What's new this week in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' unprecedented 2020 training camp? In a word: Pads.
For the first time since the Buccaneers' 2019 season finale last December, players will don helmets and pads and actually run into each other. After spending nine days in an "acclimation period" that mostly consisted of conditioning work and then dashing through a compressed version of the offseason program last week, the Buccaneers will finally conduct full-scale camp practices this week. It all begins on Monday morning.
The days will begin early for players and coaches, with team meetings preceding a series of 8:30 a.m. practices on the fields outside the AdventHealth Training Center. The league and the NFLPA have also agreed to continue daily testing for players and coaches through at least September 5.
The Buccaneers' Monday morning practice is limited by league rules to 90 minutes, a maximum that increases by 15 minutes every day until the team is allowed two-and-a-half hours on Friday. As will be the case for each of the next three weeks, players will get Saturday off before returning to the field on Sunday.
View some of the photos from Buccaneers Training Camp practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.
The team will be in pads every day this week except for Wednesday, when they will just wear "spiders," which are lightweight shoulder pads. Throughout the three weeks of full camp practices, teams are not permitted to work out in full pads more than three days in a row.
Unlike in a typical offseason and this year's "ramp-up" period to the current week, contact between players is now allowed during practice. Most teams spend the majority of their padded practices using a "pro thud" technique, in which players are encouraged to hit each other but not take each other to the ground. However, live-tackling drills are occasionally mixed in, and Head Coach Bruce Arians has indicated that this year's camp will probably include a bit more live action given that regular-season games are less than a month away.
"We need to get more live reps blocking and tackling," said Arians. "This game is a blocking and tackling game. Fourteen days to block and tackle – is that enough? And, I hate tackling ourselves. We don't want to low block ourselves, but we've got to get ready to play a game. I think that's the biggest disadvantage is not being in pads and not playing fast."
Prior to this week, the Buccaneers have had only two practices at which the offense and defense could oppose each other – on the most recent Friday and Sunday – and, again, those were not conducted in pads. Now the real competition begin and all eyes will be on the Buccaneers' new quarterback, Tom Brady, already an NFL legend after 20 years and six Super Bowl titles in New England. For the first time in two decades, Brady has had to learn new terminology and absorb a brand new playbook, but Arians said that Brady, "is where he needs to be" for the start of camp practices.
That said, Arians will be watching Brady closely (of course), to see just how far along he is in the transition to a new huddle.
"[I want to see him] just playing fast, looking like everybody else," said Arians. "He knows what he's doing, but now the speed of it's going to pick up for the first time for him. So, just seeing how he processes information, the Xs and Os, and we'll find out what he knows and doesn't know at a much higher pace. We haven't gone against our defense and we're a very complicated team defensively, so it'll be a lot of fun for him."
This week will also be the first time in pads on an NFL field for the 18 rookies on the 80-man camp roster, including the seven players the team drafted in April. Several of those players have a shot at opening the season with significant roles on offense or defense but they don't have nearly as much time as usual to make an impression. First-round pick Tristan Wirfs is the presumptive starter at right tackle, taking over for Demar Dotson, but he'll have to earn it. The Bucs could also turn to their one veteran free agent acquisition on the line, former Colt Joe Haeg, if they aren't convinced Wirfs is the best option in Week One.
"That's not a problem – we know what Joe is," said Arians. "We've got film on Joe. He's got a résumé. Tristan, we will see in pads. If he's not ready, we'll play Joe. It's not a big deal. We're going to play the guy that's most ready to play that ballgame at every position."
Second-round pick Antoine Winfield could also figure prominently in a crowded battle for starting safety spots. Arians has been impressed so far in what he's seen from the team's top two picks but still has a lot of other young players to examine in what will surely be three very swift weeks.
"Well I mean Tristan is what he is," said Arians. "He's not really a surprise, nor is Antoine [Winfield]. They're both showing us exactly what we thought they were – very smart players coming out of really good programs. Some of the other kids – Chapelle Russell showed up in great shape and ready to go. Ke'Shawn [Vaughn] was a little bit behind because of the COVID test, [but] he's catching up fast. Ray [Calais], same way – that [running back] room got kind of wiped out and missed a couple weeks. Tyler [Johnson] has been hurt the whole time. There are some other young kids that were undrafted that I really can't wait to see in pads and see if they can handle the noise level."
The Buccaneers are not allowed to have fans at camp practices this year due to precautions being taken to reduce the risk of COVID-19 issues. That's a disappointment for all involved, as training camp is annually an excellent opportunity for players and fans to connect. However, the Buccaneers' media team will be providing in-depth coverage of all the action and roster developments, including a Training Camp Live show during the first hour of every practice.
The first Training Camp Live show will begin at 8:30 a.m. on Monday, August 17.