Former Dolphins and Jets QB Jay Fiedler (right) attended Bucs practice on Thursday and spoke with Head Coach Jon Gruden
We won't blame you if you greet this statement with skepticism, but Jon Gruden is planning to take a reasonably long vacation in the coming weeks.
Gruden's Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished their three-day mini-camp on Thursday, and with it the team's entire offseason training program. As of noon, the Bucs were officially on break, ready to spend their annual month of decompression before training camp begins on July 27.
That means vacations for everyone, including the coaching staff, some of whom essentially breathe football for 11 months of the year. Put Gruden in that category; he's never met a reel of game footage or practice videotape that wasn't worth studying. Still, he'll get the family together and had out of town for awhile because a little vacation time is very important.
That's particularly true for the nearly 100 players currently on the Bucs' roster. Most of them have spent the last four months working hard in a program of weight-lifting, conditioning and – where the rules allowed it – practicing and attending meetings. That 14-week program was essential to building the foundation for the 2006 season, as training camp will be too. But the time in between is just as critical.
"These guys need to get away," said Gruden of his players. "You can only beat them down so long, you can only work them so long. These guys need a break. You've got to get yourself mentally and physically rejuvenated. We've got a long haul in front of us. I think our players understand that. They're going to use good judgment, and I think they realize the consequences if they don't."
Still, it's easy to imagine Gruden feeling a little gloomy about football going underground for the next month. That feeling might be heightened by what turned out to be a very good offseason. The coach can see what this team is capable of accomplishing it, and it's natural to want to get right to it.
"It feels like we're deep into the regular season," said Gruden. "This has been a real grind for our coaching staff. They've put a lot of time in with these guys and they've paid a great price. We've bonded, we've become friends, I think we've gained a respect for one another. That's what's exciting right now. This is the time of year where you get ready to go on vacation and see your kids a little bit, but you do have some optimism, some excitement about the regular season."
Gruden even saw progress from day to day over the brief course of the mini-camp. The Bucs had only one mandatory camp to utilize, so only one week to get every player on the team together for some intense pre-training camp work. They put it at the end of the 14-week program so that those three days and four practices could be run with maximum pace and efficiency. It went well. Gruden said after Thursday's session that the team was better on that day than it had been on Wednesday.
But now they're scattered one final time, probably not thinking much of football, though the wise ones will remain in top shape for the opening of training camp. And that, while it seems to be well in the distance, is really just around the corner.
The Buccaneers, down a quarterback since Luke McCown suffered a right knee injury last week, looked into a possible addition to that unit by bringing veteran Jay Fiedler in for a visit on Thursday.
Fiedler most recently played for the Jets, though his one season in New York was cut short by a shoulder injury sustained in just the second game in which he played. The majority of his career action came with the Miami Dolphins from 2000-04, during which he made 59 of his 60 NFL starts. He has been a free agent since being released by the Jets on February 22.
Both Fiedler and the Bucs characterized Thursday's visit as a get-acquainted procedure.
"We're just looking into his situation," said Gruden. "We said we were going to look into the quarterback position. We're going to continue to do that, at least as long as I'm here."
Fiedler said he has had talks with three or four NFL teams, including the Buccaneers, and that interest in his services is picking up as he is proving himself healthy. The 11th-year veteran is had arthroscopic surgery on his right (throwing) shoulder after his injury in Week Three of last year and recently began a throwing program that he hopes will have him ready to go by the start of NFL training camps.
"It's just a feeling-out process right now, coming in here," said Fiedler. "Obviously, with what happened with Luke [McCown] last week, there looking for another guy to come in and compete a little bit. My situation, I'm rehabbing right now and hoping to be ready to go once training camp gets started. So we're just feeling each other out and hopefully we can come together on some terms and see where it goes."
Fiedler did say that the Buccaneer possibility intrigued him, in no small part because of the presence of Gruden. The two were together for several seasons in Philadelphia, with Gruden as the offensive coordinator and Fiedler as an inactive third quarterback in 1995 and a training camp participant in 1996. Fiedler also worked with current Bucs' offensive coordinator Bill Muir in 2004 after signing with the Eagles as an undrafted free agent from Dartmouth.
"I would love to get back together with [Gruden] again and work with him," said Fiedler. "He does a great job coaching the quarterback position and making it easy on the quarterback to be successful. Right now, I'm just looking at this situation as well as a few others and trying to determine where the best spot for me is going to be."
In 76 career games, Fiedler has completed 1,008 passes in 1,717 attempts (58.7%) for 11,844 yards, 69 touchdowns and 66 interceptions, compiling a passer rating of 77.1. His teams are 37-23 in his 60 career starts, a winning percentage of .617 that ranked eighth among all active quarterbacks heading into the 2005 season.
"He's won a lot of games," said Gruden. "If you look at his won-lost record in Miami, it was pretty solid. He's a smart, quick study and he's a good guy and right now he's looking for a team to help out. We're looking into his situation and everything else is just speculation at this time."
Catching a Glance
It seems obvious that competition at the wide receiver position is going to be one of the most interesting aspects of this year's training camp in Orlando. Joey Galloway's resurgence in 2005, Michael Clayton's return to health and his rookie form, Edell Shepherd's continued emergence, second tries for '05 draftees Paris Warren, J.R. Russell and Larry Brackins – there are many intriguing angles to the battle for six or seven roster spots.
Two offseason additions have added considerably to that intrigue. One is veteran free agent David Boston, who signed with the Bucs in late May after two injury-marred seasons in Miami. Boston, a former Pro Bowler, is close to being back to full health after recovering from knee problems, and has impressed in his first month with the team.
"He's done pretty good," said Gruden. "I'm not going to say anything else other than he's looked pretty damn good. He's getting himself physically fit again. He's had some injuries the last couple seasons. He and Michael Clayton both are getting themselves rounded back into playing shape and speed. If they can do that, they'll help our team."
The other addition of note was Notre Dame rookie Maurice Stovall, drafted in the third round in April. The Bucs have high hopes for this big (6-4, 229) and polished receiver; however, they didn't get as much of a chance to look at him, especially during this week's mini-camp, due to a small injury. That will have to wait until training camp.
"Obviously when you don't practice you don't help yourself," said Gruden. "Maurice has a minor injury – it's a foot ailment that has kept him out for a few days. But for him to be a player here he's going to have to practice and earn the right. I think he understands that."