With no veterans around, rookie S John Howell and rookie TE Dauntae' Finger (82) will go one-on-one often during the Bucs' pre-camp workouts next week
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers may have more depth at quarterback than ever before, and next week that's going to cause a bit of a problem.
No, we're not talking about the anticipated depth-chart struggle of training camp, which is still two weeks away. The problem next week is more basic.
As has become customary, the Buccaneers will hold a three-day series of voluntary practices for the team's rookies and first-year players next Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, just before training camp opens the following Monday. The team has enough newcomers on hand to make that concept very worthwhile, with the exception of one particularly important position.
Because the team is so well stocked with veteran passing arms – Joe Hamilton, Brad Johnson, Shaun King and Ryan Leaf – the Bucs did not draft or sign a rookie quarterback this spring. There will be up to 10 first-year receivers and tight ends on hand, but apparently no NFL arm to deliver spirals into their waiting hands.
This is the humorous conclusion of a steady trend downward. In 1999, King, a second-round draft pick, and Patrick Bonner, a college free agent, provided plenty of arm for the three days of rookie-only work. Last summer, seventh-round pick Joe Hamilton got an extensive pre-camp workout, shouldering all of the passing duties as the only rookie QB on hand. This year? Nada.
In reality, it's not a problem. Offensive Coordinator Clyde Christensen and Quarterbacks Coach Jim Caldwell are more than capable of running the basic drills that will be used during the rookie pre-camp, which will primarily center on individual position work. On the other hand, Wide Receivers Coach Charlie Williams, who sometimes fires short throws to his players during receiver drills, plans to rest his wing and let his coaching mates take care of the passing.
That's for the best, as Williams will be one of the busiest coaches on the field next week with a sizeable group that currently includes Eddie Hardaway, Margin Hooks, Khori Ivy, Robert Kilow, Frank Murphy, Jacquay Nunnally, Frank Rice and Alex Willis. The receivers may be the biggest crew on the field, but there will be plenty of others, as 38 of the 86 players on the Bucs' roster (as of Monday, July 15) are listed as either rookies or first-year players. The practices are not mandatory, just like the four weeks of voluntary work that concluded in June, but attendance is generally very good. Unsigned players are allowed to attend, unlike training camp.
Participating is high most likely because the newcomers realize the importance of getting a firm grasp on the Bucs' offensive and defensive systems before training camp begins. The pace during the rookie pre-camp is deliberately kept slow and the focus is on learning rather than evaluation. By contrast, the Bucs switch to a very serious pace and begin evaluating performances once training camp opens.
"We just want to give them a head start … well, it's not really a head start but a jumpstart," said Williams. "This is the stuff that they've already gone over, but we're going to go over it again and get them ready for what's ahead.
"We're just trying to refresh their memories on how we were doing things so that they can come in ready to go come that Monday. They need to be ready, because we're going to go fast and furious in camp."
The workouts might be particularly useful for players returning from the NFL Europe League, who did not get the benefit of the team's post-draft mini-camp or its voluntary summer workouts. Most of those NFLEL vets – P Andrew Bayes, G Wilbert Brown, WR Eddie Hardaway, G Kendell Mack, TE Randy Palmer, CB Terrance Parrish and DT/DE Matt Sweeney – signed with the Bucs at or near the end of the 2000 season and have had little chance to digest Tampa Bay's playbook. It could also mean a return to the field for young players who suffered injuries during the summer workouts, such as guard Ross Hochstein.
Unlike training camp, the pre-camp workouts will be held just once a day, for a few hours in the morning at One Buccaneer Place. The entire coaching staff, which will be returning to the office over the next few days, will be on hand, and each position coach, with the exception of Caldwell, will have at least a couple players to tutor.
"We'll all get some work done because each position coach needs to refresh his guys on what's ahead of them," said Williams. Caldwell? Well, he'll get a workout, too…at least his throwing arm will.