NFL lockout puts Bucs rookies' careers on hold
In just about any other year, today would be the first day the Buccaneers' rookie class would take the field.
The weekend after each NFL Draft, rookies typically report to One Buc Place and run through a crash course that leaves their heads spinning and bodies aching. The annual rookie minicamp is their first introduction to the NFL as well as a chance for some undrafted tryout prospects to catch coaches' eyes.
But, this prolonged lockout of players by team owners stemming from the league's labor dispute has put all this on hold. And it's not just the Bucs. Just about every team conducts a similar rookie camp to get them up to speed.
"We’re all going to start with the same rules," Bucs coach Raheem Morris said. "It’s going to be an equal playing field. We’ll get these guys ready as quickly as we can. We had the Rosetta (Stone) teaching style last year. It’ll be no different this year when these guys come in."
But the fact is, for a team this young and one that often leans on rookies, the lack of offseason work for rookies is a setback.
Look no further than last season to learn the value of the offseason for rookies. Receiver Mike Williams burst onto the scene in 2010 largely because he had worked extensively with coaches and quarterback Josh Freeman during the offseason. Safety Cody Grimm's ability to step into the lineup for suspended Tanard Jackson also stemmed, in part, from his offseason preparation. Two years ago, receiver Sammie Stroughter carved out a nice role for himself as a rookie after an offseason of hard work.
Currently, these rookies will be relegated to working out on their own or, at most, joining their new teammates when and if they get together for practices independent of coaches. First-round pick Adrian Clayborn, for instance, is back in Arizona at a training facility, trying to stay in shape. Either way, the 2011 class won't benefit nearly as much as it would under the usual scenario, where rookies would be sitting in meeting rooms with coaches for hours and perfecting those lessons on the field.
The majority of the Bucs' offense and defense is installed in the offseason, meaning training camp is about repetitions. But unless there's an end to the current impasse, this year's training camp -- whenever it comes -- might be geared more toward installation than usual.
Morris is right when he says his team will be facing the same challenges as every other club. But the difference is that the Bucs have managed to squeeze quite a bit from their rookies in the past couple of seasons.
The ability to do that this year undoubtedly will be impacted by this work stoppage.