QB Brad Johnson says the Bucs have to approach training camp with a passion
Brad Johnson has done the math. With 14 training camps under his belt and a 15th one about to begin, he will soon have spent about a year-and-a-half of his life in one camp or another.
That's a lot of dorm rooms, two-a-days and inconsistent buffets.
But there's just no getting around it. Training camp falls somewhere around the 'necessary evil' level on most veterans' acceptance scales. Players don't relish the isolation or the extra practices or – in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' case – the heat, but they know they'll come out a stronger and more cohesive team on the other end.
"I am sure after two weeks, the food will get old and I'll be ready to get back with my kids and play with those guys in the pool," said Johnson. "That's what I hate about training camp, not being with my family. That's the hardest thing now but I am excited about the season."
If there is some dread regarding the beginning of camp each year, there is more than enough optimism to balance it. Teams can believe – many of them legitimately so – that they have as good of a shot as any other to win it all, and that out-working the other teams during the summer will give them an edge.
In the Bucs' case the optimism has been fueled by a roster makeover that followed the team's 7-9 season in 2003. The Bucs had hoped to defend their 2002 Super Bowl Championship last year but stumbled; that experience has them eager to get back on top.
"I talked about it from the day after the Super Bowl; I talk about it right now at the first day of training camp," said Johnson. "There has to be a passion, if you don't expect, and you don't play at the level every day in practice of the Super Bowl, then hopefully another team grabs you. We have to have a strong 53-man roster, and the fire is burning."
The Buccaneers, as you may have surmised, reported to training camp on Friday afternoon. They had their first team meeting at 7:00 p.m. in the evening, with smaller breakout meetings falling before and after the big one. On Saturday morning, the nearly 90 men who make up the camp roster will practice for the first time this summer at Disney's Wide World of Sports. After a few hours to recover from that two-hour workout, they'll do it again in the afternoon.
"We are very excited and I think our team proved that in mini-camps and our off-season program," said Gruden. "I am always excited for the first day of training camp."
The team's well-attended and very detailed series of offseason workouts, voluntary days and mini-camps have put the Bucs in position to make the most out of their 19 days at Disney.
"We have been together so long with the 14 organized passing camp dates and with the mini-camps," said Gruden. "Now it is a matter of taking it here to Orlando and really coming together as a team 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Those are going to be the most important things that we can hopefully take out of our experience here."
The Bucs have 12 two-a-days on tap for the first 13 days of camp, though in the past two years Gruden has found spots to insert some extra down time as a reward for hard work. The Central Florida August weather, with its dense humidity and fast-moving rainstorms, also can lead to changes in the schedule.
On Friday, however, the Bucs were greeted with a rather enjoyable afternoon in Celebration. Thick banks of clouds and a rare breeze kept the temperature down and even created a few ripples on the usually glass-like surface of the nearby lake.
It won't last, of course. Tackle Derrick Deese, in his first year with the team, has seen enough of the weather in Tampa this offseason to know what it will be like on the practice field this weekend. Getting used to it on a camp schedule could take a few days.
"Now I've got to play three hours, take two hours off, play three hours, take eight hours off, play three hours," said Deese of the Groundhog Day-like succession of practices. "So it's going to be a whole lot of playing three hours in a row. But I'm not worried about that, I'll get used to it."
At night, Deese and his teammates will have inviting, pillow-top beds to comfort them, and room service if they wish. The Celebration Hotel certainly beats most of the dormitory rooms Johnson has experienced. The accommodations at the sports complex are first-rate, as well.
Those amenities should help the Buccaneer players keep their spirits up for what should be an intense and purposeful camp.
"Everybody understands that we have a lot to play for, a lot at stake, and a lot invested," said Gruden. "The bottom line is that we have to go to work now and concentrate in the meeting rooms and play through some injuries and the daily nicks. We are going to go out and have some fun and regain championship form, which is something that you have to earn."