Quarterback Brad Johnson gets some help moving into his dorm room on Sunday afternoon
The first day of training camp is generally viewed as the official starting point of an NFL team's season.
So, if you wish, you can mark July 29 as the kickoff date for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2001 campaign But we want to get a little more specific than that.
We're going with 11:20 a.m. Eastern Time on the 29th, the moment that running back Warrick Dunn strolled through the ResCom Lounge door at the University of Tampa. Dunn, the fifth-year running back who many believe is primed for his best season yet, was the first Buccaneer to arrive at the camp's check-in office on Sunday morning. Players could check in any time before the team's 3:00 p.m. meeting, but Dunn's early arrival symbolized the eagerness and anticipation that surrounds this team's roster.
Dunn then spent most of the his pre-meeting time in his Spartan dorm room, but the rest of the team filtered in over the following three hours. Defensive end Marcus Jones, another player whose strong 2000 effort has led to predictions of a big 2001, stopped to address the media and put that eagerness into words.
"I don't know about anybody else, but I couldn't sleep last night," said the Bucs' 13-sack man from last season. "I probably got about three to four hours of sleep, and I might have been the first person here, I don't know. I had to come here early, get my bed set up, walk around and just get the feel of camp."
Jones didn't quite beat out Dunn, but he certainly topped the enthusiasm chart. An offseason of caring for his two small children, while a wonderful change of pace, has left him with some pent-up aggression, which could be bad news for Buc offensive linemen come Monday morning.
"I don't know about being anxious…I just want to hit somebody," said Jones. "I've been bottled up in the house for a long time now. I'm ready to hit somebody and get my frustrations out."
Jones is not only giving up some of his Daddy time but also most of the amenities of home. While it's not unusual for a player to cart an SUV-sized load of electronic equipment and sleeping gear into his camp room, Jones brought little more than some clothes and an alarm clock. Not to worry, however. Shortly after Jones revealed this tidbit and finished his interview outside of the Buccaneer dormitories, his roommate, defensive end Steve White, rode by on a camp golf cart. On the back was a sizeable pile of comfort items.
Most of the players who brought large loads of goods from home got aid from camp helpers in carts to get their luggage from the parking garage to their rooms. This scene inevitably led to a rash of jokes about moving furniture, of which beleaguered quarterback Brad Johnson was the punch line.
Last week, Johnson suffered a cut on his left knee that required stitches while moving a table at his home in Tallahassee. The wound is very minor, but because the stitches are right on his knee, he will be forced to miss a few practices in order to avoid aggravating the cut. Because the wound is not serious, relieved but mischievous teammates were not about to let the topic drop.
"I'm not really going to hit him too much on that because I want him to get back as quickly as possible, but then again, moving furniture?" said Jones, falling into laughter. "I try not to do anything too strenuous this close to the season.
"But he'll be fine. He comes to work prepared and he knows what he needs to do to get ready for the season."
Johnson took the jokes in stride, a stride that, by the way, appeared normal on Sunday.
"I'm able to throw the ball and walk," said the Bucs' quarterback. "Right now, I just need to let the stitches help themselves. A lot of things happen to a lot of different players in camp. It's unfortunate that this happened the way it did, but I'll be ready to go as soon as I can. I'm excited about getting started. I feel like I'm in great shape. I've been throwing all summer."
The cut was deep, but it didn't slice through any muscles or tendons and Johnson is in no pain as he walks around with a small bandage on the knee. He'll be able to run full speed as soon as the stitches are removed. Johnson and the team are taking the cautious approach simply to avoid busting the stitches and leading to an infection. That won't help him avoid the training camp humorists, however. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.
"I need to get an endorsement deal with U-Haul," said Johnson. "'We deliver.' You've got to have fun with it as best you can. There will be a lot of jokes over the course of training camp. The comedians will come out."
Apparently, Keyshawn Johnson won't be one of them, however. The man expected to be Johnson's primary target this fall claimed on Sunday that he wasn't planning to tease his quarterback about the freak injury. Johnson also bucked the day's trend by being a little more honest about the less appealing side of training camp.
"It's too hot, that's one," said Johnson the receiver, explaining why players don't necessarily relish the thought of reporting to camp. "Other than that, it's just a matter of being cramped in these dorms. That's probably the main complaint. But I'll get through it."
Johnson wasn't exactly cursing his fate, because he shared his teammates' excitement about the season about to get underway.
"I'm just excited to play football," he said. "I feel a whole lot better (this year). I've got some people that I really feel are behind me, and in our corner as a group. That's a plus. And when you look at the outcome of last year, you come back and want to build on that."
That's the idea, of course. Training camp is a time to build – build system knowledge, build team unity, build fitness, build confidence.
Sunday, though, was just a time to check in. There was a team meeting scheduled for 3:00 p.m. in which Head Coach Tony Dungy would explain the way in which camp would be run. Later, there would be positional meetings and film work.
For those who were ready for contact, like Jones, there was one more night to wait. The hitting will begin Monday morning.