TAMPA - With only a week until training camp – and 50 days remaining until the start of the NFL season – Tampa Bay Bucs rookies arrived at One Buccaneer Place to get a jump on the gridiron grind.
Almost all of the top rookies practiced Thursday, with the exception of the Bucs’ No. 1 draft pick Mark Barron, who has yet to report. Head coach Greg Schiano said that having these early practices with the rookies helps them adjust to the NFL, and gives them an opportunity to get some extra attention before the rest of the team reports on Friday.
“The individual attention is good because a week from now they’re not going to get as much attention,” said Schiano, “We’re going to work our tails off through the organization to make sure that they do get repetitions because that’s the only way you get better.”
Coming in before the veterans will also give the rookies a chance to learn and work on the new playbook instilled by the first-year NFL coach Schiano. “I think there’s a great opportunity more than any other year,” he said. “Not because they are competing, but because those veterans don’t have as big a head start in our schemes. They have a head start as veteran players, but they don’t have a head start in this specific scheme.”
The level playing-field in that respect could be useful to rookie running back Doug Martin, who will challenge LeGarrette Blount for playing time as the featured back. Martin, the Buccaneer’s second overall pick, has been studying the playbook, and said that he is much more confident now than he was during the Bucs’ OTAs.
The former Boise State star thinks than he could be an asset to the Bucs because of his versatility. “Being able to run and being able to pass block and catch balls off the backfield is my strength,” he said. Coach Schiano sees many characteristics in Martin that he likes in his running backs: “his quickness, his balance, his vision. He’s a bright guy, and I hope he can bring what we saw in his college tape that he can bring to the national football league and I believe he can.”
According to Martin, the battle is not just between himself and Blount, but between all five of the running backs the Bucs will have in camp and “all that’s going to do is make us stronger,” he said.
One of those other running backs is Michael Smith, another 2012 draftee for Tampa Bay. “I’m trying to be a Buccaneer all the way,” he said. “I want to put 100 percent in, so (I’ll do) whatever they want me to do – kick return, punt return, special teams, anything. I’m out there working hard, I’m just trying to participate in anything getting involved in anything they want me to do at full speed.”
And speed is just what the Buccaneers want from him. Smith is considered one of the faster backs, and he played on special teams in college with Utah State. As for competition for the main back position, Smith has no doubt in his ability, “I have high confidence in myself,” he said, “I believe it’s a three-way battle, you might not see it that way, but I’m working. I’m not out here just to sit down and be a third down back, I’m out here to start.”
Another big rookie to look out for this season is Lavonte David, competing for the starting linebacker job. David said that he is using rookie camp to go back to the fundamentals of the game and fine-tune his skills.
The rookies will have until next Friday to take advantage of this time. Then the rest of the team will join in and officially training camp will begin. Coach Schiano is excited to get his first NFL season under way, and ready for his team to get on the pads and work on skills that they couldn’t in the off-season.
“The things that you can’t do in the spring – coverage, pass rush, those kind of things – blocking people,” he said, “At the end of the day, it’s still about blocking. This game is about blocking, tackling, running and catching, and a lot of that does not come through when you’re in shorts. Some of it does: the execution and athleticism. But it’s still about contact.”