TAMPA — Suppose your boss made coming to work today optional and — technically — couldn't penalize you for not showing up. Would you?
Would it matter if staying home could allow co-workers to gain an upper hand on you?
This, in essence, is a decision NFL players face each offseason.
Outside of a three-day minicamp that is mandatory, there are 10 practices (technically known as offseason team activities or OTAs) that players don't need to attend as outlined in the collective bargaining agreement.
But don't tell that to the Bucs' Greg Schiano or any other NFL coach. They rely heavily on offseason work to prepare their teams for the upcoming season. Outside of the lack of full contact, there is little distinction between what's going on this week at One Buc Place and what you'll see during training camp.
"We look at the OTAs as an extended period of practice," Schiano said. "So we have 13 (practices, including minicamp) to install, teach and progress. After initially putting in all the plays — or most of the plays — now we will start talking about situational football. Each day we have a little bit different flavor to the situational football. (We're becoming) a smarter football team as we go."
Already, the Bucs have worked on specifics such as red zone offense and two-minute drills.
The OTAs, which are spread out during the offseason, are separate from conditioning drills, which begin in April and allow players to work out and meet with coaches.
Both are important for this young team.
With Schiano and his staff newly hired, the Bucs are undergoing many changes. The offense is completely different. So, too, is the defense. The process of teaching principles and implementing those schemes has been under way for several weeks, making attendance critical.
The overwhelming majority of players have attended regularly, but there have and will be absences. Tuesday, for instance, rookie safety Mark Barron, receiver Dez Briscoe and cornerback Eric Wright were among those presumed absent. (They weren't on the field.)
When that happens, coaches must walk a fine line.
"Certainly, coaches want (players) there," Schiano told ESPN this week. "But by the letter of the law, it's a voluntary program. I think when you look across the league, on most teams, most guys are there. They want to get better, and they know it's one of the opportunities to get better."
For players who don't attend, the "opportunities" are afforded to their competition. Coaches begin forming opinions about the depth chart, meaning players who skip OTAs do so at their own peril.
To address absences while respecting the voluntary nature, Schiano asked players to comply with one requirement: Let him know if they're coming. Tight end Kellen Winslow said he and Schiano had a miscommunication about his attendance that contributed (but wasn't the only factor) to the team's decision to trade him to Seattle this week.
Mostly, it seems, players have kept the coach in the loop. And Schiano realizes some absences cannot be avoided.
"There's family. There's different things," Schiano said. "My whole thing is communication. As long as everybody just communicates, (it works out).
"I wish life were just clean, but it's not. Life is messy. We work together, and we work through situations. That's kind of how I approach our football team. I think that's just common decency. You communicate, and you let each other know what's going on. When you do that, there are usually not issues."
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @HolderStephen.