Greg Schiano wanted his players to rest during the long weekend provided by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Week Five bye. Carl Nicks to that heart.
Of course, when you're trying to recover from a nagging and painful toe injury and you're about to embark on a grueling streak of 12 straight weeks of NFL football, stopping to put your feet up for a while also qualifies as doctor's orders.
The Buccaneers bye week might have been more beneficial to Nicks than almost any of his teammates, given what he has been playing through, but it was certainly welcomed by all. Like most people who thoroughly enjoy their jobs, NFL players also see the value in stepping away from it when they can. And like most vacationers, the return to work is always a little bittersweet, even if that feeling quickly fades.
"I'm a little recharged, a little refreshed," said Nicks. "The rest definitely helps. I wish it was longer. But it's good to be back in football."
Nicks mostly took it easy when the Buccaneers returned to the practice field on Monday, but he says his toe is definitely in better shape after the extra rest, and he has no doubt he'll be suiting up on Sunday when the season resumes with a visit from the Kansas City Chiefs. His teammates felt better after the time off from their physically demanding profession, as well.
"I feel refreshed," said defensive end Michael Bennett, who used the break to catch up on a backlog of busy work. "The whole team is feeling refreshed. We're coming back, we got humbled a little bit in the first quarter of the season but it's a long season and we're just trying to learn how to win those games at the end."
The weekend off also allowed Tampa Bay players to act like fans on Sunday, checking out the Chiefs on network TV rather than the usual sideline and end zone video cut-ups (they'll get plenty of that this coming week, as well). The Chiefs played a tight game against the Baltimore Ravens before falling, 9-6, and players like cornerback Aqib Talib discovered the joys of the NFL Network's Red Zone programming. Talib drew one pretty strong conclusion during this off-the-cuff scouting opportunity.
"I got a chance to watch their passing game, watch what I could watch on NFL Red Zone of their game," he said. "They definitely run the ball. They've got a real good running game going on over there."
While Bucs players got Thursday through Sunday off, the coaching staff continued to work through Friday, making use of the extra time to study the Chiefs on videotape. Obviously, Kansas City is running the ball remarkably well (180.8 yards per game, second in the NFL), and that's going to be a big challenge for the league's fourth-ranked run defense. Installation of the plan to accomplish that key goal began on Monday, whereas it usually starts on Wednesday.
"It always helps to get a head start," said Bennett. "They're still going over the game they played yesterday and we're here getting a head start on them. We've been getting ready for them since last week, so we should be ready to go."
On the practice field, the Bucs used their extra workouts last week to mostly focus on fundamentals of their own offense and defense, not the Chiefs. Bennett obviously knows that his coaching staff found extra time to game plan, but the direct on-field work didn't begin until Monday. Still, an extra practice can be very beneficial, as can any mental work the players choose to do during their usual day off on Sunday. Bye weeks are no magic bullet – since their introduction in the early 1990s, teams coming off a bye week have a win rate of about 52% – but the Bucs hope they can wring whatever advantage they can out of their extra time.
"You introduce the plan today and they're off tomorrow, but they'll work and study on it," said Schiano. "[It's] just two more days of exposure to Kansas City, which certainly shouldn't hurt you. Now what's the advantage? You can look at all the statistics of bye teams versus non-bye teams and all that stuff, but at the end of the day you have to be ready to play on Sunday. Hopefully this extra preparation will make us more ready, more prepared."