Just a day after signing with the Buccaneers, WR David Boston had the opportunity to practice on the team's gameday home field
In many ways, it felt like a game day.
A decade-spanning hip-hop medley was playing over the speakers at Raymond James Stadium, The Sugarhill Gang blending into Kanye. Dozens of players ran a pat-and-go then arrayed themselves five yards apart on the solid yard-lines and went through a stretching regimen led by Mike Morris. Mike Alstott, John Wade and Derrick Brooks served as captains. The pirate ship in Buccaneer Cove fired a few tentative puffs of smoke to test out the cannons. Cameraman stood shoulder-to-shoulder on the sideline.
There were some differences, of course. When Head Coach Jon Gruden barked out sudden changes during the offense's group install period, you could hear his voice echo all the way to the top of the stadium, challenged only by the circling seagulls. The field was lined and numbered, but the end zones weren't painted. And the concessions stands, unfortunately, were closed.
This wasn't really a game day, see. But it was close enough.
Considering the stadium crew is in the middle of a mass seat-replacement project, restoring the stands to their original bright red, a game wouldn't have worked on this Thursday anyway. The venue was perfect, however for what it's main tenants wanted to accomplish on the day: Inject a little life and urgency into an offseason marked by repetition.
"It's great to go out there," said quarterback Chris Simms. "You get sick of coming out here on the practice field every day. It's fun to go there; they put the cannons on and the ship and give us the whole nine yards. It's fun. It gives everyone a feel for the stadium and what it's going to be like in a few months.
Head Coach Jon Gruden is fond of this annual sojourn, too, in which the familiar surroundings of One Buccaneer Place are replaced by the eye candy of the team's Sunday home. There is something about walking through the tunnels and hitting the field at Raymond James Stadium that adds a jolt of intensity to every familiar drill.
That's particularly true when the offense and defense square off in the red zone, in the shadow of the pirate ship. The Bucs ran a few lengthy drills from the red zone and just outside the red zone on Thursday, and when Michael Pittman "scored" on a seam route to open things up, the videoboards played three simulated booms of thunder. Tampa Bay's proud defense responded with a very stingy effort on the ensuing plays but had to supply their own sound effects on each play that didn't reach the end zone. Mimicking the videoboard thunder, linebacker Derrick Brooks would follow each such play by hollering, "Boom! Boom! Boom!" Soon, Linebackers Coach Joe Barry and the rest of the defense joined in.
Of course, the experience can be particularly inspiring to the rookies, most of whom had never put a cleat to the Raymond James Stadium turf before Thursday (USF running back Andre Hall being a notable exception). The Bucs drafted a lot of players from big-time programs this year – e.g. Oklahoma's Davin Joseph, Penn State's Alan Zemaitis, Michigan's Tim Massaquoi – so most of them weren't new to the grand stage. Still, it is a noteworthy moment for an NFL rookie, his first steps onto the field he hopes to make his professional home for years to come.
Thursday's practice ended the week of work, which included three of the team's 14 allotted "organized team activity" (OTA) days. The Bucs took four buses back to One Buc Place just after noon, and the place was mostly cleared out by 1:30, with a long, Memorial Day weekend on tap.
The Bucs won't burn any more of their OTAs next week, but will be back on the practice field the following week for some more voluntary workouts. Soon, those final OTAs will give way to a mandatory mini-camp in late June and, finally, training camp a month later. By mid-August, the team will be into its preseason game slate, and the players will once again find themselves on the green grass of Raymond James Stadium. On Thursday, they got a little taste of that coming day to tide them over.