The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' first two full-scale practices of the 2013 offseason were conducted at One Buccaneer Place on Friday, and neither Josh Freeman nor Gerald McCoy were anywhere in sight. Neither were Vincent Jackson, Doug Martin, Dashon Goldson or Darrelle Revis on hand. In fact, they couldn't have participated even had they wanted to.
No, the Buccaneers' first 2013 practices were for the benefit of new draft picks like Johnthan Banks, recent rookie signings like Deveron Carr and dozens of tryout players like Robert Marve. Of the 80 players who hit the field on Friday, only a small handful – first-year players such as quarterback Adam Weber – had ever run on the grass behind One Buccaneer Place before. Weber and his fellow holdovers were also the only ones in the group who had more than a cursory knowledge of Head Coach Greg Schiano's playbook, so the action never got too complicated.
This was the first day of Tampa Bay's annual rookie mini-camp, and without any veterans in the mix to give practice more structure, the work was largely about effort, attitude and toughness. And in that regard, Schiano was more than pleased by the end of the day, which included two high-tempo, two-hour practices.
"There's not much that went into it," said Schiano of the practice script. "A lot of these kids come down from the North. So, it's 80 degrees, they've got all of this new football to learn and they're trying to impress. There's some anxiety that goes along with going through that, no matter how talented they are, but that's part of the plan. We want to see what they can handle it."
That message wasn't buried. The youngest Bucs had no problem figuring out what Friday's work was about and how they could make a good impression.
"Today's two practices really went a long way towards seeing how things work, seeing how to get acclimated to things, seeing how they handle things, seeing how you can respond when this and that is going on," said rookie running back Mike James. "Today's practice was huge. I just wanted to show how tough I am, how I can outlast the people around me. I'm physical, and I'm just trying to show them that I'm a guy who can be a Buccaneer."
Rookie defensive end Steven Means, who definitely came from the North (University at Buffalo) stepped right into a muggy 80-degree day of practice and characterized the work as "high-intensity." Means actually enjoyed the tempo, and his fellow rookie end, William Gholston, thought he handled it well…at least so far.
"I don't think it's too fast, but I don't really know because this is just my first day," said Gholston. "I'll know by the end of this camp, though, that's for sure."
Without much of a playbook to work from, the Buccaneers spent a good portion of their practices on Friday and on Saturday morning pitting hopefuls against each other in one-on-one drills. If this year's rookie camp is like last year's, the video evidence the coaches gather from the practice field will lead to another small handful of roster moves. The one-on-ones – D-Linemen pass-rushing their offensive counterparts, receivers going up against cornerbacks, linebackers covering running backs – are one of the best ways for the coaches to assess talent.
Last year, a group of tryout players earned spots to go to training camp and one, tight end Danny Noble, eventually made the 53-man roster. This year's group might be even a little more promising than last year's.
"The thing that's impressive is the way these kids came in [Thursday] night – very on point, everybody on time," said Schiano. "The [talent] level of this try-out camp is considerably higher than even last year. Now, does that mean more [signings] come out of it? No, not necessarily. It's a pretty steep pyramid to get a contract, but that part is going well."
"It's a good group of young men. They're really supporting each other and practicing well. It's hard when you bring all these guys in from different places, but they're actually practicing together like a little unit which is good."