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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Get In, Get Going

Though a few contract negotiations were ongoing as Jon Gruden held his camp-opening press conference, the Bucs’ coach was confident his team would soon be intact and raring to go


Head Coach Jon Gruden says the return of 21 starters from 2005 does not rule out competition for jobs in 2006

Jon Gruden addressed the media at training camp headquarters at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, 45 minutes before he planned to shepherd his entire team to the practice facility for a mass weigh-in and a little over three hours before his first big meeting of camp.

It is at this 6:50 p.m. gathering, annually, that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' head coach looks out over the crowd and hopes to see every player on the roster in a seat. Buc players are actually asked to report to camp between 1:00 and 4:00 p.m., and they have their first practice at 8:30 a.m. on Friday morning, so one could choose to recognize a variety of deadlines. To Gruden, that first evening meeting is the start of camp, and as of his press conference with the media in mid-afternoon, he still had no official news to report on the contracts for three of the team's 10 draft picks.

Not that he seemed even a bit worried.

In fact, Gruden even used the podium to joke around with absent first-round pick Davin Joseph. "How hard is it to get to camp on time?" asked Gruden. "You know when the opening of camp is. You've been given the directions. You don't have to play for free, Davin. We're going to pay you. Get your butt down here and let's get to work. We've got work to do."

Chances are, Joseph will heed that call, as will third-round wide receiver Maurice Stovall and sixth-round tight end T.J. Williams. Contract negotiations occasionally hit some bumps, but it's rarely because a rookie doesn't want to be in camp on time. Players, even young ones new to the league, understand how rapidly the team progresses during camp, and that any absence can have lasting repercussions.

And Gruden didn't sound like a coach who was going to ease into this thing.

"What most excites me now is we can put the pads on now," he said. "We can meet a little bit later now without anyone hovering around our building to see if we're overworking anybody. We can put our foot on the gas pedal and work extremely hard to improve upon what we did last season.

"We don't want anybody to hold out and certainly we'll adjust if that's the case. We respect what the agents have to get done. This is a complex matter. These are 300-page documents. There's fine-tuning that goes into all of this. I just know that at 6:50 tonight I expect all of them there because this is the opening of training camp. This is special. This is the National Football League. This is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. We have a chance to defend an NFC South title. We didn't draft Davin Joseph or any of these guys with the intention of them not being a big part of this. If there is a mishap or a setback, so be it. We'll adjust and do the best we can."

Joseph's fellow draftee, second-round tackle Jeremy Trueblood, finalized his deal on Thursday morning and arrived early to camp, ready to jump into what should be the Bucs' most competitive offensive line situation in recent memory. The team wants Joseph to be a big part of that competition, as well.

In fact, Gruden is looking forward to rugged competition across the depth chart. Since 21 of the 22 players who started for the Bucs last year are back in camp this season, it may appear that most of the important jobs are locked up and the only question of this year's camp is how much depth exists at various positions. That perception, says Gruden, isn't quite accurate.

"We're not more interested in depth than we are in great players," he said. "We'd like to have a great player playing each position on our football team. Depth is key, no question about it. Versatility and depth go hand in hand."

In other words, there are jobs to be won now, and there are also questions to be answered about the team's future. That's particularly true along the offensive line, which has been a position under scrutiny for virtually the entire history of the franchise.

"We're interested in finding some linemen here, offensive linemen in this franchise, who can become great – dominant, consistently great performers," said Gruden. "Can Davin do that? I don't know, but we're going to find out. Trueblood? I don't know but we're going to find out. I do think that's the goal here, more than just finding depth. Let's find some great players. By God, if we run that ball off the two-hole, there's a hole there. We can pass-protect and that guy's doing a hell of a job over a number of years. That's what we're after."

The Bucs aren't afraid to give young players a chance, especially on an offense that is still trying to crack the NFL's upper echelon. Michael Clayton had one of the most productive rookie seasons by a receiver in league history in 2004, and Cadillac Williams was the Rookie of the Year in 2005. Both cracked the starting lineup quickly as rookies. Overall, the Bucs' overhaul on the offensive side of the ball has led to a very youthful core. Joseph, Trueblood and some of the other linemen drafted in recent years, such as guard Jeb Terry, could continue that trend.

"This could be the youngest offense in football," said Gruden. "Outside of Mike Alstott and Joey Galloway, this is a very young team. Anthony Davis, Dan Buenning, Davin Joseph and Trueblood now in the mix potentially, the tight end Alex Smith, the running back Cadillac, [Chris] Simms…these are young people. We're hoping that a blend of Ike Hilliard and the veterans we talked about will help us. We have a chance to build a team on offense much like they've done around here on defense over the years around some really great players. Hopefully, Cadillac, Alex Smith and some of these guys will be guys we can build our team around for years to come."

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