WR Dexter Jackson was one of the many new Bucs who had never stepped foot in Raymond James Stadium before Thursday's practice
As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers stretched and warmed up at Raymond James Stadium on Thursday morning, the usual pregame pump-up music blasted from the speakers perched high above the field.
The team then lined up on the field and ran through series of plays with all the intensity of a regular-season game, with players lustily cheering teammates on and coaches shouting out after big plays.
The only thing missing from this game-like atmosphere? About 65,000 rabid Bucs fans and the cannon blasts from atop the pirate ship behind the north end zone.
Other than that, Thursday's practice at the stadium was marked by high spirits and full-speed action as the Bucs finished off this week's session of "organized team activities" with an intense workout on their home field.
Head Coach Jon Gruden said holding practice at the stadium was an instrumental part of the Bucs' offseason program.
"We've got new players. Every year this roster changes dramatically in this league. Some of these guys have played in the NFL but never played in this stadium," Gruden said. "I just think it's part of the offseason program to get your players familiar with not only their new teammates and coaches and the new system of football but the surroundings. Most of our guys haven't learned their way around our facility yet. They get lost on the way to breakfast. They can't find their meeting rooms. So I thought I'd show them Raymond James today."
The slightly confused players to which Gruden referred were obviously the team's rookies, who must be a bit impressed by the grandeur of One Buccaneer Place. They have had a few opportunities to get used to that building, however. For many of the newest Bucs, Thursday's practice was their first experience playing football inside an NFL stadium, much less their new home field.
Fourth-round pick Dre Moore, a defensive tackle out of Maryland, said he enjoyed his trip to the stadium. While his first week of practice with the Bucs' vets was an adjustment to the speed of the NFL game, Moore noticed an even higher level of intensity playing inside Raymond James.
"It was fun. It was my first time in the stadium, period," Moore said. "I had a good time, but it was fast. It's real fast. The veterans are keyed in and they've got everything together, so it was different from a speed standpoint. But it was great, I had a great time. The intensity was turned up. The guys are veterans and they know how to practice without pads on, so everything was just as fast and just as physical."
Even though the throng of pewter-and-red faithful was absent on Thursday, Moore said the thought of the full Raymond James Stadium experience awaiting him this fall was a strong motivator.
"It will be a dream come true," he said. "It's the thought that gets me through those rough days, the bumps and the bruises and being tired and homesick. That's the thought that gets me through."
United Brings Home the Title
On Wednesday afternoon, the Glazer family added another football championship to its trophy case.
This is the international flavor of football we're talking about – the Buccaneers will have to wait until this fall to make a run at another title of their own.
The champions of the day were Manchester United, the Buccaneers' sister team also owned by the Glazer family. In a thrilling Champions League final match, Man U battled Chelsea to a 1-1 stalemate at the end of regulation and two extra periods.
The game then went to a shootout where, in an edge-of-your-seat showdown, Man U was able to secure a 6-5 victory in penalty kicks. The match was played at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow and watched by billions of fans around the world.
"I'm really happy for our owners winning another world championship in the sport of soccer," Gruden said. "It's a tremendous accomplishment. I'm really excited for them."
Many Vets Still Sidelined
Although over 90 players have been participating in the OTAs the Bucs have been holding in recent weeks, the injury bug is still keeping some important members of the team confined to the sideline during full-team work.
"We've got a lot of guys [bothered by injuries], to be honest with you… We had a lot of guys hurt last year," Gruden said. "You saw Cato [June sit out] today, you saw Arron Sears not practice, [Joey] Galloway, [Ike] Hilliard, Maurice Stovall, Luke Petitgout, Cadillac Williams. These guys still aren't ready to roll and they're outstanding players. So their situations are being monitored daily. We're staying on top of them the best we can, and they've done a great job rehabbing."
Despite the list of big names unable to participate fully in the team's offseason activities, Gruden said there was a silver lining.
"Those are key members that we need to get back," Gruden said. "But what a great opportunity, in the time being, to train some other players and improve our depth, because it paid off for us last year on a team that won a division."