity of American football grows abroad.
The Admirals' current roster includes players from Japan (LB Masafumi Kawaguchi, WR Nobutaka Horie), Norway (LB Phillip Sissener), Mexico (QB Carlos Altimirano) and Croatia (DT Bernard Rozic) alongside recognizable NFL names like QB Spergon Wynn (Cleveland), LB Brendon Ayanbadejo (Baltimore) and WR Chris Coleman (Tennessee). Kawaguchi was a starter for the Admirals last season and the team's third-leading tackler. He and the rest of the national players were on hand for the first day of camp Thursday.
One of the eight NFLEL-allocated Buccaneers, DT Matt Sweeney, is on the Admirals' roster but was not yet in camp on Thursday. Two former Buccaneers were back on the One Buc Place practice field, though: WR Drew O'Connor and FB John Waerig.
The official record for the 1999 and 2000 seasons indicate that Steve White played in 28 games, started 13 and made 70 tackles and four sacks. Those are not atypical numbers for a part-time starter at defensive end, but the last two years have been anything but routine for White.
As respectable as the above totals were, they were almost certainly tempered by a series of ankle injuries that slowed him down for great chunks of those two seasons. In 1999, the relatively low-profile White made a splash in training camp and grabbed the starting right defensive end spot away from incumbent Regan Upshaw, then started out hot with 10 tackles and a sack in the Bucs' first three games.
However, he soon missed three contests due to a severe left ankle sprain and really never completely recovered until the last few days of the regular season. He then finished with a five-tackle, one-sack effort against Chicago in the season finale and followed with 11 tackles, two sacks and an interception in the playoffs.
Entering 2000, White was expected to be a productive member of what was basically a three-end rotation with starters Marcus Jones and Chidi Ahanotu, but this time he was hampered by a similar injury to his right ankle. Though he would miss only one game, he once again spent most of the season at less than full speed and finished with 42 tackles and two sacks.
Early in the 2001 offseason, White has been one of the few Buccaneers making repeated appearances at the team's training facility, in part because he is recovering from an arthroscopic procedure on that right ankle. And how is the ankle, post-surgery?
"It feels great now," said White on Thursday, after a long workout. "It's almost back to 100 percent. The chronic pain is totally gone."
If one assumes that White's run of bad luck in the ankle arena has ended – "I've had both of them hurt now, so I've run out of ankles," he says with admirable good humor – then the former starter could be ready to put his career trajectory back on the rise.
"The last two years have been funny for me," he said. "I've really never had ankle problems before, then two years in a row, I've had the worst sprain you can have for an ankle in two different ankles. I've been kind of snake-bit the last two years. Both times, I started off the year real good, and then had something like that happen twice in a row. But I'm looking forward to this year … I'm looking forward to a big year."
More and more Bucs will be heading to One Buc Place in the coming days, as the team's voluntary but highly-attended offseason workout program is less than two weeks away. White is getting a head start so that he can hit the ground running when the bulk of his teammates arrive.
"I'm getting my ankle ready, but I'm also doing light workouts, getting back into it in preparation for when we start the voluntary workouts on the 26th (of March)," he said "I'm just trying to get myself back in shape, so it won't be a shock to my system when we start working out on the 26th."
Tampa Bay has lost its second unrestricted free agent of the spring as TE Patrick Hape has agreed to a three-year contract with the Denver Broncos. LB Don Davis, a special teams ace, signed with the St. Louis Rams on March 7.
Hape spoke to Buccaneers.com last week and indicated a desire to remain a Buccaneer, though he was unsure how the situation would unfold. He spoke at that time of a visit to Denver, indicating that he wasn't in a position to 'sit and wait.'
Apparently, both Hape and the Broncos liked what they saw as the deal was announced Wednesday evening. While Hape was a valuable contributor to the Bucs in his four seasons in Tampa, some player losses are all but inevitable in the free agency era.
Ten Bucs from the 2000 roster became unrestricted free agents on March 2. In the two weeks that have passed since, Hape and Davis are the only ones, so far, to sign with another team or re-sign with the Buccaneers.
When his contract expired at the beginning of the month, Hape became an unrestricted free agent by virtue of his four years of NFL experience. Tampa Bay drafted Hape in the fifth round in 1997 out of Alabama, where he was a four-year letter-winner who saw action at both fullback and tight end. For the Bucs, he caught 19 passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns, but was used primarily as a lead-blocker in the running attack. Last season he played in all 16 games, starting two in two-tight end formations, and caught six passes for 39 yards.