The color palette of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' first week of training camp was mostly provided by a bright yellow sun and an array of colorful banners. As the second week began on Thursday, the scene got a quick injection of black, white and gray.
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The black-and-white belonged to the visiting NFL officiating crew led by Gene Steratore, in town for the first of three practices with the Buccaneers. The gray was courtesy of several fast-moving storms that both shortened Thursday's workout and added a welcome new challenge.
Some early-morning radar readings convinced Head Coach Dirk Koetter and his staff that there would be a window between the storms from 8-10 a.m., so practice was moved up to an 8:15 start and three of the 13 planned periods were eventually skipped. The Buccaneers also moved the majority of their work from the field closest to the stands, which was still too wet from the first band of rain, to the middle field in a nod to player safety.
Of course, the middle field was somewhat wet, too, and so were the footballs before long. That makes for less than optimal conditions for holding onto the ball…and that's the point. Koetter was glad his team got a chance to practice in such conditions and hopes it won't be the last opportunity. As the team's offensive coordinator in 2015, he witnessed the Bucs out-gain the Carolina Panthers by 167 yards but still lose by two touchdowns on a very rainy day thanks to five turnovers and two missed field goals.
"It was great to work with some bad weather," said Koetter after a practice that ended just as the rain was growing heavy again. "Remember that Carolina game last year, we only really worked in bad weather one time in practice, in wet-ball conditions, before we played that Carolina game, and it definitely came back to haunt us in that game. So that was some good work. We cut a few periods out, we had to cut a couple periods short, but we did get in some good work today. That's the key. Hopefully the weather cooperates and we'll get back on schedule tomorrow."
Linebacker Lavonte David actually referred to the soggy practice as "fun" and hinted that he might have found an occasion or two to slide on the wet grass on purpose. He also agreed that it was necessary work before the start of the regular season, though he referenced a game from before Koetter's arrival when lighting at Raymond James Stadium actually forced a temporary stoppage of play.
"I think it helps a lot," said David. "You never know what the weather's going to be down here in Florida. I remember, what, three years ago we were playing New Orleans and we had a weather delay. We had to come right back out and finish the game in the same conditions. It was good that we got a chance to work on wet games like this early in practice so we could get accustomed to it, get comfortable with it so that when it hits us on game day we won't be surprised."
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The arrival of the officials was particularly welcome to Koetter, who was tired of making his own penalty calls in the previous camp practices. Moreover, Koetter and his staff are tired of penalties – the Bucs committed 143 of them last year – and are working hard to reduce their number in 2016.
"It was great to have real NFL officials so I didn't have to be the official, number-one," said the coach. "As you guys all know, we're making a big emphasis on the penalty thing. We had plenty of penalties today."
As always, players didn't necessarily agree with every flag that was thrown. However, unlike in a game they were encouraged to talk with the officials between snaps to get a feel for why each penalty was called and what they can do to avoid them.
"It's important because we get to communicate with them off the field," said guard Ali Marpet. "We get to ask them questions and see what they're looking for. That's important to have, an open dialogue with the refs. We can talk to them whenever [during practice] and they're pretty open with us."