Head Coach Tony Dungy (foreground) believes his veteran players are eager to join rookies like punter John Shay in practice
Early Wednesday evening, more than five hours after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had finished the first day of its rookie pre-camp, the skyrocketing Tampa heat index stubbornly refused to dip back down into double-digits. Defensive Line Coach Rod Marinelli reveled in the heat, saying he would vote for three straight weeks of it for the Buccaneers' soon-to-begin training camp.
Do we hear a second?
There are probably not many of the 88 players on the Buccaneers' roster who would welcome 30 straight training camp practices under Wednesday's conditions, which continued on into Thursday for the second day of the rookie pre-camp session. However, Marinelli does speak for the team's coaching staff, which sees the benefit inside the suffering.
"I think this is good for these guys," said Head Coach Tony Dungy after Thursday's workout. "They get the toughest challenge right away so they know where they stand. It's been warm and we expect it to be warm next week, but that's got to be our edge. We train in it, we know how to prepare for it and it will get us ready for the regular season.
"I think the coaches would love it. I don't know if the players would be all that happy with it."
Starting quarterback Shaun King, a second-year player and thus not eligible for this week's series of workouts, wasn't on the field Thursday but wasn't fleeing from the heat. King made an unannounced appearance at the Bucs' complex and sat to watch most of the practice.
King felt empathy for rookie passer Joe Hamilton who, as the only quarterback on the field, was getting more than his share of work for the second straight day. Hamilton told King he was doing fine as the two talked afterward but later admitted that he was 'really tired.'
King and a handful of other veterans on hand, however, were energized, clearly ready to get things rolling on Sunday, when the full team reports to the University of Tampa for training camp. Under Dungy, Tampa Bay has annually been one of the last teams to report to camp, and 2000 is no exception.
While some players may appreciate a few extra days off before the long grind of the season begins, this offseason has had a different air about it. Expectations for the Bucs have built steadily throughout the spring and summer and are now almost palpable. Buccaneer players are eager to see if they can fulfill those expectations.
"I think all of our veterans are getting a little anxious," said Dungy. "They see the other teams in camp. We've had a lot of guys come by this camp the last few days just to see what's going on. They're just anxious, which is a good sign. I think it just shows that our guys want to be ready to go, and our attitude has been great all year."
For a few more days, however, the veterans can just watch. Even workouts have been suspended as the weight room equipment was in the process of being relocated to the camp site on Thursday. They might have been itching for some action, but the coaching staff wouldn't have really wanted them on the field had they been eligible. This week's session works better if the rookies can receive undivided attention.
"They want to catch up and this is a great opportunity for them to do that at their own pace and get more attention with their own coach," said Dungy. "When there's 12 guys at your position, you don't get that, but when there's just two or three guys and they're all new and they all have the same questions, it works out really well."
Even with only a few players at each position, the coaching staff was able to cobble together some seven-on-seven and team drills, which were used primarily to teach terminology and assignments. Even after the scheduled portion of practice had concluded, most of the individual positions split off for another 20-30 minutes of specific work.
The linebackers, for instance, worked on shedding blocks on running plays and recognizing play action fakes, while the defensive backs were schooled on coverages when offensive players went in motion. The handful of offensive and defensive linemen in attendance matched up in one-on-one rush drills while the tight ends and backs worked on one 'Jugs' machine catching passes and the receivers worked on another.
Dungy, who had to leave Wednesday's practice slightly early to attend a luncheon, was there for the duration on Thursday and was pleased with the efforts of the team's newcomers. He is, however, looking forward to seeing them perform with the pads on. Considering the current temperatures in Tampa, that's probably another thing the coaches are more in favor of than the players.