WR Reidel Anthony put in three weeks of hard work at voluntary practices but saw his June efforts end early with an injury on Monday
When Ryan Leaf agreed to a new contract to remain with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on March 19, the Florida weather was still mild. Leaf had yet to step on the Bucs' practice field, had yet to sit in a team meeting with Offensive Coordinator Clyde Christensen or follow the pace of a Tony Dungy workout.
Of course, the same could be said of fellow quarterback Brad Johnson, who joined the Bucs as a free agent on March 6. However, Johnson chose the Buccaneers while Leaf arrived as a waiver claim. Had he made it clear that the situation wasn't going to work for him, Leaf would not have remained. The former San Diego Charger did stay, even though it is unlikely he will see significant playing time this fall.
"I felt good about the decision when I made it," said Leaf. "We'll see how I feel when I have to sit there and watch things going on, but I think in the long run it's the best thing for me, particularly with the direction this team is going."
Leaf said this on Monday afternoon, unsuccessfully clearing his forehead of sweat just after the 11th of 14 voluntary workouts being conducted by the Buccaneers over the course of four weeks. The team was beginning the last of those four weeks on Monday, and Leaf had, by this point, been given a full dose of Florida football, Dungy style. How did he feel now?
As it turns out, even better. Leaf stayed not because of the weather but because of the character he sensed at One Buc Place. Anything less than the all-out effort the Bucs had exhibited this past month would have been a disappointment.
"It just proves my thought even more about this place and how hard people work here," he said. "It's intense, and the way Coach Dungy runs the ship, you're only going to get the best out of people. If you weren't willing to work hard, you wouldn't be here."
Leaf can take comfort in the knowledge that the team's entire roster has made it to almost every practice, despite their voluntary nature. In addition, a number of Buccaneers have taken personal measures that seem to indicate the team is focused on 2001 as its best chance for Super Bowl success.
There is, of course, defensive tackle Warren Sapp and his famously slimmed-down physique. Sapp's 30-pound weight loss is no mirage, and the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year has been extremely exuberant and active in each day's practice. Likewise, Pro Bowl fullback Mike Alstott has trimmed down by about eight pounds – he calls it 'cleaning up a little' – in order to improve his quickness and agility.
"It's a different kind of mindset," said Alstott of his motivation to get in even better shape. "I'm really focused this year. Not that I wasn't focused last year, but the whole season was such a disappointment. That focused me even more. This is the year."
Leaf has also lost weight – somewhere in double digits of pounds – perhaps much of it due to that unfamiliar Florida heat. The fourth-year player has followed the hard-working lead of Johnson, the veteran hurler new to the team.
"Expectations have to be there, but there is no substitute for hard work," said Johnson. "That's what's being done now. The football part of it will take care of itself during the course of the year."
Christensen believes that, with Johnson and the rest of his charges fully committed to the purpose of these voluntary workouts, the team will come out of the four weeks with 'a good base for training camp.'
"It's a grinding season and you don't know when you're going to get curve balls, an injury here or there, a need for somebody to step up," said Christensen. "I like our character. We have character guys and a good mix of experience and young guys. But I've said all along that the pieces don't equal the whole. We've got to work hard, play together and stay together."
Even though the Bucs have had full attendance, at least one player is done for the rest of the sessions. Wide receiver Reidel Anthony suffered a left ankle sprain near the end of Monday's workout and had to be helped into the training room by Head Trainer Todd Toriscelli and Director of Rehabilitation Jim Whalen.
Toriscelli quickly reported Anthony's sprain and the decision to keep him out of the rest of the week's activity. The fifth-year passcatcher will be treated with ice and rest, primarily, and will be ready for the beginning of training camp on July 29, according to the team's training staff.