Chances are you've already got a pin stuck through July 30 - this coming Friday - on your calendar. That's the day the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, as well as many of their NFL competitors, report to training camp. For many of us who have been counting the days until football is back, Friday signals the return of our favorite pastime.
Not long after, the preseason games will begin and then, on September 12, it's the really good stuff. The Cleveland Browns visit Raymond James Stadium on that Sunday afternoon for the start of the regular season.
There are quite a few noteworthy days in between Friday's report date and the first game that counts, however. Here, as we count down the last few football-free afternoons this week, we take a look at some of those dates you'll want to keep an eye on before the Browns come to town.
July 31: Practice Begins
The Buccaneers have already practiced this year, of course, making the most of 14 organized team activity days (OTAs) and a pair of mini-camps. But there is a significant difference between offseason practices and training camp, most obviously the donning of pads and the beginning of real contact. Most camp practices utilize the concept of controlled "thuds;" that is, players are not really supposed to tackle each other but they are expected to make contact and briefly wrap up their opponent before pulling off.
This makes the most difference in the trenches, where offensive and defensive linemen have been working on technique and scheme details during the last few months but not trying to exert their will on the men across the line. That changes in training camp, allowing for more effective evaluation of the prospects on both front lines.
And, of course, camp means the arrival of two-a-days, when players build their stamina through grueling double-workout morning and afternoons. Raheem Morris's Buccaneers will do the same thing they did last summer, essentially alternating days with one practice and days with two, and this date is the first of the two-a-days. The Bucs will jump with both feet into the hard work of camp.
This is the beginning of the real competition for jobs, too. The offseason was primarily about learning the offensive and defensive schemes. With that foundation in place, the players will now fight for their spots on the 53-man roster and the depth chart. That obviously raises the intensity level on the practice field.
The morning practice on July 31, which runs from 10:20 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. ET, is open to the public.
August 1: First Open Afternoon Practice
The Buccaneers have scheduled a representative series of open practices during this year's camp, some in the morning, some in the afternoon and even one at night (see below). All of the open practices are full two-hour sessions with the entire roster involved.
The first day of August will mark the first chance for fans to come out to One Buccaneer Place for an afternoon workout. This one will run from 2:30 to 5:00 p.m. ET and, after devoting most of the day to indoor meetings, Tampa Bay's coaching staff will be expecting maximum effort from the players during their one practice. Fans who prefer afternoon sessions can also see the Bucs in action on Thursday, August 5; a full open practice schedule can be found here.
August 8: Night Practice at Raymond James Stadium
After last summer's practice at Raymond James Stadium was such a hit with Bay area fans, the team didn't hesitate to bring the idea back in 2010. Only bigger.
On the second Saturday of training camp, the Bucs will move their practice to their game day home and invite everyone to join them. The practice will start at 7:00 p.m. ET, the gates of the stadium will be open to all comers and attendance is completely free.
The Bucs will spend two hours practicing on their home field, with a crew from Buccaneers.com breaking down the action throughout. Fans will enjoy interviews with coaches from the field, explanations of the drills in process, trivia questions and more. Practice ends at 9:00 p.m., but fans will want to stick around for a dramatic fireworks show to cap the evening.
August 14: Bucs Preseason Opener at Miami
Let the games begin! Six days after the Dallas Cowboys and Cincinnati Bengals play the first game of the season in the Hall of Fame Game, the Bucs will get into the action with their preseason opener against the Dolphins. Tampa Bay will open on the road this year, albeit just downstate against their nearly annual preseason rival.
The early preseason games are generally showcases for young talent, as teams try to sort out the talent on hand in preparation for eventually forming a 53-man roster. Young Buccaneer hopefuls like wide receivers Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams and cornerback Myron Lewis should expect to see plenty of playing time. The game will be broadcast live in the Bay area on WFLA-TV NewsChannel 8.
August 18: Buccaneers Break Camp
Two-a-days will come to an end as the team officially concludes the camp portion of the preseason.
This is a less dramatic shift in team preparations now that camp is held at team headquarters, as there is no need to break down equipment and haul it back to town. At this point, however, the practice schedule will begin to more closely resemble what the team will follow during the regular season, with more specific game-planning and less straight fundamental work.
August 21: Preseason Home Opener
This is the first chance for fans in town to see the new-look roster in action. The Kansas City Chiefs visit for the Bucs' preseason home opener, marking the first summer meeting between the two teams since 2000.
Starters usually get a slightly larger piece of the action in the second week of the preseason, but this game will still be a great opportunity for the younger roster hopefuls to prove they belong.
The game kicks off at 7:30 p.m. ET.
August 31: First Roster Cuts
On this date, the NFL mandates that teams trim their roster to just 75 players. Now that there are no longer NFL Europe-related roster exemptions that pump rosters up to 88 or 89 players, this is a fairly painless date. Teams start rosters at 80 players, so it only takes a cut of five to get down to the required level. Most of the players in the thick of competition for the final roster spots will stick around for one more preseason game in Houston.
September 4: Final Roster Cuts
This is the big one. Teams must now reduce their rosters from 75 men to the regular-season limit of 53; the necessary slice of 22 players represents nearly a third of the roster and usually includes some very difficult decisions.
Some of the 22 roster moves usually involve injured players going to a reserve list of some kind, but the majority of the released players are healthy prospects who will then go through the waiver process. All 32 teams in the league will be scouring the waiver wire after 4:00 p.m. ET on that afternoon, looking for available players that could improve their rosters. Thus, the days that follow September 4 will most likely include some additional roster moves.
Of course, for that reason and others, it's a bit of a misnomer to call these "final" cuts; the 53-man roster actually remains a work in progress throughout the season. Among the valuable additions the Bucs made after "final" cuts last year were defensive end Tim Crowder, Michael Bennett and Corey Lynch.
September 5: Practice Squads Start to Take Shape
After the players released the day before have cleared waivers, teams begin the process of forming the first iteration of their practice squads for the season. These eight-man crews can participate in all of the team's preparations during the week but are not eligible to play in games unless they are promoted to the active roster.
The first eight practice squad members for the Buccaneers are usually a mix of intriguing prospects Tampa Bay was forced to release during the final cuts and newcomers plucked off other team's waiver wires. Last year, the Bucs held on to seven of their own players to start their practice squad, including Ryan Purvis, James Lee, Kareem Huggins and Mario Urrutia, then used the eighth spot to grab former Dallas punter A.J. Trapasso.
September 9: The Season Begins!
The Buccaneers and most of the rest of the league won't play until three days later, but the 2010 NFL season will officially kick off on this Thursday evening when the Minnesota Vikings pay a visit to the Superdome to play the defending NFL Champion New Orleans Saints. That game kicks off at 8:30 p.m. ET and will be broadcast nationally by NBC.