CB Corey Ivy and the Buccaneers can now look ahead to more than a month away from the office
So long and don't forget to write. We'll see you again at Disney, under the sidewalk misters and the merciless sun.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers wrapped up their three-day mini-camp on Thursday and bid their 90-odd players farewell, for now. The morning practice – shortened by a half hour in response to the good work of the four previous practices – marked the last official work of the offseason. Each player and coach now has the next five weeks to take a vacation, if he so desires.
"I was very pleased with our mini-camp and we're looking forward to training camp and getting back to work," said Head Coach Jon Gruden, eyeing the July 30 report date report date in Orlando. "But these guys deserve a break and an opportunity to rejuvenate mentally and physically and get themselves ready to go."
The Buccaneers began their voluntary offseason training program on March 22. In the ensuing three months, a majority of the team's players reported to One Buccaneer Place four times a week for weight-room and running sessions. In between, the team held a rookie camp in April, more than a dozen 'organized team activity' days in May and June and this week's camp, the only mandatory, full-team gathering before camp. Of course, many of the players found time for one-on-one meetings with their coaches and quite moments with the video projector.
They can continue to do so if they like, though most will take full advantage of the time off.
"For our rookies and players who are in town, we've got a lot of coaches – Monte Kiffin, [Rod] Marinelli and myself – who don't go very far," said Gruden. "So the rookies will come in if they want to get together and go over some film and stay on top of their conditioning, and we'll certainly do everything we can to help them."
Veteran cornerback Brian Kelly, who has had a very productive offseason in his recovery from a 2003 chest injury, liked the Bucs' modified schedule this year, with the one mandatory mini-camp coming at the very end of the offseason program, rather than right after the draft. The late camp, he said, gave the players a quick taste of what was to come at Disney's Wide World of Sports in August, but then gave them a chance to get away and stay fresh.
Nobody, however, expects the next five weeks to be a vacation from good sense. Today's NFL player works very hard in the spring to get in shape and isn't likely to blow all of that with a month of sitting on the couch plowing through a tray of snacks.
"That's what the coaches have stressed, that everybody get away from here but still work hard and continue to stay in shape," said Kelly. "It makes no sense to go through these dog days then show up out of shape for Orlando. So we're all going to trust each other as teammates that we're going to go out and get our own individual work done.
"But it's good to get a little break, a month off before we get back full-swing. You get a little taste of it then get away, keep it fresh."
The players have the luxury of putting football on the back burner for the next month, if they so desire. While the coaches and perhaps some of the management team will find time for their own vacations over the next month, there will no break in the task of shaping the roster.
Last year during late June and July, the Bucs re-signed punter Tom Tupa and wide receiver Reggie Barlow, released four young players, picked up safety Greg Brown and got all of their 2003 draft picks under contract. The team still has to sign all eight of its latest draftees – they could participate in offseason activities without contracts but can't report to camp until they've signed on the dotted line – and will always keep an eye on the league's transaction list.
"There is definitely a chance [the team will make roster moves in July]," said Gruden. "We've added some players to our roster in the past in June. [Keenan] McCardell was one of those guys, Thomas Jones last year. The trade, the waiver wire, all of those things will be evaluated carefully between now and Orlando."
Overall, however, the next five weeks will be a time of rest and rejuvenation, and though he is the football equivalent of a gym rat in his love of practice, Gruden understands the importance of this pre-camp period.
"We're going to take advantage of a couple weeks off," he said. "It's been a long offseason; a lot has happened. We respect that. There's a time and a place for these guys to get themselves relaxed a little bit and focused individually in terms of what we need to get done."