Head Coach Jon Gruden has been pleased with the team's turnout for offseason workouts
When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the Super Bowl at the end of the 2002 season, they looked back at the formative days of August, of May and of March and said, 'Look...that is where we came together as a team.'
The Bucs did not repeat as Super Bowl champs last season, but certainly must be considered strong candidates for the title again in 2004. If they do manage to reach the pinnacle of their profession once again, they will almost certainly have fond memories of the work they put in during these seminal months of spring and summer.
And so, as understandably wrapped up as the area is in the Tampa Bay Lightning's playoff run, as relevant as the Tampa Bay Devil Rays' pitching considerations may be at this time of the year, this is a critical time for the Bucs, as well, if quietly so. Tampa Bay has imported a great number of impact players through free agency and the draft, and now is the time for those players and the returning team nucleus to come together.
"Well, we have a great amount to accomplish, once again," said Head Coach Jon Gruden on Tuesday, the first of three 'organized team activity' days to be held this week. "We need to get united as a team. We have a lot of new faces that need to get to know one another this time of year, and we want to teach our system of football and improve in every single area of our team. That's the goal."
Given the exemptions earned by NFL Europe players and the unsigned status of the team's eight draft choices, Tampa Bay has over 80 men on its roster for this week's workouts. Nearly every man was on hand for Tuesday's voluntary workout.
"It was great," said Gruden. "I'm very excited. We had good energy, a good turnout and the execution was, at times, very good on both sides. We've got a long way to go but there were some real good signs today."
Tuesday's turnout was not a great surprise. The Bucs have had a fantastic level of participation in their offseason program, and this week's OTA days are a welcome opportunity to 'practice' in a more formal setting. These workouts may be particularly important for the 20 or so veteran players who have signed with the team over the last few months.
"We've had a great turnout since the offseason program began," said Gruden. "We signed a lot of veteran free agents early in the free agency period for that reason, so they could come in here, learn our system and get themselves ready for training camp."
More from Coach Gruden
On Keenan McCardell not being present: "Obviously, any time a really good player's not here, you're concerned. But we're confident that this will all resolve itself, and in the meantime we're very, very excited with what Joey Galloway did today and we're very pleased with where Michael Clayton is. Joe Jurevicius, his return is right is right around the corner. We'll use this time to give Edell Shepherd, Marcus Knight (and) some newcomers like Sylvester Morris and Mark Jones opportunities to take advantage of, and obviously work hard to get Keenan back in here."
On the young players adjusting: "Pretty good. Not all of them are here. Marquis Cooper and a couple of players aren't here yet, but I think we're settling in. The number-one thing we have to do right now is unite ourselves as a football team. The word of the day is 'momentum.' There's good momentum, like the Lakers have, and that's the kind of momentum that we need to establish – re-establish – here in Tampa Bay football."
On the energy of practice: "I was very pleased. Very pleased with what the three quarterbacks did today, in particular. Griese's showing a real quick learning curve, a quick accurate stroke, and Chris Simms was very good today. And Brad was solid once again, so I was very pleased with where the quarterbacks are for this time of year. Certainly seeing some of the newcomers on defense and how it's going to impact us in the kicking game is a bright spot. We've got a long way to go."
On the importance of players participating in OTA days: But once again, we've had players who haven't participated very much – not many of those, but we're very pleased, very proud of the turnout. We expect to have Simeon here tomorrow, and obviously Keenan McCardell's situation is something we'll try to keep you abreast of as it moves on."
On having officials at practice: "We had a lot of penalties last year. The officials will help me, help our staff interpret the rules, enforce the rules, make it more game-like, more realistic for our players. I think they respect that; they might not tell you that, but I think they appreciate it a little bit. I think it helps us."