TAMPA — It has been exactly six months since Greg Schiano became the Buccaneers' ninth head coach.
Since being hired from Rutgers on Jan. 26, he has spent many long days learning about his new team, beginning the process of molding it into what he hopes it can become.
But early this morning, when players report to One Buc Place for the start of training camp, the heavy lifting really begins. And considering the Bucs finished 4-12 in 2011, including 10 straight losses to end the season, there's much to be done.
Though the Bucs have been laboring all summer through practices and minicamps, some of the most important matters have had to be put on hold until now, when they can delve into the gritty parts of training camp that already have Schiano excited.
"Oh, I can't wait," he said about full-squad practices.
And when the players don pads and hit one another for the first time — offseason practices involve no contact — the old-school Schiano will really be in his element.
"There are things that you can't do in the spring: press coverage, one-on-one pass rush … blocking people," Schiano said. "At the end of the day, this game is about blocking and tackling, throwing and catching, running the ball.
"A lot of that does not come through when you're in shorts. It's still about contact."
Though much about players reporting is symbolic — after all, players have been practicing since April — the Bucs will confront some critical issues over the next two weeks.
They will assess the readiness of players such as defensive tackle Brian Price, who missed last month's mandatory minicamp after a death in the family and has dealt with associated physical and mental struggles since.
They also will be monitoring the health of players such as defensive tackle Amobi Okoye, an offseason signing who had arthroscopic knee surgery in June and was placed on the physically unable to perform list on Tuesday. Reserve linebacker Adam Hayward (foot) also was placed on the list.
Both are eligible to be activated at any point during the preseason.
The team also has position battles, primarily at running back. That's where first-round pick Doug Martin is attempting to seize the No. 1 job from LeGarrette Blount, who has rushed for 1,788 yards over his two seasons.
The Bucs say they haven't made final decisions at linebacker, though rookie Lavonte David looks like a good bet to remain the weakside starter and Mason Foster likely will remain the starter in the middle.
They will try to sort out the issue at receiver where the addition of veteran Vincent Jackson created a logjam of young players looking for roster spots and playing time.
This training camp also will be about toughness.
Schiano is expected to conduct a physical camp, and he wants his players to be ready. He'll put them through a conditioning test when they report that will reveal if they've been adequately preparing over the past month and a half.
"It's a little odd for me because I'm used to seeing them, and I haven't seen these guys in six weeks," Schiano said.
The heat, as always, will be a factor, too.
"Even if you're not new to Florida, the first time you come out and put that helmet on … if it's 90 (degrees) out there, it's 110 in your helmet," Schiano said.
Regardless, players soon will strap on those helmets — and pads. And that's when Schiano's first season with the Bucs will begin in earnest.
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @HolderStephen.