Stylez G. White has a message for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Class of 2010, especially first and second-round defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price.
Nice job and all in that rookie mini-camp, but now let's see you bring it when the veterans are on the field.
That sentiment, voiced during a recent sit-down with Buccaneers.com (you can watch the video here in our Video Archive) was accompanied by a friendly smile, and it was less a challenge than a blueprint for success. On paper, White knows, the addition of two potential difference-makers to the interior of the Buccaneers' front line should create some juicy one-on-one pass-rushing opportunities for the men on the edges. For him.
Translating that idea from paper to grass, however, is going to take a lot of hard work, and it's going to require the veterans to push the rookies and vice versa. McCoy and Price, as White also knows, looked very good in those mini-camp practices, but the competition included roughly 50 players in town on tryout contracts. Davin Joseph and Jeff Faine will present a considerably tougher challenge when the whole team is on the field together.
And that will begin on Monday.
The Buccaneers will conduct the first of 14 OTAs to start the upcoming week, and while these "organized team activity" days are completely voluntary they usually draw the majority of the roster. The OTAs lay the groundwork for June's mandatory mini-camp, which in turn gets the team in position to hit the ground running in training camp. Though there are still many limitations to these days – most notably the lack of pads and any real contact – they still feature the first truly organized football work for the veterans this offseason. The Bucs began their official offseason training program in March, and it too has been well-attended, but it has mostly consisted of weight-room sessions and conditioning work on the field.
This type of organized work is about to kick in around the entire NFL, as most teams have saved their 14 allotted OTAs for May and June. The Buccaneers pushed all of theirs back to this time of the year in order to make sure most of their rookies could be involved in the entire run of OTAs, and that seems to be a trend across the league. Only a few teams – Pittsburgh, Tennessee, Detroit, San Francisco – used any of their OTAs in March or April, and then only one or two each.
In reality, White will have to wait until training camp to see any real meaningful battles between McCoy and Joseph or Price and Faine. Receivers and defensive backs can still challenge each other's skills pretty directly during these sorts of practices, but the no-hitting rule makes line play more about knowing where to go and what gap to shoot/protect than the physical struggle that usually goes on in the trenches.
Still, OTAs have increasingly come to be viewed as essential in recent years, as evidenced by the Bucs' scheduling change this year. Teams want their players to have a grasp on the offensive and defensive playbooks before training camp begins so that those two or three intense weeks of two-a-days can be used to get the players game-ready. So the players gather for these close approximations of practice and over 14 days stretched across four weeks they dive headfirst into the playbook. The OTAs lead directly into the June mini-camp, which gives the coaches a chance to find out how well the players have absorbed the team's schemes.
This week, the Bucs will use their first three OTAs, starting at 10:15 a.m. on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. The practice field will welcome close to 80 men, as it did two weeks ago, but this time it will be rookies and veterans. And that's when the real work begins.