The Bucs have had some very physical practices during camp, and other days when they took off the pads and saved their bodies
The "get-back coaches" have had it rough this summer.
As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have steamed (in more ways than one) down the backstretch of their 2006 training camp in Lake Buena Vista, they have inserted more and more game-type drills into practice. That usually means sending the extra players to the sidelines rather then letting them stand in a long semicircle behind the play.
And, just as on game day, there are certain coaches who are charged with the responsibility of getting the players are far enough back on the sideline, not just off the field but off the broad white stripe as well. That job, the thankless task of the noble get-back coach, has been more of a challenge this year because, well, those sidelines have been packed.
Usually by the third week of training camp, the stationary bikes situated under a high awning between the two practice fields at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex are under constant stress. Injured players are often directed there by the training staff to continue to get exercise – spin the wheels while they're spinning their wheels.
On Wednesday morning, as the first half of the last two-a-day of camp drew to a close, those bikes were as stationary as they've ever been. With only a small handful of players resting minor ailments – Juran Bolden, Michael Pittman, Derek Watson and Torrin Tucker were held out – the Bucs were able to put together as productive of an end-of-camp workout as ever. That, as much as anything, has the team pleased with this year's stay in Central Florida.
"I am pleased," Head Coach Jon Gruden – not one of the get-back coaches – conceded on Wednesday morning, after the 31st of 33 scheduled camp field sessions. "We didn't get rained out. The weather was not a factor here – we're very hot, but we didn't get rained out as we had in the past. Guys worked hard. We appear to be fairly injury-free. And a lot of our newcomers have gotten better, and some of our second-year players also. So we're pleased and we're still very respectful – we've got a long way to go to be a great football team."
The Bucs were chased by lightning a few team, and quite often menaced in the afternoon by fast-moving clouds, but not once did they have to cancel a practice due to rain. That's a first for their five years at Lake Buena Vista; on the other hand, the familiar heavy heat was as prevalent as ever. The Bucs did adjust for that on occasion, such as on Wednesday morning when they practiced in shorts and helmets rather than full pads. That was a reaction to a very good but very exhausting day of practice on Tuesday.
" We took the pads off today; we had 17 or 18 players IVed yesterday because of the heat.," said Gruden. "There were some good things [at practice]…it was mixed reviews. When you're working on an opponent, it's hard to simulate the opponent and get the exact look that you're looking for, so some of the things that we did today we were a bit sluggish. But I was pleased with some of the things I saw."
It would be easy, and probably not inaccurate, to call this training camp a success thanks to the amount of work allowed by the circumstances. In the end, though, the only way to judge how well camp went is to see the effect it has on the games to be played in the fall. Judging camp before those outcomes means focusing on things such as attitude, effort and intensity.
On those scales, the Bucs tipped in the right direction.
"You never know," said Gruden of the success of camp. "You put a tremendous amount of time and preparation into what you're practicing. I thought, first and foremost, our coaches worked very hard. The etiquette in which we practiced was very good. We had physical periods, we had periods where the pads were off. We had high energy. We had great input from a lot of our players. We didn't have guys miss prolonged periods of time. So that I'm very happy with."
Sure, but it was a pain for the get-back coaches.
Even though he was one of the very few players not to practice on Wednesday, Juran Bolden has had a very good camp, according to Gruden. The veteran cornerback was re-signed by the Bucs in the offseason after giving the team the consistent play at nickel back it had been lacking in the last couple years.
Bolden clearly became more effective in the Bucs' defense as the 2005 season went on, and that progress has continued over the last eight months.
"He's a commodity for us right now," said Gruden. "He's coming off a very good season and a very good offseason. Last year he came to Tampa late in the offseason program and we really didn't know everything about him. We know a lot more about him now. He's a guy who's a good football player who does a lot of things that we want done."
When the Bucs do put their nickel package on the field, Bolden ends up on the outside because Ronde Barber always moves into the slot. That works out particularly well for the Bucs' defense when one of the opposing wideouts is a big receiver like Andre Johnson or Plaxico Burress.
Bolden's infectious attitude is a plus, too. He talks a good game on the field, even in practice, but he usually has a sincere grin on his face at the same time.
"I like that," said Gruden. "I like guys like that. He brings a lot to the practice field and to the football team. I like his talent level more than I like all the other stuff. I like his hair, I like all that stuff, but I like his playmaking and what he does for us."
Those Are the Rules
It didn't take long for a new entry in the NFL rulebook to affect the Buccaneers' season.
Five minutes into the second quarter of Tampa Bay's 16-3 win over the New York Jets last Friday, Pittman ran up the middle for one yard on second-and-one from the Bucs' 41. Pittman lost the ball at the end of the play but the on-field officials had whistled him down first, meaning there was no fumble and the Bucs' kept possession.
Before the rules changes of the 2006 offseason, that would have ended the matter. Since the officials blew the whistle calling Pittman down, the play was dead at that point and couldn't be challenged. However, a new rule allows that play to be replayed and overturned even if the whistle had been blown.
The Jets threw the red flag but lost the challenge, as the replays showed only half of what the referee needed to see to give the ball to the Jets. First, he had to determine that the fumble definitely occurred before the back was down. Second, he had to see that the loose ball was clearly and immediately recovered by one of the Jets. The replay did indeed show a fumble, but the ball went into a scrum of players and was lost from sight before a Jet could finally pull it out of the pack. No conclusive and immediate recovery, no turnover.
The Bucs got the benefit of that call, as they continued down the field from there to the game's first points on a Matt Bryant field goal. However, that didn't necessarily convince Gruden that the new rule is a good idea.
"I don't like a lot of [the new rules]," he admitted on Wednesday. "I'm not the most clear person in this business when you talk about down-by-contact. The whistle for me has always represented the whistle. I'm worried about it. I don't know what a 'scrum' is. I just think there are some rules that in my mind aren't completely clear, but I'll certainly abide by them. I support the rules that are passed and I'll do the best I can to adjust."
Gruden knows from experience that there's not much he can do about hard-to-decipher rules other than to accept the outcome and move on.
"I didn't understand Edell Shepherd's drop against Washington [in the 2005 playoffs]," he said. "If that's not a touchdown, I don't know how Paris Warren's was a touchdown [against the Jets]. It was the same play to me. I'm going to turn it over to the officials. If I can replay and get their interpretation, that's all you can do."