A trip or two to Raymond James Stadium is on the schedule each offseason, if for no other reason than a change of pace
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers may very well conduct their last practice ever at the antiquated One Buccaneer Place on Thursday, but Head Coach Jon Gruden still felt the urge to get his team off campus for the second-to-last workout of the offseason.
Thus, on Wednesday morning, the Bucs loaded up three buses and made the two-mile drive over to Raymond James Stadium for the third practice of this week's mandatory mini-camp.
The Bucs generally make an appearance or two at their home field during the offseason, and this was their second practice in the stadium in the last four weeks. As usual, the team took advantage of the facility to add such touches as music during warm-ups and cannon blasts after "touchdowns." It was just what Gruden had in mind.
"[We] get out of One Buc Place for a few hours," he said. "This is where we play. This is a great stadium. I'm prejudiced, of course, but I think it's as good a stadium as there is in this league, in this country. We have new players – Jamie Winborn and David Boston, veteran guys – and our rookie class, I want them to see where we play our games. The film is better. It's a nice break from the normal routine and I think our players are stimulated by it to some degree."
The Bucs practiced twice on Tuesday to open their mini-camp, and will conclude the action on Thursday with one more morning session. That last practice will also signal the end of the entire 14-week offseason training program, after which players and coaches will take time off to recharge before the beginning of training camp. Since the team intends to move from training camp into it's new facility near the stadium, Thursday's workout is the last one scheduled for One Buc Place, the team's home since its formation in 1976.
Gruden, however, doesn't think his team has seen the last of the place quite yet.
"We'll be back to One Buc, even if we have to have a guest practice or whatever it is," he said. "We'll at some point get back to One Buc. Great memories. Hopefully the facility is on schedule and we'll be in there as it sounds. But I don't have any farewell speeches."
Gruden is willing to summarize the offseason program, however, since that has a definite end on Thursday. From the first few jogging session in March to this week's fast-paced and high-volume practices, the Bucs' spring and summer development as a team has been as good or better than ever before.
"This mini-camp is a culmination of a tremendous amount of work," said Gruden, who noted that the entire roster was on hand after the retuns of Toniu Fonoti and Anthony Bryant. "We're way ahead of where we've been, partly because of the experience that we have coming back from last year's team and the amount of work people have put in here in this offseason program. We've had 90 guys here every day, basically, and we've taken advantage of that."
With one workout left, the Bucs have also made it through the program with only one significant injury to this point, the knee sprain that is sending quarterback Luke McCown to surgery. It has been an offseason marked almost completely by optimism, from several key re-signings to the return of 21 starters from 2005 to a productive draft to the high workout attendance.
Training camp, on the other hand, usually has its shares of highs and lows. There are some tough times ahead, but Gruden thinks the foundation the team put down during this offseason will allow them to weather any storm.
"You want these guys to be able to go through some ups and downs together, not just experience highs," he said. "Sometimes you can really get better in the depths of depression. I think we've got the will and the manpower to push us through some bad times, if there are any."
On Thursday, the Bucs will put the final touches on that offseason, hopefully with one more strong practice. No matter what happens on the last day – and maybe the last day at One Buc Place for the whole team – Gruden will be pleased with the last four months.
"I can't imagine it getting much better, from a turnout standpoint, from a work-ethic standpoint," he said. "Mike Morris, our strength coach, has made a splash here. He's done a great job. This team is in very good shape. Kurt Shultz, his assistant, came over from Minnesota and they have collaborated on one heck of a program. And our coaches have paid a price also. That's hard to put a price tag on, guys who are here every day working. That's going to pay off for us."