Brothers in Arms: Two Super Bowl MVP QBs share a sideline, Phil Simms (left) and Doug Williams
It was a hot one Tuesday out behind One Buccaneer Place.
The thing is, it's pretty much always hot in Tampa in June, and the beginning of the rainy season means a consistently high humidity level, as well. These are the conditions under which the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are working out during their current 'organized team activity' days, a lot like the conditions they'll encounter this August in Orlando.
And so, in a way, the days kind of blend together. The Bucs will be back on the field Wednesday and Thursday for two hours each; they did the same thing twice last week, and nine times in August. Next week, the whole team will gather for its only real mini-camp, this one mandatory, but the practices will be structured much the same way.
"You've got to teach the new players – a lot of them this year, rookies and free agents – your system," said Head Coach Jon Gruden. "You try to get some unity and some camaraderie going. But the big thing is to learn how we practice in shorts and prepare themselves mentally for training camp so that when we put the pads on they're ready to go and they understand what to do."
These offseason workouts aren't really dull repetitions, of course. They're more of a progression, each one adding to the process, each one getting the team closer to readiness for the season opener on September 12. They only appear to be carbon copies from the sideline.
On this Tuesday, however, there was a visitor on the sideline who gave the late-morning practice an added kick, or in Coach Gruden's favored terminology, a little extra 'juice.'
In the most basic sense, this visitor was a father taking an opportunity to watch his son in action. Since that son was quarterback Chris Simms, however, that meant the Bucs' guest was former NFL star Phil Simms.
The elder Simms, the MVP of Super Bowl XXI for the New York Giants and now a lead broadcaster for CBS, was merely on hand to watch, and he left as soon as practice was over without meeting with the media. Still, he was the kind of guest Gruden loves to have around his team: a proven winner, a player with championship credentials and valuable experience.
The younger Simms has looked sharp this spring and summer; all of the Bucs' quarterbacks, in fact, have drawn Gruden's praise. Still, each new practice is another proving ground, especially for the younger players like Simms. Gruden, who would clearly prefer a league system that allowed him more offseason practice time, values each workout highly.
"You're trying to evaluate each man individually in terms of who's going to make your team," said the intense coach. "The offense isn't the same; the defense isn't the same. Ian Gold, Mario Edwards, Darrell Russell, Lamar King; all of these guys who have come in on offense – (Joey) Galloway and (Charlie) Garner. Chris Simms sees the world differently than Shaun King did. The offense will change, and with that you need to practice, I think."
Eye-catching guests notwithstanding, there is a point to making the OTA and mini-camp workouts similar in structure. Gruden wants his practices run with specific rules of etiquette, and he wants to see routes run and assignments met precisely, day after day. By the time the team opens camp on July 31, the coaching staff expects the players to have a very clear idea of what is expected of them.
"Hopefully, there's not a lot of difference other than contact," said Gruden of offseason workouts versus training camp practices. "We try to practice with game-like speed, so the execution is legitimate. The timing of patterns…you have to work on the timing of your offense. You can't just show up, in spite of what people might say. I think you've got to practice the timing and the coordination of your offense and defense. There's a lot of communication that has to take place on both sides of the ball, so you've got to practice.
"Our practices in shorts are very fast, with explosive movement. We try to minimize the contact, obviously, because of the gear that we're in, but that's basically the only difference."
After next week's mini-camp, the Bucs will take approximately five weeks off before the opening of training camp. The non-stop activity dominating One Buccaneer Place since March will come to a grinding halt. That isn't necessarily Gruden's favorite time of the year; he's going to make the most out of the practice days left to him, including that mandatory camp, held later this year than ever before.
"It's still a long time (off before camp)," said Gruden. "I don't quite understand the collective bargaining agreement myself. You've got 14 voluntary practices and you've got about 40 new players. But, obviously, you want to take advantage of the time that you do have. You never know, a guy might pull a groin or a hamstring now and miss camp.
"The good thing is, we'll have five practices here next week where the vast majority of our team have been through these drills. We should be able to move effortlessly in terms of where to go, how we're running each drill. That type of execution should be dramatically improved because of the rehearsal. Guys have had 14 OTA days, they've had a voluntary camp, some of them, so they've had a lot of time to get acclimated to the style of football that we're playing."