Rookies like DE Mawuko Tugbenyoh will get some extra work before training camp next week
'Camp starts on July 23rd, right?' Wrong, rookie
Officially, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' training camp opens in little over a week, on Sunday, July 23. That is the day that both veterans and rookies are required to report to the University of Tampa for the annual rite of season passage.
But if you're a Buc rookie or a first-year player, and that's the next date on your calendar, then you're going to miss out. Beginning Wednesday next week, the Buccaneers are going to bring in all of the newcomers for a three-day head start before camp. Bring your playbook.
NFL teams are permitted to open training camp for their veterans 15 days before their first preseason games, and not before. Even veterans that wanted to report early would not be allowed to. Rookies, first-year players and quarterbacks, however, can be brought in at any time. Continuing a quiet, little procedure that they have followed almost every year that Head Coach Tony Dungy has been in Tampa, the Bucs will invite the rookies by One Buc Place next week for one last crash course before camp.
"Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, we have the rookies in," said Dungy. "It's just kind of an orientation, them by themselves, individually. We're not going to schedule anything team-wise, but just let them get some individual attention. Then Saturday's an off day and Sunday we start up (at camp)."
Lest you think that's going to be too small of a group to get anything accomplished, realize that there are 20 rookies on the roster, plus 10 first-year players. In addition to the draft picks and college free agents from April, first-year players such as WR Drew O'Connor and T DeMarcus Curry will get a little extra instruction. Most of the six Bucs who were overseas in the NFL Europe League all spring and summer – such as RB Aaron Stecker and CB Deshone Mallard – will be on hand and may find the last-minute instruction particularly valuable.
Most of the team's veterans will probably enjoy their last days of 'freedom' next week, as the onset of training camp means grueling two-a-day practices in the Florida heat. That is not the focus of the rookie head start next week, according to Dungy. More than anything, the three days will be a mental exercise to get the newcomers' heads fit for the indispensable work that lies ahead.
"We do a little bit on-field," said Dungy, "but really more playbook stuff, classroom work and some drill work. It's really just individual attention for the rookies to give them a little head start on the veterans."
Dungy doesn't expect any reluctance from that group of 30 next week. In fact, he has seen additional effort from many of them already.
"We've had more rookies than normal that have stayed here (after the summer team workouts)," said Dungy. "Usually, guys go back to school, but we've had a lot of guys that have stayed. Again, we just try to give them a little extra work ahead of time so that they're not scrambling when they get to camp."
When and where the newcomers go onto the field during that three-day stretch will depend on the whims of the position coaches. Offensive Line Coach Chris Foerster, for instance, will have only three players on hand, not enough to run a play from scrimmage. They'll work on technique and play-recognition, mostly. QB Joe Hamilton may get more of a workout than most – he'll be the only passer on hand.
When they are out there, though, they'll get an early taste of the heavy air that makes the Buccaneers' camp a – how shall we put this? – unique experience. The Florida summer took another turn towards hot this past week, just in time to welcome the Bucs back to work. Dungy, who donned a suit and tie for a team rally in Orlando on Friday, feels the heat building and thinks next week's work will give the rookies another chance to get acclimated.
"It's hot," Dungy confirmed. "That's one of the things I try to stress to the new guys, the rookies and the guys who haven't been in our camp before. You really have to be here to prepare for it, to train before it. We generally do have guys that haven't trained here that will have some heat problems, need some IVs, those first days of practice. We'll try to be sensible about it, but playing in the heat is part of what we do around here, so we have to get used to it."
That, in fact, is what next week's rookie gatherings are all about – learning exactly what the Bucs do and why. That way, maybe these 30 guys will feel a little less like rookies when they hit camp…that is, until the first time they have to sing at dinner.