Head Coach Tony Dungy believes his players will buy into what the coaching staff is selling
Some passes were dropped on Monday. A few more on Tuesday. Some players jumped offside or didn't read the defense correctly. Some didn't translate what they learned into meetings onto the field perfectly.
Hey, it's camp.
A few mistakes are to be expected in the opening days of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp, and the majority of what the coaching staff has seen on the field through three workouts has pleased them. But the team has yet to achieve the practice level for which Head Coach Tony Dungy is looking.
"Overall, I think day one was slow," said Dungy late Tuesday morning. "It was a little hot and I don't know that we were quite ready for that. Today was better, more towards the tempo that we need to be at.
"Still, none of the three practices I would characterize as a championship practice, and that's the message we got to the team."
This is not appreciably different than most training camp openings. Last summer, near the end of day one of camp, Dungy called the second Monday practice "okay. Maybe not quite what we're looking for, but I think we're stepping in the right direction. We've just got to be sharper, have a little better tempo."
Camp, after all, is designed to pull the team together after weeks of being apart. It seems reasonable that the early days of camp might be a bit shaky.
But this summer feels a bit different. Dungy seems less inclined to accept that excuse this year. He wants his players to understand that the necessary focus needs to be there right from day one.
"That's one thing I'm conscious of, is letting them know a little bit more if they're meeting the standard – what's expected, not just what's acceptable to get by but what's expected to win a championship," said Dungy on Tuesday. "Then they have to determine if they really want it.
"Everyone says they want to go the Super Bowl, and that's easy to say. Most people will say it. But when you say, 'Well, we can go, but it's going to take a certain level of practice every day, it's going to take a certain level of commitment in the meetings, it's going to take a certain level of commitment to rest at night,' then maybe it's not that important.
"'I don't want to do that. I'd like to go to the Super Bowl, but not if it takes all that.'
"We'll find out."
These comments delivered by Dungy on Tuesday were light-years from a rant. In fact, he appeared quite optimistic, apparently believing that his team would soon be practicing at the level he expects. He understands the difficulty new players and returning NFL Europe League allocates have in adjusting to the expectations of the Bucs' camp.
We've got some new guys that we're trying to acclimate in," said Dungy. "It's always going to be like that where it's not quite crisp because they're not exactly sure what to do. But that will come and we'll be better. But our effort has been very good and that's the thing you look for early on."
Increasingly, he'll be looking for players to buy into the commitment he outlined above.
"The players have to be motivated to do it," said Dungy. "You give them the direction and what it takes to win. They can either buy into it or not buy into it what we're selling. If they can buy into it and we can stick with it, I think we're going to have a good year."
Brad Johnson stood idle during practice on Tuesday for the second straight day, though he was planted right in the middle of the backfield for much of the morning. Johnson is being held out due to a cut on his right knee suffered at home last week, a deep but non-serious wound that required about 15 stitches.
By Wednesday, the team hopes to have a better feel for when Johnson will be back throwing passes.
"The doctor will be here on Wednesday and will take a look at him, and then we should have a pretty definitive date for him to get back.," said Dungy. "He could be back Thursday or Friday."
Johnson, who hit town with a reputation as a very hard worker, is making sure these early days of camp are not wasted ones for him.
"One of the big things that he's still doing, obviously, is all the 'mental reps,'" said Quarterbacks Coach Jim Caldwell. "He's standing by the huddle, making certain he knows the plays and going through things visually. Then also, he's in the meetings, and he's lifting, upper body in particular, to try to stay in shape. Hopefully, they'll release him soon and we'll get a chance to work with him."
One player who was definitely not idle in practice on Tuesday was fullback Mike Alstott. The classic 'gamer,' Alstott misses very few workouts and usually works up quite a sweat.
This year, he's sweating with a purpose.
At the beginning of training camp 2000, with Les Steckel on board as the new offensive coordinator, there was talk of a new and important role for Alstott, a mixture of H-back and fullback responsibilities.
That role failed to materialize and Alstott was never given a full picture of what was expected of him. It was a frustrating season for him and a few other key offensive players, but that uncertainty appears to be a thing of the past.
On Tuesday, Dungy laid out Alstott's 2001 role very specifically.
"I think he's going to be the fullback, and we plan on playing a lot more two-back stuff," said Dungy. "The majority of the game, I would see him playing fullback. I would see him getting two or three carries out of that fullback position and catching the ball four or five times during the course of the game.
"When Warrick needs a rest, I would see him going back to the running back at times. I would see him being the short-yardage and goal-line runner for us, and in those 14 games when we're ahead in the fourth quarter I would see him getting five or six carries to salt the game away."
Dungy's tongue-in-cheek bravado at the end of that description elicited laughter, but the message behind it is genuinely pleasing for the sixth-year fullback.
"I think it's always good for a guy to be able to plan and know what he has to do and what's expected of him," said Dungy. "I think it is a little more defined.
"One thing that was tough for Les was that he was coming in and trying to find out about Mike Alstott. Mike's a unique type of guy and not many people have had experience coaching a guy like that. That's one of the advantages I think Clyde has, that he's had five years looking at him to know what he can do.
"I think we have a sure vision of what he should do. The same thing for Keyshawn and the same thing for Warrick, so I think all three of those guys probably feels better about what's going to be expected of them this year."
NFL official Gale Porter worked Tampa Bay's camp for the second straight day, giving the Bucs an additional source from which to learn. Generally, the NFL sends an officials crew to each team's camp at some point during the summer, but Porter's presence at the beginning of the Bucs' camp is an added bonus.
Dungy believes the presence of Porter, who has dressed in his officials garb and thrown yellow flags when applicable, helps his team stay sharp.
"I think it does help," said Dungy. "Coaches try to watch, I try to watch, but he sees things from an official's perspective and points out things that we don't always catch. I think it's very good for us to build good habits."