First-year CB Deshone Mallard prepares to block John Shay's punt
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers blocked six punts during the 10 combined regular seasons of the 1990s, about one every other year. One of those was returned for a touchdown.
Yet on Friday, during the third and final day of the Bucs' pre-camp practice session for rookies and first-year players, the coaching staff spent 20 minutes breaking that very situation down into minute details. Rookies were schooled on exactly where to block a punt as it's being kicked and what everyone on the field should do when they realize the punt has been blocked.
Why such focus on a play that may, if the team is lucky, happen once in 2000? Because no detail that could affect the outcome of a game is too small to be covered.
Head Coach Tony Dungy and his staff arrived in Tampa in 1996 and has remained virtually intact in the five years hence. As they have affected an amazing turnaround in the team's on-field fortunes, they have stuck to some basic but important coaching tenets, a cornerstone of which is 'attention to detail.' It is a phrase that Dungy has uttered countless times since his arrival.
It is also a factor that becomes more important, not less, as a team begins to turn the corner, according to Dungy.
"I think we're going to put even more of an emphasis on it this year," he said on Friday. "Sometimes, as you get farther along in your program, and you get better and get a little more success, you tend to take those things for granted. The guys that I've been around – Chuck Noll, Marty Schottenheimer, Denny Green – have really been good about that. They don't allow that to happen. They make you emphasize it even more, so that's something we're going to concentrate on."
That represents a large portion of the team's decision to hold these three extra days for the Buccaneer newcomers. One-on-one attention and situational breakdowns become more difficult to accomplish when every position has 10-12 players and the team has to begin focusing on game preparation.
"That's one of the benefits of having this three-day session," said Dungy. "You can cover some fine points and some small details, go slow and give the guys a chance to interact on those fine points. We think this helps."
The thirty players on hand for the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday sessions certainly hope so. When practices resume on Monday at the University of Tampa, there will suddenly be 88 players sharing reps. Rookies, of course, tend to slide to the back of the depth chart, at least in the early going. Newcomers that are confident in their athletic ability to make a quick impression on the coaches could sabotage their chances if they don't know what to do and when to do it. Dungy is confident that this week's work will help players avoid that.
"I think the coaches were really happy with these three days," said Dungy. "We're especially excited about the NFL Europe guys being able to come in and catch up so they don't feel like they're drastically behind on Sunday."
Dungy actually missed a good portion of Friday's practice thanks to the annual physical he and all football staffers have scheduled for them. When he returned for the end of the session, he found NFL Defensive Player of the Year Warren Sapp on the sideline taking in the action. Derrick Brooks was spotted in the building minutes later.
Dungy grinned when he encountered Sapp and later admitted that he has been encouraged by the stream of veterans that have felt the need to stop by during this final week before camp. "It's been neat to have our players wandering around and mingling in the building, just waiting to start up," said Dungy. "That's a good sign."
Then it was back into his One Buccaneer Place office, where he used the early part of Friday afternoon to finish packing up for the move to the University of Tampa. He had a meeting with some of the coaches scheduled for later in the afternoon. Details, details. Always more details.