The donning of pads meant the team could engage in some more significant contact on Sunday morning
Every summer, there are several "Welcome to Training Camp" moments for Tampa Bay Buccaneer players.
There's the moment when they step into their hotel rooms and realize it's their home for the next three weeks.
There's the sun cresting over the Milk House at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex the next morning, sending the heat soaring at the first morning practice.
Oh, and there's that first busted play on the practice field, the one that brings a torrent of invective from the coaches.
Then there's the big one: The morning the pads go on.
After two days of hard work in the Central Florida broiler, the Buccaneers turned it up another notch on Sunday morning by putting those pads on for the first time. The added equipment means more than just an extra layer of gear to sweat through; it means a rise in intensity on the field, thanks to the added dimension of hitting.
It's also one step closer to the real thing, the games, the reason these 91 men are on the field in the first place, so it is actually a welcome moment.
"It's a lot different," said Head Coach Jon Gruden. "These guys understand that they play the game in pads. Your conditioning is tested and you get a chance to find out quickly where you are as a football team, because that's how the game is played."
The results of practice, the videotaped angles that are captured and broken down in great detail by the coaches later in the day, are more telling than anything that came out of the first two days of camp. Running a sharp route or making the correct block in shorts is nice, but if a player can't translate the same activity successfully when the pads go on, that will hurt his chance to make a contribution.
Thus, it is particularly important to see how the young players and the team's newcomers do when the pads go on. In that regard, Gruden was pleased with Sunday morning's work, and especially so with a few of the young players the team hopes to be able to count on early.
Rookie running back Carnell Williams, for instance, looked great with the pads on.
"He made some great plays in the hole and coming out of the trash," said Gruden of the first-round draft pick. "I was really impressed with him. I thought [tight ends] Alex Smith and Anthony Becht made their presence felt on the line of scrimmage. There were a lot of guys, honestly, who practiced pretty well today for the first time in pads. I thought [rookie guard] Dan Buenning did some good things. I've got to look at the film carefully to see. I don't get a chance to see the defense quite as much until I study the tapes. So we'll see."
Of course, additional hitting also turns up the heat between players, and it's more common for one man to take offense at the actions of another. Little after-the-whistle battles are bound to break out at any training camp, as one did late on Sunday morning, but Gruden would prefer not to see it on his field.
"I don't want it," he said. "We lost Shelton Quarles for seven or eight weeks in a skirmish around the pile, late after the whistle. We addressed that. There are going to be periods where men are men and tempers flare. But we addressed it and we expect our players to resolve their differences quickly."
Roster Moves and Injuries
Another common occurrence at training camp is the minor tweaking of the roster from time to time. Usually a player or two is brought in during the course of camp to upgrade a position or provide depth at a spot that has been struck by injuries.
The first such move occurred on Sunday morning, as the team signed rookie tackle Sam Lightbody, a standout at Washington State who was a Cougar team captain along with new Buccaneer teammate Hamza Abdullah, a seventh-round draft pick in April.
To make room for Lightbody on the roster, the Bucs released another young lineman, first-year guard/center Chris Watton. Lightbody also assumes Watton's #57 jersey.
Lightbody's name is not particularly self-referential, as he runs 6-9 and 325 pounds. At Washington State, he helped the Cougars' rushing attack average 128.0 yards per game in 2004. He was named a second-team All-PAC 10 pick as a senior last year.
Lightbody was in gear and on the practice field with the team on Sunday morning, but a handful of players were not. Gruden ran down the relatively short list of injuries after practice.
"We held Brian Kelly this morning; he's got a virus," said Gruden "We expect him to be back tomorrow. Derrick Deese was held out today; he's got a mild foot sprain and is day-to-day. And Jacque Lewis and Rick Razzano…are day-to-day with hamstring [injuries]."
On Sunday, the team welcomed a group of Buccaneer alumni out to the morning practice. Former Tampa Bay players gathered to catch up with old friends and watch this year's team go to work on the field.
The heat didn't stop a large group of well-known alumni from showing up at camp. Tyji Armstrong, TE (1992-95), Scot Brantley, LB (1980-87), Jeff Carlson, QB (1990-91), Mark Cotney, S (1976-84), Kenny Gant, S (1995-97), Eric Hayes, DT (1993), Tony Mayberry, C (1990-99) and Richard "Batman" Wood, LB (1976-84) were some of the former Buccaneers at the event.
After watching the team practice in pads for the first time, the alumni posed for a picture with Head Coach Jon Gruden. Some alumni got the chance to visit with current coaches and players who were with the team during their tenure a few years back.
Gant, a former teammate of both Derrick Brooks and Jeff Gooch, spent some time catching up with the linebackers after the morning's practice.
"Sometimes it's hard to see them because they always call me bowling ball or something big," Gant said with a laugh. "When I played with them I was a puny guy then. With age and beauty comes weight."
Despite such hazards, the alumni appreciate the chance to spend time with friends they haven't seen in awhile. For Gant, it makes him feel as though he's back on the playing field.
"It's great," Gant said. "I feel like I'm part of camp: hot, sweaty and nasty."