With a set of gassers and a hearty thank you, the Buccaneers sent four dozen rookies home on Sunday after a productive but eye-opening three-day mini-camp
Running to the End
Quincy Black's goal: Make himself as useful as possible
Bucs' test rookies bodies and minds
A series of wind sprints brought the last practice of the Bucs' rookie mini-camp to a close
May 06, 2007 -
After the final drill of Sunday’s practice at One Buccaneer Place, but before the sweaty group of NFL rookies could huddle up for one final sendoff message, Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Jon Gruden had all 53 men line up on the east sideline of Field Three.
Gruden then handed the reins over to Head Strength and Conditioning Coach Mike Morris, who proceeded to lead the tired players in a series of wind sprints, across the field and back.
Such “gassers,” as they are affectionately known throughout the world of team sports, are nothing new. It’s a common device to test a team’s overall conditioning level and, sometimes, to send a not-so-veiled message. Gruden, however, had a novel explanation for why he chose to run gassers at the very end of the Buccaneers’ three-day mini-camp. Simply put, he’s a nice guy.
Now, few players are going to finish a series of 106-yard sprints and say to themselves, ‘That coach, he’s a swell fellow.” But Gruden did indeed have his players’ best interests in mind. The coach was looking a few weeks and a few months ahead, when these rookies will join in with their demanding veteran teammates, and when critical practices could lose steam if the newcomers aren’t ready.
“We won’t practice if we can’t practice because we’re tired,” said Gruden of the upcoming organized team activity days, mini-camp practices and training camp two-a-days. “That’s when guys pull muscles and that’s when guys get injured. Being the nice human being that I am, I’m looking out for players’ safety, so we’ll do some conditioning, won’t we? We’ll just have a nice gasser drill and we’ll push sleds and we’ll do the things that you need to do to get everybody on the same page where they can go out and move explosively and finish plays like National Football League players do.”
" We see some promise, we’re excited about the prospects that we have but we’ve got a long way to go to get them physically ready to compete at this level."
It was the continuation of a lesson Gruden began on Saturday, when mid-90s heat and its merciless sister, humidity, descended on the Bucs’ practice field. It’s a lesson that will continue unabated through the rest of the spring and the summer, with the first real exam scheduled for September 9.
“I wanted to send a message to them, not in sinister way but in a realistic way, that we play Seattle on the road to open the season,” said Gruden. “Gaines Adams has to get ready for Walter Jones. Quincy Black and Adam Hayward, if you want to play you better know who Shaun Alexander is because he’s going to go wire-to-wire and he’s going to bring 223 pounds in between the tackles repeatedly. We’ve got to be ready for that.”
The 48 rookies among the 53 players in camp – 28 of whom were participating on tryout contracts – completed the gassers without difficulty and then swarmed around Gruden for that last message. Some of the camp participants won’t be back, but even the signed players must wait a few weeks before returning to One Buccaneer Place. League rules do not allow rookies to join their new NFL teams – beyond this one allowed mini-camp after the draft – until their respective colleges have finished their school years.
Thus, this was the Bucs’ only peek at their newest portion of the roster for a little while, and it was therefore a very important weekend at team headquarters.
“We wanted to evaluate the players that were here, some of the guys that were invited to the camp that weren’t drafted,” said Gruden. “It was a priority to see those guys, see if we missed anything in the draft. And obviously we wanted to get our rookies underway here in terms of how we practice and what we’re doing on offense, defense and special teams. We didn’t get everything done, but we scratched the surface.”
The three practices were bracketed by a series of meetings, with shuttle buses running the players back to their hotel at the end of each day. There was little else for the rookies to do during their weekend in town but concentrate on football. They needed all the time they could get to absorb the volumes of information being thrown in their direction.
“They’re all confused, you know,” said Gruden. “They’ve only been here for a couple days. We haven’t put the whole offense in or the whole defense, but things do run together. We tried to be fair to these guys and give them enough plays where they could go out and function together. But at the same time we put a lot of things in from the standpoint that we wanted to see what they could do, what they could learn, what they could bring out here and execute. Some guys did well, some guys didn’t do so well. The guys that did well will be back and the guys who didn’t won’t.”
Those that are signed will be forgiven their “rookie mistakes” as it were, as long as they are not repeated ad nauseam. What will not be forgiven, as was made clear by the end-of-practice gassers, is a failure to improve on conditioning.
“They better get in a lot better shape,” Gruden reiterated. “They better quit watching the NFL Network all day and they better quit playing their video games and get off the cell phones and the Blackberries and all that stuff and get outside here on the nice, green grass. Find a place to run and run. And then run again and run again. Stamina is critical and certainly that’s something we’ve got to work towards.
“We have an interesting group of rookies. We’ve got some guys that can run; we’ve also got a lot of guys who are not in any kind of shape yet. We have their attention, I do believe. We see some promise, we’re excited about the prospects that we have but we’ve got a long way to go to get them physically ready to compete at this level.”
Lest one think this year’s rookie class was unprepared for NFL life or too prone to slacking, Gruden made it clear that this situation repeats itself each spring.
“It’s that way every year,” he said. “A lot of these guys have been idle since the end of their senior years, and rightfully so. They’re not in spring practice like their fellow collegians. They’re working out with their personal trainer and all those fun things. They’ve got to get back to putting the cleats on and playing football, and to do that they’re going to have to really, I think, get into a regimented program here in the next couple weeks, and that will allow them to compete a little bit better when they get back here.”
Call em as I see em!