Former Bucs training camp hopeful Drew O'Connor now catches passes for the Amsterdam Admirals
A wall of orange cones and matching netting separated the two practice fields behind One Buc Place on Friday, but there was action taking place on both sides.
Soon, the two groups of players that took advantage of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' headquarters will head in very different directions, but right now each is just getting started.
Friday was the end of a second week of training camp practices for the NFL Europe League's Amsterdam Admirals, who are utilizing the Bucs' far field for their two-a-days. On the near field, a group of quarterbacks and receivers for Tampa Bay were getting in some early workouts under coach Jim Caldwell's watchful eyes.
No Bucs reported to team headquarters on Saturday, but the Admirals were back, competing in their first live action of the spring against another team. All six NFLEL teams are holding their training camps at locations in Tampa Bay, and Saturday was the first day of intersquad scrimmages.
The Admirals welcomed a visit from last year's league champions, the Rhein Fire. No official score was kept, but Amsterdam Head Coach Bart Andrus was pleased with the effort.
This was a chance for us to pull our team together," said Andrus. "I was very encouraged. You find out a lot about your players when you play the game. A lot of the other stuff is gymnastics compared with going live. We will get better from it."
The only Buccaneer-allocated player on the Admirals' squad is first-year DL Matt Sweeney, a University of Miami product. But the Amsterdam roster also features a pair of former Buc roster hopefuls in WR Drew O'Connor and TE John Waerig. Waerig, who took a crack at making Tampa Bay's team last summer as a fullback, caught two passes for 15 yards on Saturday in his new position. Waerig was allocated to the NFLEL this year by his new team, the Detroit Lions.
Amsterdam QB Spergon Wynn (allocated by the Cleveland Browns) connected on 4 of 7 passes for 39 yards. Admirals defensive tackle Kevin Sluder was successful in applying pressure to the Fire quarterbacks.
For the Fire, quarterback Giovanni Carmazzi (San Francisco 49ers) completed 2 of 5 passes for 21 yards and Phil Stambaugh (New Orleans Saints) connected on 2 of 4 aerials for 34 yards. DeMario Brown (Tennessee Titans) rushed 3 times for 13 yards, while Pepe Pearson, the Fire's leading rusher last season, carried 5 times for 17 yards.
In addition to those full-scrimmage results, the two teams also squared off for some seven-on-seven action (picture skill position players without the offensive and defensive lines).
In the seven-on-seven workout, Carmazzi completed 6 of 9 passes, Stambaugh 3 of 5, and Mike Fouts (San Diego) 4 of 5. Michael Lewis (New Orleans Saints) led the Rhein receivers with 3 catches for 35 yards. Amsterdam's Wynn connected on 7 of 10 passes, with receiver Chris Coleman (Tennessee Titans) catching 4 passes for 51 yards.
The Bucs who shared the backyard with the Admirals on Friday – quarterbacks Shaun King, Ryan Leaf, Joe Hamilton and Ted White plus TE Todd Yoder and WR Frank Murphy – were getting in some extra work to stay ahead of the game. They were part of a small handful of players using the locker room in recent weeks.
Some, like DE Marcus Jones, were putting themselves through long sessions in the weight room to maintain their playing shape. Some, like TE Blake Spence and DE Steve White, were still working on injury rehabilitation.
Beginning Monday, these early birds are going to have some competition for shower space.
The Bucs' locker room will be noticeably fuller on Monday, March 26, when the team's official offseason conditioning program begins. The program is completely voluntary, as it must be by NFL regulations, but always features very high attendance. In each of Head Coach Tony Dungy's first five seasons at the team's helm, participation in the program has hovered between 90 and 100% of the roster.
While the conditioning is voluntary, it is also very appealing to the players, who know they can follow a programmed series of workouts to ensure their readiness for training camp in July. There are no weeks off in the program, but players can make their own schedules by choosing varying levels of intensity in their workouts.
The 16-week program, run by Strength and Conditioning Coach Mark Asanovich, will conclude roughly two weeks before camp begins in July.
On Monday, Buccaneers.com will report on the first day of the program with news on who's participating, how they did and what they hope to accomplish.
Realignment, which was discussed here on Buccaneers.com last week, remains the hottest league topic of the offseason. As NFL.com writer Vic Carucci recently reported for the league, the issue is beginning to take shape more rapidly and a structure is in place for the final decision to be made.
In addition, Carucci provided an update on the actions of the league's critical Competition Committee, which is co-chaired by Bucs General Manager Rich McKay.
It is a complex process that already has been at the heart of considerable thought and discussion.
This week, realignment moves to even greater prominence in the collective psyche of the NFL, as 32 clubs gather in Palm Desert, California, for the league's annual meeting.
Divisions won't be realigned during the four-day session that will also be attended by all 32 head coaches, as well as club executives. However, there will be much more talk and greater focus on how to position teams - in a way that is best for the league and for fans - when the Houston Texans begin play in 2002. By resolution, the full ownership must approve of a realignment plan (by three-quarters majority vote) no later than June 1 of this year.
NFL executive vice president Roger Goodell said "well over 30" proposals have been considered by the league's realignment committee, which is headed by Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and includes owners Bill Bidwell of Arizona, Lamar Hunt of Kansas City, Michael McCaskey of Chicago, Jerry Richardson of Carolina, Dan Rooney of Pittsburgh, Wayne Weaver of Jacksonville, and Ralph Wilson of Buffalo.
"At this league meeting, we will be trying to get that down to a reasonable number, and then begin the process of trying to determine the specific plan that we'll eventually adopt by a full membership vote," Goodell said. "We spent a significant amount of time, between two league meetings last fall with our ownership, and another in January, going through various scenarios, various plans to maintain the rivalries that we have - as many as possible - and to create as many new rivalries as possible.
"We have just over two months to complete the process. But we've had a very careful, step-by-step approach to realignment."
Those steps include:
- Expanding from the current six divisions (five of which have five teams each and one of which has six) to eight divisions of four teams each in 2002.
- Adopting a 16-game scheduling format that allows for greater rotation of opponents and minimizes the importance of being in a particular division.
Under the system that will be in place in 2002, every team will play every other team at least once every four years and, on a home-and-home basis, at least once every eight years.
One flaw in the present system is that teams can go more than a dozen years without facing each other. As an example, from 1983 to 1997, there was only one game between Denver and Miami, making the marquee quarterback duel between John Elway and Dan Marino a rare occurrence.
"From a competitive standpoint, we'll be doing away with the fifth-place schedule, where, in some cases, you had some competitive inequity," Goodell said. "Fourteen of the sixteen games will be based on common opponents. Only two of the sixteen games will be based on where you finish in your division the prior year."
- Approving an economic package that allows the 32 clubs to equally split the combined visiting team's share of gate receipts for each season.
"Now, it doesn't matter which division you're in, from the visiting-team's share standpoint," Goodell said. The package also prohibits financial compensation for teams that change divisions.
No major rules changes are likely to be recommended to owners by the league's competition committee, which includes co-chairmen McKay and Dennis Green of Minnesota, as well as Bob Ferguson of Arizona, Jeff Fisher of Tennessee, John Mara of the New York Giants, Ozzie Newsome of Baltimore, Bill Polian of Indianapolis, and Mark Richardson of Carolina.
And there is a good reason for that.
"Overall, the consensus is that the NFL is enjoying a very high level of competition right now," said George Young, the NFL's senior vice president of football operations. "The state of the game is excellent from a statistical point of view as well."
For the seventh consecutive season, scoring averaged more than 40 points per game (41.3) and there were more than 150 plays per game (153.7). Competition continued to be as balanced as ever, with 44 percent of games decided by seven points or less and six different division champions from 1999, when there were five new division winners from the previous year.
As always, instant replay will be discussed. However, it might Finally stop being a topic of annual debate at future meetings. According to Young, the competition committee might recommend that the use of replay be extended beyond its one-year status because of how efficiently it has performed over the past two seasons.
"The committee and the clubs do not want a replay system that unduly interferes with the pace or the length of the game," Young said. "In that regard, the system of the past two years has been successful, with less than one stoppage per game and the ability to correct the obvious error on big plays."
Last season, play was stopped 247 times in 248 games, with 83 reversals.
In 82 games (33 percent), there were no stoppages.
The competition committee has also spent considerable time in recent meetings addressing unsportsmanlike conduct and taunting. It plans to speak with all clubs about making both matters a point of emphasis in officiating, including a clearer definition of actions that violate the league's unsportsmanlike conduct/anti-taunting rules.
"The committee, our clubs, and our players all recognize the concern many people have about the sportsmanship in sports today, and our obligation to set the right example," Young said. "The (annual) survey we did with our clubs identified this as an issue that we should address. We received the same message from the NFL Players Association, whom we met with (during last month's scouting combine) in Indianapolis.
"The game is in overall good shape. But we are still striving to improve it and ensure we are presenting it in the most professional manner possible."