Check out photos from Day 1 of Tampa Bay Buccaneers Rookie Camp on May 8, 2015.
For about a quarter of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' roster, training camp has already begun.
The full team will take the field for the first time on Saturday, a training camp kickoff at camp headquarters that will be open to public viewing. Veterans will actually report for camp on Friday, taking care of weigh-ins and other formalities. For the team's rookies, however, the process actually began on Monday.
READ: TRAINING CAMP SCHEDULE
While NFL teams are not allowed to start training camp for their veterans more than 15 days prior to their first preseason game, they do have the option of bringing in rookies a week early. Though the Buccaneers rarely opted to do so in the past, the management duo of Head Coach Lovie Smith and General Manager Jason Licht has chosen to take advantage of that opportunity.
The reason is more mental than physical. Though the Buccaneers could hold full-scale (non-contact) practices with their rookies – which number a little over 20 at the moment – they are spending much of their bonus time in the meeting rooms. When they do take the field this week, it's for walk-throughs that are a physical extension of those classroom lessons.
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"They're allowed to meet with the coaches," said Licht. "Technically, we could have held a practice, but we just do walk-throughs because the teaching part is the most important part of training camp. Our coaches are teachers at the core, so getting the guys mentally ready for what's about to happen once the pads come on is the goal."
Monday was actually a travel and check-in day for the rookies, who didn't begin doing team activities until Tuesday. Even with a short week, however, the greenest Buccaneers will get a very valuable dose of playbook education. Though the team's rookies have already taken part in OTAs in the spring and summer, it's likely that most of them are still lagging behind the returning veterans, who have already had a full season in Smith's system.
Training camp is a hugely significant turning point in the NFL calendar year for two reasons: It's the first time the pads go on and it's the first time fans can see their new team in action. As important as the onset of real contact is, however, Licht says the biggest gains of training camp take place between the ears. As such, the most important reason for bringing the rookies in early is to try to level the mental playing field with the veterans.
And just as educators fight against summer vacation backsliding, NFL higher-ups know that the very welcome break between OTAs and training camp can lead to learning loss.
"We just want to get them up to speed more quickly on the playbook, and just get them back into a routine," said Licht. "They meet with the coaches ahead of time, before the rest of the guys come in, so they can have a little bit of a jump start on the mental part of the thing. During training camp, that's the most important part."