Check out photos from the second day of mini-camp at One Buccaneer Place.
Last summer, Logan Mankins arrived in Tampa less than two weeks before his new team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was slated to open its 2014 regular season against Carolina. That was barely enough time for Mankins to learn the playbook, let alone get ready for a starting job at left guard. It certainly wasn't an ideal opportunity to exert one's leadership presence in the locker room.
Given an adequate amount of time, however, the cream naturally rises to the top. Mankins, a three-time captain for the New England Patriots before his sudden trade last August, didn't need to seek that leadership role with his new team. It found him.
"Guys just naturally move into those positions," said Buccaneers Head Coach Lovie Smith after his team's mini-camp practice on Wednesday. "You need the respect of the players, and when he talks everybody listens. He's a great listener, too, so he's the perfect guy you want in that role."
Mankins could assume his fourth NFL team captaincy before long. The Buccaneers will choose their captains – generally two on offense, two on defense and one on special teams – via a players-only vote just before the start of the regular season. There is a vacancy in that group as compared to last year's list, with quarterback Josh McCown moving on. Returning wide receiver Vincent Jackson was also a captain in 2014 and is a good bet to retain that distinction in 2015. Smith doesn't need locker room exit polls to predict that Mankins is a strong candidate for the other spot.
"He's just everything you're looking for in a leader," said Smith. "I'm talking about a guy that's going to set the right example, say things that need to be said at the perfect time. We haven't voted for captains yet but it's safe to say he's going to be one."
While pregame sideline speeches on game day are often the province of team captains, much of what is accomplished in a leadership role takes place out of sight of fans and media members. Captains are liaisons with the coaching staff, mentors to younger players and diviners of the team mood. They generally lead by example with their work habits, everywhere from the gym to the training room.
Still, there have been plenty of witnesses at Buccaneer practices this spring, and it's hard to miss the extra wind sprints that some of the offensive linemen have been doing between drills. Mankins has almost always been the one leading this pack. Rookie quarterback Jameis Winston has joined the sprinting group on occasion, too, a move that Mankins appreciates without being overly impressed by it. That's the kind of leadership that Coach Smith surely appreciates, holding everyone on the roster accountable.
"That's kind of expected," said the veteran lineman. "He's a rookie; he needs to be in shape, too. I know a lot of quarterbacks just stand there through the whole game, but every once in a while they've got to run. So they need to get their conditioning in, too. That's something that's important to me, that we're in good shape, so I feel if we need to do extra running we're going to do it."
As much as the Buccaneers are counting on their rookie quarterback to make an immediate difference on offense, they're also counting on two rookies, tackle Donovan Smith and guard Ali Marpet, to help keep Winston upright. And that means they'll be counting on Mankins to be the glue that holds that much younger front line together. On a hot afternoon in June, that means making sure that the new linemen understand the importance of what can sometimes become tedious work.
"You still get a lot of good work in here," said Mankins. "We go through our techniques a million times. Sometimes it gets a little monotonous but it's needed. The more you do it, the better you get at it, so we just keep trying to work at it."