TAMPA — With 13 offseason workouts spread over three months, nearly three weeks of training camp and hours on end of daily meetings, preparation in the NFL can be a tiring and tedious process.
But that was hardly evident at One Buc Place on Wednesday.
When Bucs defensive end Adrian Clayborn got into his pass-rushing stance and glanced into the backfield, he saw three-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady.
When guard Davin Joseph looked across the line of scrimmage and saw All-Pro defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, it was immediately clear this was no ordinary practice.
The AFC champion Patriots arrived Wednesday for two days of joint practices with the Bucs — the teams meet in a preseason game Friday night — and the players said the stimulation was just what they needed.
"When you're practicing against your teammates, you know each other well and your moves stop working on them after a while," Clayborn said.
"But this was fun. I think we should do it more often to give guys a reason to go out and practice hard. Ultimately, you always want to practice hard, but this was different."
The arrangement came about as a result of the relationship between Bucs coach Greg Schiano and Patriots coach Bill Belichick, whose son Steve played for a year under Schiano at Rutgers.
But mostly, the teams decided to do it because both believe these kinds of workouts are particularly productive, more so than practices against teammates.
"Our guys go against each other every day," Schiano said. "So if they're smart football players, after a while, they can call out the blitzes for you or call out the run plays for you. That can sometimes skew the end result. Some plays (in practice) can come as a result of anticipation. Here, that's not the case."
Said Belichick: "We don't have much of a scouting report on Tampa. We haven't watched any film on Tampa. We just know some of the basics, and we're going to have to figure it out as we go. But that's good because that's a realistic situation in games."
Schiano even said he would glean more from watching film of Wednesday's workout because the unfamiliarity meant there were more variables with which the players to cope. The setup also brought out the best in both team's players.
"It felt game-like," Bucs and former Patriots receiver Tiquan Underwood said. "It's just scheme against scheme. You're just playing football."
But the Bucs were doing so against a team that was in the Super Bowl in February, one that has, arguably, had more sustained recent success than any other club. For the young Bucs, the Patriots and Belichick have a bit of an aura.
"I don't get nervous around a lot of people. But (Belichick) was walking through the hall earlier, and I was walking to the locker room, and I dang near turned the other way," defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said, joking. "(I thought) 'Dang, I don't want to look this man in his eyes.'
"There's something about him. He has a presence about him."
Other Bucs took note of Brady and his command of the huddle and tempo with which he practices. Actually, even Schiano was a bit in awe.
"The way he handled himself in the huddle … when you play them, you don't get to see that," Schiano said of the seven-time Pro Bowl quarterback. "When you stand out on the field and hear the way he handles things, that's good stuff."
The results of head-to-head drills were mixed, according to players. (Media members were permitted to watch only 30 minutes of individual work.) No one kept score, so there were no winners and losers.
The day was competitive, but the teams remained respectful of each other.
Except for the time Bucs linebacker Adam Hayward unintentionally decked receiver Julian Edelman, things did not get testy. It was a result, players said, of the Patriots' professionalism and the Bucs' effort to implement more of the same.
In the end, the two-day affair might be different, but the goals are no different than in practices.
"I don't think it's a vacation or a nice trip to Florida," Brady said. "This is for us to come down here and be a better football team when we leave."
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. View his blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bucs. Follow him on Twitter at @HolderStephen.