Confine your view to just the 57,600 square feet contained inside the broad white lines, and the pitch looks like any other football field the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have ever used for practice. The yard markers are the same; the yellow goal posts at the end form their familiar boxy 'Y'; even the added red lines running lengthwise to mark receiver landmarks have been duplicated.
Outside that rectangle, however, it's a completely new experience for the Buccaneers. They are roughly 4,400 miles from home, in a climate about 25 degrees cooler than they're used to, surrounded by buildings erected hundreds of years before they were born. When the first walk-through of the week ended on Wednesday morning, the players walked down carved-stone steps through a countryside so still one could hear the minor activities of birds and other small animals. They returned to the main grounds of the Pennyhill Park Hotel & Spa, a luxury resort in Bagshot, Surrey, United Kingdom, about 45 minutes outside of London.
The Buccaneers have been to London before – they played the annual International Series game at Wembley Stadium against New England in 2009 – but on that occasion they essentially did all of their work in Tampa before heading overseas at the end of the week. This time around, they've immersed themselves in the English countryside for a week, embracing the unfamiliar environment and attempting to integrate their normal football activities into it.
Yet, despite the foreign surroundings – and, frankly, the week has so far delivered far better weather than the Bucs could have hoped for – Raheem Morris' team already feels right at home. Morris has spent the last two years conditioning his team to adapt quickly to new situations, and that effort is paying off this week. Practice trips to such locations as Tropicana Field and the University of South Florida, as well as a weekly schedule that is occasionally fluid, all led up to the greater challenge of playing across the Atlantic.
"It's always helpful," said Morris. These guys will do just about anything we ask them to do and go wherever we ask them to go. That's kind of where our team is. Everything else is gray matter. It's all about winning and these guys will go out there and try to get wins. They'll do everything they can to make their situation better and make it easier to succeed."
The practice field is anything but makeshift; a verdant lawn in a valley the perfect size for football amid rolling hills and surrounded on all sides by tall trees. Next to it, two sturdy structures have been erected, the roofs held up by pumped-in air, to create a locker room and a weight room. Video lifts surround the field as always and all the necessary equipment, from blocking sleds to tackling dummies, has been transported over. There is no reason for the players to feel out of their element, and they had no trouble adapting on Wednesday.
"It definitely helps us deal with change, because you don't get into that routine," said linebacker Adam Hayward. "You never know how games are going to go and what the situations will be, so we always change things up. Rah's very good at that, changing up our scenery, when we're practicing, what time, getting our bodies used to different things. It kind of helps because you prepare for everything."
The hotel itself, which houses the players, holds all the team meals and has had many of its rooms transformed into offices and position meeting rooms, is beautiful in every aspect. The halls are carved stone and tend to veer off in unexpected directions, sometimes narrowing under historic-looking archways. The hotel has its own bakery, numerous fireplaces and an overall feel of timelessness. On the back side is a world-class spa with pools, steam rooms, ice cave, sensory rooms, hot tubs, tepidariums and more.
The meeting rooms have been equipped with all the necessary video technology, but still look different with their plush chairs and hardwood walls. Red-leaved ivy lines some of the walls, and every direction one looks there is a reminder of the age of the place. The first house built on the site was erected in 1841, and while the land and its buildings were completely transformed into the current hotel in 1982, the place looks like it could have been here forever. About the only things that look like they weren't put in place hundreds of years ago are the Buc flags that dot various potted plants and the Tampa Bay shirts worn by many of the employees.
And the Bucs themselves, of course. Tampa Bay's players and coaches are definitely out of their normal place, and yet they seem to be right in their element. That was the plan all along.
"It's really nice," said quarterback Josh Freeman. "The set-up here is first class, where we're staying. The weight room, the equipment room, everything like that…we've got everything we need."