Training Camp Postcard: Bucs
Posted: Friday August 3, 2007 12:28AM; Updated: Friday August 3, 2007 10:49AM
With the Buccaneers, in the heart of the Brazilian rainforest. Check that, with the Buccaneers at Walt Disney World's Wide World of Sports Complex outside Orlando. It just seems like the Brazilian rainforest. As of Thursday morning, the Bucs had already canceled one training camp practice and had two others forced into makeshift indoor facilities (a hotel ballroom and a party tent), because of rain and, more significantly, thunderstorms. On Thursday morning, a steady rain began falling just after the start of the team's 8:30 a.m. practice and intensified significantly at 9:30. "Can we now officially call this 'torrential?' asked Chris Harry of the Orlando Sentinel, to unanimous agreement of scribes gathered underneath a sideline tent.
Bucs coach Jon Gruden said, "Tough place to have training camp sometimes. But I have no problem with the rain. It's those lightning bolts. I think, at times, it's refreshing for these guys to practice when it's cool.'' Cool? The high temperature in Orlando on Thursday was predicted to be 90 degrees, which local forecasters were calling, "several degrees below normal.'' I live in Connecticut. When it gets to 90 degrees, the meteorologists warn us to keep the pets inside. It's all a matter of perspective. "When it rains, we consider that a gift,'' said third-year running back Cadillac Williams.
The Bucs have been coming to Disney for training camp for six years. They work out on a field complex with ample seating for spectators (when it's not pouring), adjacent to a baseball stadium and basketball arena, which this week is hosting the national AAU championships.
Here's The Drill
1. Five years back, the Bucs won the Super Bowl. "That seems like a lifetime ago,'' says veteran defensive back Ronde Barber. In the NFL, it is a lifetime ago. The Bucs followed their 2002 championship with back-to-back losing seasons, rebounded to 11-5 in 2005 but tumbled to 4-12 a year ago. Since hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy in San Diego, the franchise is a decidedly uninspiring 27-41, with just one playoff cameo. "I wouldn't use the word 'desperate,''' said Barber. "But there's definitely an urgency around here.''
Few understand the reality better than defensive tackle Kevin Carter, a 13-year veteran who signed with the Bucs as a free agent after two seasons in Miami. "Once I talked with coach Gruden,'' Carter said, "I realized they want to win here, and they want to win now. There's no rebuilding. They've inserted a few free agents as critical guys -- myself, Luke Pettigout, Cato June, Jeff Garcia -- to help right now.
Carter's understanding also comes from witnessing, and participating in, the Nick Saban era in Miami, where high hopes degenerated into consecutive losing seasons and Saban's flight from Miami to the University of Alabama. "If they had another losing season, they probably would have been looking to make a change,'' said Carter. That business reality is staring Tampa Bay in the face: Three losing seasons in four years.
2. Garcia looks mighty sharp. Throwing in the rain, wearing gloves, Garcia moved efficiently in the pocket, completed most balls and found checkdowns. It was typical Garcia -- albeit without live ammunition -- and exactly what Gruden and the Bucs expect to get for 16 games. "The fact is, to achieve greatness in this league, you need stellar play from the quarterback,'' said Gruden. "Garcia has been like a bolt of lightning for this team.'' [Um, nice weather metaphor].
From Garcia's perspective, it's great to be loved at age 37, a status earned after rescuing the Eagles a year ago when Donovan McNabb went down. But it's also a load of pressure. "Completely different mindset from last year,'' Garcia told me after practice, standing in a hallway between the Bucs' locker room and the basketball arena. "This year I'm expected to be a leader.''
Aside from the inherent pressure in playing the position, Garcia hasn't played a full season since 2002 (although, in fairness, he might have a year ago but didn't get the chance to play until McNabb went down in mid-November). He is also working behind a developing offensive line.
That said, you've got to love the look: Garcia walked out of the locker room on Thursday with laceless, navy blue Chuck Taylor sneakers. "West Coast, California,'' Garcia said, shrugging and laughing.
3. Surprise stars at Bucs camp: cornerback Philip Buchanon, who, according to Gruden, has done more than grasp the chance to start at corner, "he's choked it,'' says the coach. Buchanon is also expected to contribute big in the return game.
Also, second-year right offensive tackle Davin Joseph and rookie guard Arron Sears have given cause for optimism on the offensive line.
Best battle: Like with so many teams, it's at wide receiver, where veteran Michael Clayton is trying to hold off improved second-year man Maurice Stovall and well-traveled former No. 8-overall pick David Boston is threatening to win a spot on the team.