Buccaneer linemen will begin banging heads in a little less than a month
If you're wondering when football is back, here's the answer: somewhere between July 24 and August 3, depending upon your team of choice.
Every club in the National Football League will report to training camp during that 11-day period, and the beginning of camp is, for all intents and purposes, the start of the season.
The first game isn't until August 9, when the Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans enact the traditional season kickoff with the Hall of Fame game, but that's only a minor distinction. Everything that happens between the start of the league's training camps – games, practices, injuries, roster moves, position battles, surprise emergences – and opening day shapes the season to come. Each game is critical, but so are 9-on-7 sessions and passing drills and goal-line competitions on the practice field.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, as you surely know by now, will report to training camp on July 31 and begin practice on the first day of August. Once that first practice opens, there won't be much downtime for the Buccaneers' players and coaches; camp will officially "break" on August 19, but practice will continue without much interruption as the team prepares for its last three preseason games and the regular-season opener against Dallas.
(Click here for a complete training camp practice schedule.)
The onset of training-camp season usually makes one think of moving vans and players giving their families good-bye hugs. That has certainly been the case for the Buccaneers in recent years, as they've spent the past seven summers at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex in Central Florida. Now, however, they will hold training camp at their own facility for the first time since the early 1980s. Of course, they now have a fully-equipped and state-of-the-art headquarters in which to house camp – something that wasn't true of their previous site – so the move home is advantageous in several ways. Of equal importance is the chance for local Buccaneer fans to attend camp without having to travel to Orlando.
The Buccaneers' move home is in keeping with a recent trend around the NFL, which used to favor long trips for training camp. At one point, four out-of-state teams established training camps in Wisconsin, forming the relatively short-lived "Cheese League." Only the Kansas City Chiefs, who still train in River Falls Wisconsin, remain from that "league."
Of the 32 teams in the NFL, 17 will hold training camp this year in or around their headquarters or home stadium. In addition to the Buccaneers, two other NFC South teams (Atlanta and New Orleans) will do so. The others include Cleveland, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Jacksonville, Miami, New England, New Orleans, Oakland, St. Louis, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Tennessee and Washington.
Almost none of the league's teams will travel far from home for camp, the Chiefs being an obvious exception. The Carolina Panthers will make a short hop to South Carolina to train at Wofford College in Spartanburg, and the Cincinnati Bengals will cross the Ohio River to hold camp at Georgetown College in Georgetown Kentucky.
The Buccaneers will be one of the later teams to report to camp, though as usual that's a function of when each organization plays its first preseason contest. The Bills, half of that Hall of Fame Game, will be the first team to bring its veterans into camp, reporting on July 25. The New York Giants are on the other end of that spectrum, asking their veterans to report on August 3. The Buccaneers are one of a dozen teams that will see their veterans report to camp on July 31; five other teams will report in the following three days.
Some teams will bring their rookies into camp earlier than the rest of the team, using their mandatory rookie camp days in the summer rather than right after the draft. The biggest split belongs to the Cleveland Browns, who will ask their rookies to report on July 24 and their veterans to join in one week later. Other teams that have split reporting dates including Baltimore, Houston, New England, the New York Jets, San Diego, Philadelphia, St. Louis and San Francisco.
Most of the teams that are not planning to train at their own complexes or stadiums have paired with a nearby university to hold camp. Some examples include the Ravens (training at McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland), Bills (St. John Fisher College in Pittsford, New York) and Philadelphia (Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA).
The locations and starting dates differ but every team in the league is hoping to achieve the same thing at training camp: Forging a strong and prepared team by opening day of the regular season. NFL teams are increasingly using their own digs to hold camp, and the Buccaneers will be back amid that group in 2009.