LB Cato June didn't mind training camp because it signaled the imminent approach of the regular season
Training camp is a grind. Endless repetitions and two-a-days in the hot Florida sun drain the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and test their mettle as they prepare for the regular season.
But for linebacker Cato June, it's a necessary evil, the requisite first step before getting to the regular season and some meaningful games. Therefore, the team's recently-ended three-week stay in central Florida was actually an exciting time for the sixth-year linebacker.
"The first day is always great," June said. "You get here and finally see the guys again and you know it's football season. You smell the grass, put the cleats on and it's time to go."
June's face broke out in a smile as he spoke those words, just a hint at the enthusiasm he brings to the field, whether it's in practice or on Sunday afternoons. Signed as a free agent prior to the 2007 season, June provided everything the Bucs hoped for when they inked him to a deal, and then some.
June finished his first season in pewter and red with one interception, one forced fumble and two passes defensed. He placed third on the team with 120 tackles, behind only fellow linebackers Derrick Brooks and Barrett Ruud. He brought a playmaking edge to the strongside position that the team had been lacking.
That trio of backers helped solidify the Bucs' defensive unit and lead the group to an overall No. 2 ranking in 2007. The reason for their success, according to June, is the way they work so well together.
"You have a veteran in Brooks that knows the system better than anybody, with the exception of Monte Kiffin probably," June said. "You have a very athletic middle linebacker [Ruud] that's calm under pressure and gets everybody lined up. Then you have me, you throw me in the mix, I'm familiar with the system.
"We're all athletic and we all just know how to work together. We're like a synchronized swimming team and everybody is playing off each other. When you know what other guys can do, you know their abilities and you know their weaknesses. Knowing that and not being a proud person, you know that certain guys can do certain things better than others and you learn how to play off them."
June possesses the ideal skill set for the Bucs' Cover-2 scheme, a defensive system very familiar to the one he played in with the Colts, his first stop in the league. There was still a bit of a transition coming to Tampa, however, but June said his linebacking mates were extremely helpful. Now entering his second full season with the team, the sky is the limit.
"It made it a lot easier," June said. "You have Brooks, one of the best to ever play the game. You have an up-and-coming Barrett Ruud, you have an up-and-coming Cato June – I don't think that combination can be duplicated."
June says the Bucs' defense is strong because the coaches constantly drill one notion into the players: Know your assignment.
"You definitely have to know what to do," June said. "We have signs up on the wall that say, 'Know your assignment.' If you're not familiar with what you have to do, it doesn't matter how athletic you are. It doesn't matter how many plays you can make if you don't know what to do within the system and you don't know how to work with the other players. It's about trusting your teammates and knowing what the guy next to you is going to do and trusting that he's going to be there when he's supposed to."
With a higher comfort level in both his surroundings and his defensive playbook, June is excited to kick off the regular season. As he left the practice field Wednesday at the conclusion of the team's final training camp practice, he was asked what he was looking forward to most now that camp was over.
Many players would answer that question by saying their families, their house, or their own bed. Not June.
"Week One," June said with another grin. "The preseason is tough, but you have to grind it out, get through it, get better and keep working hard. Once the season comes everybody knows what time it is and all the talk, you can put it on the shelf and just go out and play."