The countdown to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2012 training camp has entered its final 24 hours. Of course, that just means another countdown is about to begin.
Tampa Bay players will rise early on Thursday morning and report to team headquarters between 6:30 and 7:45 a.m. When they hit the locker room at One Buccaneer Place they'll get an instant reminder of what is currently the most important date on the Buccaneers' calendar.
Earlier this offseason, Head Coach Greg Schiano had an enormous digital clock placed high on the back wall of the One Buc locker room. It features nine digits in a horizontal line, glowing bright red as they count down to 4:25 p.m. ET on September 9. That's the afternoon on which Schiano's Buccaneers will begin their 2012 postseason quest by taking on the division rival Carolina Panthers at Raymond James Stadium. There are three weeks of camp and four preseason games to take care of before that date, but it is the Panthers game that will be the team's first real step in getting back to the playoffs.
When the first Bucs arrive at the facility on Thursday morning at 6:30 a.m., the countdown will read 45 days, nine hours, 55 minutes and zero seconds. Blink and you'll miss it, however; the clock goes to tenths of a second, so it won't stay there for long. The non-stop motion of the nine-digit entry is a good reminder for players that there is only so much time left to prepare for the season opener.
It is Schiano's goal to use the time left on that countdown as thoroughly and efficiently as possible. He and his staff used the offseason not only to begin the installation of the new offensive and defensive schemes but also to establish an up-tempo, disciplined and hyper-organized approach to every practice. That will be on display for Buccaneers fans when they get their first opportunity to see Schiano's crew in action on Friday morning.
That opportunity exists because training camp is the one portion of the season for all NFL teams in which their practices are conducted in front of a public audience. The Buccaneers will be in camp from July 26 to August 16, and in that span they will hold nine workouts that are open to all comers. The first of those is on Friday morning, beginning at 8:45 a.m.; click here for the full practice schedule and other useful camp-attendance information.
Per NFL regulations under the new CBA, teams are allowed to have just one full-speed practice on any day of camp; any additional field session must be a walk-through. Two-a-days are a thing of the past in the NFL, but that doesn't mean hard work and sweat is going away. From this Friday through August 9, two days before the preseason opener in Miami, the Buccaneers will practice on nine of 11 days, each time going for a solid three hours. Other than mandatory players' days off on Tuesday, July 31 and Sunday, August 5, the only anomaly in the schedule will be the popular Night Practice at Raymond James Stadium. That will take place on Saturday, August 4, with the team arriving at the stadium at 6:00 p.m.
Part of the CBA-regulated flow of training camp is a two-day opportunity for the players to get acclimated to being back at work before the pads go on. Because pads and all significant contact are now prohibited during the offseason, the first practice with any real hitting under Schiano will take place on Sunday, July 29, the third day of camp. Yes, that practice is open to all fans, with the camp gates allowing admittance beginning at 7:30 a.m.
The Buccaneers' pursuit of the seventh division title in franchise history begins on September 9, when the big clock in the One Buc Place locker room hits all zeroes. The in-depth preparations for that day – the fight for starting jobs, the absorption of the playbook, the fine-tuning of the 53-man roster – begins immediately, and will play out in front of the fans. To accommodate these welcome guests, the Buccaneers have outfitted the practice fields behind One Buccaneer Place with everything necessary to make their visit comfortable, informative and fun.
A series of covered bleachers have been installed around two sides of the westernmost of the Bucs' three practice fields, where the majority of the team's work will take place during all open practices. There is ample parking directly outside the practice-field area, and fans will enter camp through "The Treasure Cove," which features restrooms, medical services, concessions and many other amenities. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Cheerleaders will have an autograph station in the Cove, and fans will be able to buy team gear at discounted prices.
The main attraction, of course, will be on the field, where newcomers like Mark Barron, Vincent Jackson, Doug Martin and Carl Nicks will be looking to integrate with the team's young core to form a winner. In just a few days, Buccaneers fans will have the chance to watch that process from a front-row seat at One Buccaneer Place.