One is 36 years old; another won't turn 24 until January. One was the 19th overall pick in the draft; another didn't come off the board until the sixth round.
One is on his third NFL team; another has played 15 years in the same place, a rarity in the NFL. One exudes seriousness; another keeps his teammates loose in the locker room.
They all have something in common, however: The respect and trust of their teammates.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers elected their 2011 team captains this week as they prepared for their season opener against Detroit on Sunday. The selections were made through a vote by the players, and Head Coach Raheem Morris made the results public on Thursday. The choices are not surprising, but they do reveal where the leadership will come from on the NFL's youngest team.
Quarterback Josh Freeman (he's the not-yet-24-year-old who was drafted in the first round) and center Jeff Faine (on his third team) will be the captains on offense. They were also team captains in 2010.
Cornerback Ronde Barber (the "old man" on the roster at 36) and linebacker Quincy Black (he of the sober demeanor) will be the captains on defense. Barber, obviously, has filled that role before, but this is the first time as a captain for Black, who is heading into his fifth NFL season.
And on special teams, linebacker Adam Hayward (a former sixth-round pick who rarely stops cracking jokes in the locker room) will reprise his captaincy from 2010 as well.
All five will wear the distinctive "C" patches on their jerseys, as has been the case for team captains throughout the NFL for several years. Teammates will look to the five captains as emotional leaders and conduits of information between the coaching staff and the locker room.
Freeman first became a captain a year ago at the age of 22, an unusual distinction that indicates how well-developed his leadership qualities are for a young player. The 2009 first-round pick out of Kansas State started nine games as a rookie and came into his second season as not only the undisputed starter under center but also as a player that many of his teammates – even those older than him – were eager to follow.
The Buccaneers knew they wanted Freeman to be a team leader when they drafted him; it's a role that a "franchise quarterback" must fill almost by default.
"He's been a captain since he walked into the building," said Morris. "I told everybody we were married to Free and now the team officially did the matrimony services. He's our guy and he's been our leader for awhile."
It is not surprising, either, that the Bucs' young players still want Faine out front. He's a natural leader on and off the field, and he anchors one of the few units on the depth chart that has a decent amount of veteran experience. Faine and such O-Line cohorts as Donald Penn, Davin Joseph and Jeremy Trueblood have been starting for the Buccaneers for years and have never shied away from taking responsibility for the team's fortunes.
"It starts up front," said Morris. "Those guys start the engine. They get us going early, they get us going often and we're expecting from those guys the same thing we expect from the whole team – play fast, hard, smart and consistent. They've got to go out and do it at a different level. They've got to go out and do it and be the catalyst of what we're doing."
Barber – he of the 183 consecutive starts, all with the Buccaneers – draws an enormous amount of respect in the locker room. It would be an upset if he was not one of his teammates choices to lead the way. Black, on the other hand, is just ascending into that role. Black actually became an unrestricted free agent very briefly in July, but he returned to the team ready to take on a bigger role than ever, both within the defense and within the locker room.
"Quincy Black, he came on the scene and he was always a serious-demeanor guy," said Morris. "We tried him at MIKE first. We ended up moving him to SAM to get him on the field and to get him to play faster. Now he's got an ability to play nickel MIKE and base SAM for us. He's a serious-demeanor guy, takes care of himself, loves the game. I'm looking forward to letting those guys go play and assume their leadership roles immediately."
Like Black, Hayward was drafted by the Buccaneers in 2007 and he re-signed this summer after becoming a free agent. That was very good news for the Bucs, as they place a lot of importance on special teams and would have been loathe to lose their captain. Hayward has gradually become a more significant reserve on defense, as well, but he makes his biggest impact on a week-to-week basis in the kicking and return game.
Hayward may like to joke around in the locker room, but he takes his role as a team leader very serious when it's time to work. He also leads by example, annually ranking among the team's leaders in special teams tackles.
"Adam Hayward, I'm proud of that young man," said Morris. "He's earned himself a new nickname. He's got so many hammers at home – we give out hammers for special teams player of the week – that we call him Thor. Right now we've got Captain Thor on our team and we're fired up about it."
In Heavy Rotation
Rookie defensive Da'Quan Bowers thinks he and the man in front of him on the depth chart could cause a bit of a problem for opposing tackles.
The Buccaneers' starting left defensive end, Michael Bennett, has a game built around speed, while Bowers, who also plays left end, is more of a power rusher. Handling one, and then the other, could be a task for some blockers this year, the way Bowers sees it.
And those opposing tackles will be getting a heavy dose of both. While the Bucs' coaching staff will not go into Sunday's opener with a specific plan as to how many snaps the two pass-rushers will get, it could end up being a nearly even split.
"You never really put a number on it – if a guy gets hot you leave him out there," said Morris. "For the most part, those guys will play somewhere around equal snaps. It wouldn't shock me if they played a very similar number of snaps. There's no real number count like there would be in a preseason game. You've got to let those guys go out there and determine how much they play based on their play. You've got to get a feel for it during the game. [Da'Quan] Bowers is the young guy on our football team right now, earning his right to be out there, so I'm sure he's going to go out there ready to go, hungry and willing."
The Buccaneers have eight defensive linemen on their 53-man roster heading into Sunday's game. At a season kickoff luncheon on Thursday, Morris indicated that all eight are likely to be active for the game and that all of them would be involved in a rotation. The rotation may be most active, however, at left end between Bennett and Bowers.
"It's always series-to-series with [that pair]," said Morris. "You have situational football plays that they'll be a part of. I'm sure Bowers with that big body will be a part of a goal-line package, something like that, or a short-yardage type of a deal. But you want to get those guys series and an equal amount of reps. Not to say that they will be equal, but just to say that you want to get the guys in there and get them hot."
Bucs to Display #63 on Helmets
In honor of Lee Roy Selmon, the Buccaneer Hall of Famer who passed away on Sunday, Tampa Bay players will wear special stickers on their helmets throughout the 2011 season. The stickers will bear the #63, which in the entire history of the franchise has only been worn by one man. Selmon's #63 was retired by the team in 1986 and remains the only number in that category.
Buccaneers Co-Chairman Bryan Glazer announced the plans to memorialize Selmon on team helmets at the kickoff luncheon mentioned above.
"Everyone here is carrying a heavy heart this week following the tragic loss of our beloved Lee Roy Selmon," said Glazer. "Starting this Sunday, and throughout the year, the Buccaneers will honor Lee Roy by wearing the number 63 on each player's helmet. It is our goal to have Lee Roy's 63 join us throughout our journey through the regular season and into the postseason."
Glazer also indicated that a moment of silence would be observed before Sunday's game at Raymond James Stadium in Selmon's honor, in addition to the league-wide recognition of the 10th anniversary of 9/11. The franchise and its fans will be honoring Selmon in a variety of ways throughout Sunday afternoon and the 2011 season.
A more detailed look at the #63 helmet sticker to be worn by Buccaneers players this season will follow on Buccaneers.com shortly.