Players participating in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2017 training camp have more electronic eyes trained on them than ever before.
A 30-person crew from NFL Films works every practice with multiple cameras, looking for compelling footage to produce a series of Hard Knocks shows on HBO in August and September. Dozens of media outlets shoot from the sidelines. Fans look on from crowded bleachers, many of them capturing the action on their phones.
Most importantly, there are the team's own cameras, on the field and high on scissor lifts, dutifully recording every practice rep. Not long after practice ends, all of that footage is available to every Buccaneers' coach for intense and repeated scrutiny. That's why every rep matters for all 90 players on the roster, particularly those who are trying to fight their way up the depth chart.
"Because the message to all of our rookies that I talk a lot about is opportunity," said Head Coach Dirk Koetter after practice on Sunday. "Everybody has opportunity, but it's not equal opportunity. You can't sugarcoat it. We're not going to give every single guy the same opportunity that Mike Evans or Kwon Alexander gets. That's just not how it works. But there is opportunity.
"We put the schedule up and we showed the preseason game in Cincinnati, typically everybody that's healthy plays in that game. That's an opportunity. Maybe you only get four or five reps a day, you also have time to prove…you see how many cameras are out here. Every single thing these guys do is filmed and analyzed by coaches. The coaches are watching them all day."
Koetter's post-practice comments expounded on a video clip released by HBO on Saturday to promote the coming Hard Knocks series. The clip, which was filmed during a meeting with the team's rookies, shows the Buccaneers coach emphasizing the importance of being ready for those opportunities. Close-up reaction shots show the young players paying close attention to the message. Tight end O.J. Howard, the team's first-round draft pick, is shown first, but later shots close in on a trio of undrafted rookies: linebacker Richie Brown and cornerbacks Jonathan Moxey and Maurice Fleming.
Last year, five undrafted rookies made the Buccaneers' initial 53-man roster: defensive linemen DaVonte Lambert and Channing Ward, running back Peyton Barber, tight end Alan Cross and tackle Leonard Wester. Two more, cornerback Javien Elliott and running back Russell Hansbrough earned later promotions, and Elliott was the team's first-team nickel back for the last third of the season. They almost surely had been given a similar message from Koetter before training camp in 2016, and they took it to heart.
"Everybody's got opportunity," said Koetter in the Hard Knocks clip. "Be ready when your opportunity comes. Luck is the time when preparation and opportunity meet. There's somebody in here right now – probably more than one guy – that you're not as high on the depth chart as you want to be. You might be on the bottom of the depth chart at your position. But every year, through your talent – you're all talented players or you wouldn't be here – somehow, some way it works out at the end where we're calling your name, we're calling your number, and saying, 'Get in there.' Guess what? That's your opportunity. When it happens, we're expecting you to show up."
Of course, that rookie meeting in 2016 was not captured by any cameras. Hard Knocks is going to give Buccaneer fans an opportunity to witness countless scenes to which they've never before had access, such as Koetter's meeting with the rookies. Such footage provides insight into the process by which NFL players follow their dreams and NFL teams construct their rosters.
The first Hard Knocks episode will air Tuesday, August 8 at 10:00 p.m. ET.