Head Coach Jon Gruden wanted the newest Buccaneers to get a feel for the team's way of conducting business
When teaching a new class, it makes sense to use the first few days of the term to go over ground rules, learn names and ease into the curriculum.
The same is not necessarily true when working with a new draft class, at least not in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' point of view. The way the team got started on Friday, during the first day of its post-draft rookie mini-camp, was almost the equivalent of scheduling midterms on the first day of school.
Don't worry, rooks…this won't count toward your final grades.
On Thursday night, about 55 rookies and first-year players assembled at One Buccaneer Place to get a first look at the playbooks and do some intense studying with position coaches. On Friday, those coaches threw the books at their young class, and while they weren't expecting perfection they were hoping to see some spark of recognition.
The idea isn't to overwhelm the rookies with what they don't know but to give them an idea of how much there is to learn…and how rapidly the coursework tends to accelerate.
"We're trying to throw a lot of things at them and see who can learn what," said Head Coach Jon Gruden after a Friday afternoon practice that met with his approval. "Try and tax them a little bit, mentally and physically. Get them acclimated to how we're going to practice so when they do come back here in the middle of May or early June, they are not shocked with the tempo and they don't slow some of our veterans down and get yelled at by them."
Not all of the players at One Buc on Friday will be back in June, of course. The team's rookie mini-camp is comprised of the 2006 draft class, subsequently-signed rookie free agents, a handful of first-year players already on the roster and – fleshing out most of the positions – 30 young men in town on tryout contracts. However, some of the new draftees may figure heavily into the team's plans for 2006. In addition, history suggests that a significant number of the tryout players will be back; last year, eight of the 20 players who participated in the same camp on tryouts made it onto the real roster at some point.
So, while there were no veterans on the field on Friday – in fact, they were prohibited from participating – there was still a nucleus of young men who need to get up to speed on the team's offensive and defensive systems, and quickly, for the Bucs to succeed.
"We want to try to build relationships with the position coaches and the players, try to get a little camaraderie going amongst this class," said Gruden. "Teach them a little about our system of football, how we are going to practice. Build some relationships. It's a big part of this."
The Bucs will have only three full practices over the course of the weekend, working out on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning to complement Friday's start. However, they will have the rookies on site for most of the three days, working extensively in the classroom to lay the groundwork for a productive training camp.
Friday's fast pace wasn't just some exercise in initiation for the Buccaneer neophytes. The young talent the team has assembled over the last few years is critical to the team's success, particularly on offense, where the overhaul has been extensive. The Bucs are still relying on some veterans on that side of the ball, such as Joey Galloway, Mike Alstott and John Wade, but much of that unit is still in the construction phase. If Tampa Bay can get the type of first-year contributions it got from Michael Clayton, Cadillac Williams, Alex Smith and Dan Buenning from the current class, the transition could happen rather swiftly.
"Potentially on offense, we could be the youngest offensive team in football if you put in the quarterback and you put in Clayton and [Maurice] Stovall, Alex Smith, Cadillac Williams, now you're talking about Buenning and Anthony Davis, and a couple of new prospects here," said Gruden. "It's a young offensive football team, potentially. We still have some veterans, I think, that have some real quality football left in them. Guys like Kenyatta [Walker] and Mike Alstott, Joey Galloway, Ike Hilliard, so we do have a nice mix. But potentially, we could be a very young operation on offense. It's kind of strange, kind of exciting and we'll see what happens."
See, that's pretty much the point of throwing so much at these rookies right from day one: Let's see what happens.