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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Grass Roots Program

Rob Julian, the Buccaneers field master, has 60 days to revive the team’s practice fields for another long season


Drill repetitions can cause some areas of the Bucs' practice field to show wear and tear

Now, finally, it is time to rest.

Not the players – they may be done with the four weeks of voluntary practices, but the team's offseason conditioning program runs through mid-July. And not the coaches – they may find some vacation time between now and training camp, but most of them fill their off time with very active pursuits.

No, this period of rest belongs to the grass.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' training complex features two very well-attended full-length practice fields in the back. In the far right corner sits a large shed loaded with lawn equipment and housing the office of Rob Julian, the Bucs' groundskeeper. From that base, Julian's green thumb wages a year-long battle with the effects of 80-some-odd very large men running, cutting, jumping and falling on these beautiful expanses of green.

And this is Julian's most valuable portion of the year. With the team's summer workouts concluded on June 14, their will be no organized activity on the One Buccaneer Place fields until late August, aside from a few running sessions organized by the strength coaches. The Buccaneers conduct training camp at nearby University of Tampa, and it's the fields at Pepin-Rood Stadium that must withstand a month of that intense wear and tear.

That gives Julian 60 valuable days to perform resuscitation on a pair of fields that is showing some visible signs of wear. The clock is ticking, and Julian is wasting no time.

"The idea is to get as much new growth as possible before training camp is over and the team comes back," he said. Or, to put it more technically, "the offseason renovation program consists of core aeration to relieve compaction from foot traffic, increase oxygen filtration to the root zone and improves drainage."

On Friday, for instance, he had several large, rented tractors criss-crossing the fields, specialized 'verti-cutters' that work the soil and grass to promote new growth.

"Verti-cutting is a process using a series of vertical blades designed to decrease the amount of thatch and also cut stolons in Bermuda to promote new growth to recover these damaged areas from the offseason programs," said Julian, explaining that a stolon is the familiar 'runner' one sees from hardy grasses such as Bermuda and St. Augustine.

"We're doing that in addition to aeration and top dressing – which is applying sand mix to help level the field – and fertilization to promote new growth."

As a possible added measure, Julian may call for some replacement sod to be put down, but he will attempt to work it from the ground up, first. The main issue is the proliferation of small patches of bare ground, caused mostly by repeated drills in the same areas. Before this summer of rest and growth, the Bucs' practice fields have had little time to recover, housing first the NFC Champion New York Giants before the Super Bowl, then several NFL Europe teams in the following weeks.

The Bucs have also had one three-day mini-camp, the recent four weeks of fully-attended practices and additional strength and conditioning work on most days.

"NFL Europe held their training camp here for a month, so we had them on one of our two fields and our guys using the other field," explained Julian. "We took a lot of damage on one field we used exclusively for them, and we used the other field exclusively for us for the last month for our offseason program. Really, both of the fields are showing the effects of those two months of training, and that's right on the back of a full season of football."

So Julian will plug on, likely making his biggest advancements over the next two months. The cycle will repeat itself, with cleats ripping up sections of turf and Julian coaxing it to grow back.

"It's always a struggle," said Julian, admitting at the same time that he as one big advantage over many of his NFL counterparts. "It's not quite as bad here in Florida, where you've got great growing weather almost year around. We do have the advantage of this very good climate."

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