QB Shaun King follows through on a pass as Offensive Coordinator Les Steckel (not pictured) looks on
"Pick out a target; throw it at their face," instructed Les Steckel, Tampa Bay's new offensive coordinator. WR Drew O'Connor ran a quick curl. QB Shaun King hit O'Connor in the hands, held in front of his face.
It wasn't exactly a high-pressure drill, but it was useful nonetheless. Though NFL regulations prohibit organized practices during the spring, beyond one mini-camp, players across the league are participating in strength and conditioning work and adding a little field time to the end of their sessions. For instance, King, the Bucs' anticipated starter, and Eric Zeier, his returning backup, were on the field on Wednesday with several dozen of their teammates. It was uncommonly hot on the fields behind team headquarters, but it's not likely to get more pleasant between now and training camp at the University of Tampa, so there's no point in wasting the day.
It's a time for keeping or getting in shape, a time to learn the demands of the new coordinator, a time to start ingesting Steckel's playbook. King and Zeier spent about an hour throwing to a handful of receivers and backs, under the watchful eyes of Steckel and Quarterbacks Coach Clyde Christensen. Both looked sharp, but King indicated that they were still in the early stages of their work.
"(We're) just trying to get the offense down, working on timing," said King. "Everything everybody else around the league is doing right now. We're not doing anything out of the ordinary."
Field sessions will become somewhat more organized as soon as next week, when teams may begin scheduling up to 14 voluntary practice sessions on and after May 16. Though players cannot practice in pads or run contact drills, they can engage in what the NFL calls 'organized team practice activity.' That means specific practices can be arranged and offensive and defensive units can run drills against each other.
Furthermore, another large group of players can join in the work beginning next Tuesday: the rookies. Besides that one mini-camp, rookies cannot join their new teams for workouts until May 16, a rule designed to promote the completion of their schoolwork. The rule had previously kept rookies away until June 1, but the NFL came to an agreement with the NFLPA and college coaches to move the start date up several weeks since most colleges have completed their finals by then.
"We don't want to touch them until they're done with school," said Buccaneers Director of Football Administration John Idzik, "or until their school is done even if they're not currently taking classes. Even with the new agreement, exceptions are still made if a player's school is not finished by May 16. Those players can't join us until their schools' finals are over."
Many of the team's newest players, including 2000 draft choices Cosey Coleman, Nate Webster, James Whalen, David Gibson and Joe Hamilton, will make it into town for that first workout next Tuesday. Though it will not match the length or intensity of training camp, the succession of workouts will do a nice job of laying the groundwork for that late-July event.
"The big difference between what we're doing now and the workouts that begin next week is that you can stipulate times. Right now, workouts are arranged by seniority. When you want to go out on the field, you hope you have enough guys here to throw the football around. Next week will be a little more like a practice…you can set it for specific times and run drills, just as long as there's no contact, no pads."
Specifically, the Bucs will hold their 14 allotted workouts over the course of four weeks, including Tuesday through Thursday of next week. There will then be four workout days the following week (May 22-25), three the week after (May 30-June 1) and four in the last week (June 5-8).