There's one very big change in how the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will conduct their offseason program this year. There's also one relatively small alteration in that program's schedule.
That big change – 100,000-square-feet big – is the availability of the Buccaneers' new indoor practice facility, which the team began using on occasion midway through the 2017 season. The structure is a game-changer for a franchise that has spent more than four decades working around and through the difficulties posed by Florida weather. The Buccaneers can now escape the heat and direct sun as often as they like, and they can continue to work through storms that previously would have interrupted practice.
The minor change in schedule involves the rookie mini-camp, which traditionally is held the next weekend after the draft. This year, the Bucs will try something new, waiting two weeks before bringing their newest additions to Tampa.
The result is a less complicated schedule, as most of those rookies will be cleared by that point to stay with the team and continue on into OTAs with their veteran teammates. NFL rules prohibit rookies from joining their teams until a pre-determined mid-May date (it's May 14 this year), which is intended to protect those players who are still finishing their school years and seeking their degrees. (Six schools – Northwestern, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA and Washington – have different schedules and their players can't report permanently to their NFL teams until June.)
The rookie mini-camp is an exception to that rule, and previously the Buccaneers (and many other teams) would fly all their rookies into Tampa for those three days, then fly them back out to wait until they were cleared to return. Now those players won't have to go home before OTAs begin on May 22.
Those OTAs will take place in an environment that – for a full offseason, training camp and season for the first time – offers four very desirable fields and a variety of playing surfaces and potential conditions. The Buccaneers still plan to make great use of their three very well-maintained grass fields and the surrounding areas.
Head Coach Dirk Koetter and his staff have worked out a plan as to how to utilize all those assets. Koetter spoke to the matter at the NFL's Annual Meeting last week, and while he was mostly focused on training camp, much of the same holds true for the nine-week offseason program as well.
"I have a plan for it," he said. "I'm not quite ready to [reveal] it yet, but we are going to use the indoor [facility] some. One thing we have to remember about the indoor [facility] – in training camp, we have 90 guys. Okay, so you have 90 guys, you have 20 coaches, you have six trainers, and it's just one field. We definitely are going to take advantage of the fact that the sun won't be on us, the air-conditioning and all of that. That will be a piece of our training camp plan but we're not going to all of a sudden just practice 25 times [in there].
"It's also turf versus grass. We have the best grass fields in the league, too, so it will be a combination of those."
The NFL's regulations regarding offseason workout programs, the current version of which has been in place since the new CBA took effect in 2011, has not changed. It still consists of three "phases," which gradually escalate in terms of how elaborate practices can be and how much the players and coaches can work together. Teams can't start their programs until the third Monday of April, although clubs with new head coaches are allowed to start on the first Monday of April. Thus, the Buccaneers will first welcome players back to the building on April 16.
That will be the start of Phase One, which lasts two weeks and consists only of strength and conditioning work on the field. In fact, position coaches cannot work with the players on the field during Phase One, although they are allowed some limited classroom time.
In Phase Two, the coaches can join the players on the field and they can run individual position drills. This part lasts three weeks, during which there is still no offense-vs.-defense work allowed and players don't wear helmets.
It's in Phase Three that teams begin their OTA practices, a maximum of 10 which are usually spread over three weeks, leading to a final, full-team mandatory mini-camp. Other than that three day camp, the rest of the program is voluntary; players can be at the facility for a maximum of four hours per day in Phases One and Two and six hours per day in Phase Three.
In the OTAs, players can wear helmets but only knee and elbow pads; as in the first two phases, no live contact is permitted. Teams can run drills pitting offense against defense, though, including 7-on-7, 9-on-7 and 11-on-11.