Last week, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers assembled a rookie class to spike their 2010 roster...on paper, at least.
This weekend, that group will assemble in person for the first time. As has become the standard procedure in recent years, the Buccaneers have scheduled a rookie mini-camp for the weekend following the draft, which begins this Friday.
Only rookies and first-year players are allowed to attend the mandatory camp; even a veteran who was motivated to participate is not allowed, by league rules. The Buccaneers only mandatory camp for the entire roster will be held in mid-June, at the end of the team's official offseason program.
The Buccaneers drafted nine rookies on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and signed a dozen more who were not selected on Monday. Added to those 21 newcomers are about 10 players already on Tampa Bay's rosters who are considered "first-year" players, meaning they are not rookies but they also have not yet accrued a season of free agency credit.
In order to conduct a full camp with complete (albeit non-contact) practices, the Buccaneers will likely try to put at least 70 players on the field over the weekend. That means bringing in up to about 40 rookies or first-year players on tryout contracts. That, too, has become a standard part of the team's post-draft procedure, and every year a few players who come in on a tryout basis impress enough to subsequently be signed to the roster.
The most famous example in recent years is Clifton Smith, the Fresno State running back who was not drafted or signed by any team immediately after the seven rounds were complete in 2008. Smith came to Tampa the next weekend on a tryout contract, was signed to the roster two days after the camp's conclusion and by the following winter was the NFC's Pro Bowl kick returner.
About a half-dozen players who participated in the 2009 rookie camp on tryout contracts were subsequently signed, and three of those remain on the roster in 2010: Marc Dile, Demar Dotson and Kareem Huggins. In fact, all three made the active roster for at least part of the 2009 campaign, and Dotson was on the 53-man squad for the entire season. Dotson's was the sort of intriguing story that often pops up in these rookie camps; he had played only a year of football at Southern Miss after spending most of his collegiate days on the school's basketball team.
Buccaneers.com will provide a list of the tryout players as the camp begins on Friday.
Rookies are not allowed to report to their new teams permanently until the spring semesters at their respective schools have come to an end; for most players that is sometime in mid-May. However, they are allowed to come to town for one brief mini-camp before heading back to campus and awaiting the passing of the deadline. The Buccaneers will bring their rookies in on Thursday evening for a thorough orientation, and then begin practice on Friday afternoon.
On both Friday and Saturday, Tampa Bay's mini-camp practices will being at 2:05 p.m. ET and conclude at 3:50. On Sunday, the camp will conclude with a morning workout from 10:35 a.m. to 12:20 p.m. These practices are not open to the public, but Buccaneers.com will provide insider coverage.
This weekend's camp is just the first step for the newest Buccaneers, and hopefully for another handful of young men trying to nail their tryouts. Head Coach Raheem Morris has altered the offseason schedule this year to put all of the team's organized team activity days (OTAs) in mid-May and later so that the rookies could participate in each one. That's how important the Buccaneers believe the Class of 2010 will be to their immediate fortunes.
Beginning Friday afternoon, those young men will have the opportunity to begin proving their new team right.