TAMPA — The end of training camp has arrived, and players are plotting their escape. Shoulder pads are being removed, and nightly plans are being put in place.
Meanwhile, on a nearby field, a lone Buccaneer adjusts his helmet and goes back to work. It is either the most uplifting or forlorn scene of the day.
This is Arrelious Benn, the best receiver no one is talking about. The second-round draft pick upstaged by fellow rookie Mike Williams last season. The injured flanker being held out of contact drills while Dezmon Briscoe grabs this week's headlines.
In real time, it's barely been a blip. Not even a year since his pro debut. But NFL careers are short, and wasted days feel long for a player with expectations to meet.
This is why coaches and trainers feel compelled to slow Benn's rehab after major knee surgery. This is why they must convince him that patience has its reward.
"They've seen how frustrated I've been," he says upon finally leaving the field Tuesday. "I don't know anything about the (medical) details, but I tell them, 'I think I can do this.' I just know I feel good. But they know better.
"At the end of the day, I have to listen to the trainers. The best thing is not to rush it, just take it slow and be ready when the season begins."
But how do you take it slow when you feel like you're starting from behind?
You may recall that Benn is the receiver the Bucs targeted in the second round of the 2010 draft. The guy they were so concerned about missing that they traded a fifth-round pick in order to move up a few spots and grab.
Yet it was Williams, a fourth-round pick, who grasped the offense more quickly last training camp, and it was Benn who spent the first few games as a glorified bystander.
He does not sound envious, and he insists he would never compare stats, but it could not have been easy for Benn to watch Williams' star rise.
"We have been very excited to watch the development of our entire receiving group," GM Mark Dominik said. "What is special is they are all working, pushing each other to improve daily. Benn is a special player as well, and it's great to see him do more every day. We expect big contributions from him this season."
After gaining 195 yards in the first 11 games, Benn had 200 yards in the next four before tearing his ACL on Dec. 26 against the Seahawks.
Eight months later, Benn is way ahead of his rehab schedule but, once again, behind the curve in training camp. He was held out of the preseason opener at Kansas City on Friday and will not play against the Patriots on Thursday. His 2011 debut is tentatively planned for the Dolphins game next week.
"You've got to hold him back because you can get fooled and think he's been out 12, 16 months, and it's only been six or seven," said receivers coach Eric Yarber. "We're trying to hold him back, and he's been good about it."
Meanwhile, Briscoe has been the talk of camp. He raised eyebrows after coming off the practice squad at the end of last season and was impressive against the Chiefs.
This, of course, is a good thing. And Benn knows better than to complain about someone else shining in his absence.
The frustration is not that Williams has emerged as a star, or that Briscoe is making a name for himself in the preseason, but that a year later, we have yet to see Benn's best.
He is big, quick and athletic, and still something of an unknown. He is dedicated, humble and patient, and still something of a mystery.
"The fans and everyone else haven't seen my full potential yet. I only showed glimpses of it last year," Benn said. "I was still learning, still trying to figure out what I was doing before I got hurt. Now I know what I'm doing. It's like learning how to drive a car. At some point, it starts to feel natural to you, and that's where I'm at now."
He has been cleared to run full speed and is making cuts and turns as if his knee had never seen a scalpel. His muscles are a little sore, and he's still working himself into shape. The expectation is that he will be cleared for contact early next week.
Until then, he stands on the sideline and watches during practice. And when his teammates head to the locker room, he remains on the field to work with Yarber.
On Tuesday, the coach fired balls at him from a short distance, and Benn reached out to make one-handed catches. The drill was repeated over and over in solitude.
Someday soon, Benn will make an impact.
For now, he will practice patience.
Times staff writer Rick Stroud contributed to this report. John Romano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.