| QB Josh Johnson and his Buccaneer teammates will be able to get in some time with their coaches beginning Monday, through organized practices are still weeks away.|
For the past two-and-a-half months, One Buccaneer Place has buzzed with constant but quiet activity. Coaching hires, free agency preparations, draft evaluations, even a few tweaks to the roster...all necessary tasks to prepare the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the 2010 league year.
Next week, it's going to get loud again.
The boys will be back on town on Monday, March 29, for the beginning of the Buccaneers' official offseason program. It's a 14-week program that technically stretches into the early days of July but will practically get a capper during the fourth week of June when the team's only full-team mandatory mini-camp will take place.
The NFL's new league year actually began on Friday, March 5, when the free agency period began and the contract status for all players rolled from '09 into '10. However, teams were not allowed to conduct any organized workouts with their players until March 15. The Buccaneers elected to begin two weeks after that date, in part due to a plan to shift much of their organized offseason work to after the draft, when the newest players will have arrived.
That doesn't mean One Buc's weight room or the backyard practice fields have been empty in February and March. Players couldn't receive any direct instructions from their coaches before March 15, but they were certainly allowed to use the team facilities on their own if they wished to get a jump on their 2010 conditioning work. A group of Tampa Bay players, most notably including second-year quarterback Josh Freeman, elected to do just that.
Beginning next week, however, Freeman and his early-bird compatriots will find the facilities crawling with activity. The team's offseason program is voluntary, of course, but each year it draws the vast majority of the 80-man roster to Tampa. Most NFL players relish the time off that comes right after the conclusion of a long season, needing the rest to heal strained muscles and drive away fatigue. However, they also view the spring months as the necessary time to get in shape for another grueling campaign.
Head Strength and Conditioning Coach Kurtis Shultz will lead the charge in helping the players achieve that goal, along with Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach Chris Keenan. The day-to-day backbone of the offseason program is the work performed in Shultz's state-of-the-art weight room and the running and other exercises that keep the backyard grass in place. Significant, organized practices won't really begin for almost two more months.
Last year, the Bucs held a three-day mini-camp early in the program, on the turn from March into April. Unfortunately, that was only an option because the team had a new head coach in place, which affords a team that extra mandatory work. This year's offseason will look more like the one to which the team has grown accustomed, at least in terms of mini-camp. A rookies-only camp will be conducted on the weekend following the draft and a full-team mandatory camp will wrap things up from June 21-23.
However, as alluded to above, there is one noticeable change in the Bucs' offseason schedule this year. Because team management believes its new rookie class will be such a significant part of the team's plans in 2010 - Tampa Bay owns 11 picks in the upcoming draft, which is widely considered the deepest in years - an effort was made to get those newcomers involved in as much of the full-team work as possible.
The NFL allows each team to hold 14 "organized team activity" days, or OTAs, during the offseason. While these OTAs are still voluntary and still contain some restrictions as to what type of work can be done (no contact drills, for instance), they do in many ways resemble real, in-season practices. Typically, the Buccaneers have held a handful of their OTAs in April, before the draft, and a few more just after the draft but before the rookies are eligible to report.
This year, the Bucs' first OTA falls on May 17, well after the draft and past the date on which most rookies are allowed to join their new teams for good. After three OTAs that week, the Bucs will skip the final week of May and then bang out the final OTAs in rapid succession just before the mandatory mini-camp.
Indeed, June will be a very busy month at One Buccaneer Place, as the team holds three OTAs during the first week and four more in each of the next two weeks. The offseason program - that is, the weight-room and running work - continues in the two weeks that follow but that is also when coaches and players will begin taking their final vacations before the start of training camp some time late in July.
Obviously, coaches value the OTAs and mini-camps as opportunities to teach the offensive and defensive playbooks and lay the foundation for the intense work of training camp. Every day during the offseason program is important, however, as players add strength and stamina, maintain their NFL-class speed and prepare their bodies for the rigors of a long season. It all begins on Monday.