The NFL's 2020 schedule is going to be released on Thursday night and Tampa Bay Buccaneers left tackle Donovan Smith, for one, is looking forward to it, even if the league's plans are less certain than usual this year.
"It's always good to see the schedule because it gives you something to look forward to," said Smith on Wednesday as he participated in a Zoom call with local media. "These are the times now when you start planning who's going to come to what game, and figuring it out with your families and stuff. It gives you something to look forward to in the season."
Smith may have family and guests at all or most of the Buccaneers' home games in 2020 but he hopes they prove to be only a small percentage of the crowd. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, it's not yet certain what NFL games will look like this fall, whether they will be played in empty, half-full or fully-open stadiums. If circumstances do allow for unfettered crowds, Smith thinks the Raymond James Stadium experience is going to be a new one for him and his teammates this year.
"They're coming into Ray-Jay and it's not going to be the same, you feel me?" said Smith of those visiting opponents on the soon-to-be-released schedule. "I feel like we're going to pack out the stadium and it's not going to be an away game for us at home. We're packing it in."
It's obvious why Smith thinks Raymond James Stadium is going to return to its packed-house heyday, when thunderous Bucs crowds made things tough on visiting players. Tom Brady is now a Buccaneer, a fact that is likely to spike potential home crowds all on its own. If the addition of Brady and his running mate Rob Gronkowski and the team's other aggressive offseason moves do lead to a run at the playoffs, Bucs ticket are going to become even more coveted.
Whether the season starts on time or is delayed, whether the stands are empty or packed, Smith will be ready to get back to football when he can. But he definitely would prefer to share the experience with a big Bucs crowd.
"I'm ready to go whenever we're ready," said Smith. "They tell us the days we need to be there, I'm going to be ready regardless if we've got people in the stands or not. But obviously, like I say, you want your fans there to be able to see and support you. You feed off that."
Actually, Brady in pewter and red may sell tickets for Bucs away games, too, and there's a decent chance Tampa Bay will be involved in more prime-time and nationally-televised games this fall. Fans who tune in to see Brady on his team may discover that the Buccaneers have a lot of other talented and underappreciated players. Smith agreed that one of the main players in that category is perennially-underrated linebacker Lavonte David, but he's not the only one.
"It will be great for a lot of guys," said Smith. "Lavonte, I feel like he gets snubbed on a lot of accolades throughout the league. To see a guy work as hard as he is, as smart as he is, to lead the way he does – it pains me to not see him get what he deserves. It's just going to be a great opportunity for a lot of guys – young guys, older guys like myself – to get out there and show the world what we have."
Buccaneer fans are looking forward to this effect, too:
Basically, Smith is eager to win games alongside Tom Brady, and all that comes along with that. When that happens, he knows Buccaneers players and fans are going to have a very good time.
"You've got to embrace it because obviously he knows the winning ways," said Smith. "He knows how to get to that point, he knows how to finish coming out on top. With him coming in here and bringing that mindset and information for us, as a young team, the sky's the limit for us. You've got a lot of guys who I know are hungry and ready to go out there and compete and play fast, have fun, enjoy what they do and show out."