TAMPA — If there are concerns about how long it has been since the Bucs have played entering Sunday's season opener, you won't hear them in Tampa Bay's locker room.
Won't there be rust, you ask, with some starters going a calendar month between games? This is the Stainless Steel Curtain.
"Man, I ain't worried about no rust," defensive end Robert Ayers said Thursday. "I'm worried about the first person I get to lay my hands on. That's the only thing I'm focusing on. I'm excited. It's been a long camp, a long offseason. Last year we barely missed the playoffs, and I've been (mad) ever since. I'm looking forward to setting the tone in Week 1."
Week 1 ended up being the Bucs' ill-timed bye week after last weekend's season opener at Miami was postponed because of Hurricane Irma and moved to Week 11, setting up a stretch of games in 16 straight weeks. The message sent from Bucs players Thursday was that any extended layoff since their last preseason action — Aug. 31 was their last game — wouldn't take away from their performance Sunday afternoon against the Bears at Raymond James Stadium.
"A lot of excuses are being made from the outside, that we haven't played in a while, haven't practiced but three times in two weeks," tackle Demar Dotson said. "Coach (Dirk Koetter) is making sure we don't buy into that. We lose this game, it's on us.
"Nobody's going to give you a freebie; no coaches are going to have sympathy. We have to go out there and play. We were a little rusty (Wednesday), but we made sure we knocked the rust off. It's not like you're going to forget how to play football."
The Bucs got players back in town in time for a walkthrough practice Tuesday night, getting them a first step back mentally without a full practice. Koetter said that as much as he wants his team physically ready for Sunday, he also is careful to guard against doing too much in the final window before the game.
"We can't buy more time, and you can't overwork them and not have their legs for Sunday," Koetter said. "It's going to be warm. It was back to being warm (Thursday). It is what it is, and we are going to have to play."
Asked if the Bucs have a strategic advantage in having a full game of Bears tape to watch from Chicago's opening loss to the Falcons on Sunday, Koetter said it's an "impossible question," countering that coaches constantly say a team makes its biggest leap from the first game to the second, as Chicago could do against the Bucs.
Mentally, the Bucs are thankful for having the continuity of the same scheme and coordinators in place from last year on both sides of the ball, helping them be mentally ahead of where they were entering last season.
"I think we'll be good," safety Keith Tandy said. "We've got a lot of veteran guys, a lot of great leadership. The communication in the walkthrough, seeing the way guys are locked in, it helps your brain, your focus and that aspect."
The Bucs gave up an average of 32 points per game in their 1-3 start last season, and Tandy said the defense has learned from last year's early mistakes, even the players who weren't around for that, such as new safety T.J. Ward, who is picking up the defense quickly since arriving last week.
"We've told him about our experiences, what we struggled at last year, so he doesn't have to sit there and struggle with the same thing we did," Tandy said. "Just keep communicating and going over stuff as much as possible so it sticks in his head and let his natural ability take over."