TAMPA — Davin Joseph agreed to terms of a seven-year, $52.5 million contract with the Bucs on July 28. He had to wait six days to rejoin his teammates — until after the new labor deal was ratified — and finally took his spot at right guard on Aug. 5.
Since then, he has participated in six days of practice, one of them a noncontact walkthrough, and put on shoulder pads only four times.
With no offseason workouts because of the lockout and very little training camp, Joseph said he doesn't know what to expect when he plays in tonight's preseason opener against the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.
"I guess I'll find out," he said.
He's not alone.
In the new world order of the NFL, contact is limited everywhere but during games (preseason and regular season). Too much rest can lead to rust, which can lead to injuries. At a minimum, the quality of play could suffer until conditioning improves.
But Joseph said he can't worry about that.
"I don't really know what my No. 1 concern will be," Joseph said. "We have the same offense that we did last year, so that's a plus.
"Same players, that's a plus. Same quarterback, so that's a plus. We have more pluses than minuses in our different categories. We should be okay, but conditioning is always a factor."
As Bucs coach Raheem Morris will tell you, every team is in the same boat. But the seas will be rougher for rookies, who have little time to impress, and free agents, who have barely a week of practice under their uniform belts.
"It's crazy," linebacker Adam Hayward said. "There was no off-season. And all of a sudden we started, and the next thing you know, we've got a game."
In the long run, the restrictions on physical contact could extend players' careers.
"This (new workout) schedule that we've got is extremely huge, especially for a player in my position on the back half of my career," said center Jeff Faine, the Bucs' union rep who is entering his ninth season. "And being able to recover, it's huge. Last year, I was held out of some practices. But still, it was a much more physical training camp last year and it was more endurance. Right now, it's very quick. It's very up-tempo but very focused.
"There's only one disadvantage I see in the whole thing, (and that's) for the young guys. They're not getting the reps they would've gotten. And there are more guys in camp now, so there are fewer reps to go around. Since we've been away this entire offseason, the (starters) are getting the majority of the reps right now. The reps (the young players) do get, they've got to make them perfect because it's the only shot they've got."
Because of the long layoff, teams are expected to be more cautious with injured players. Receiver Arrelious Benn, who is recovering from a torn ACL, will not play tonight. But Da'Quan Bowers, the Bucs' second-round pick coming off minor knee surgery, is expected to play.
Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who has not practiced since straining his right rotator cuff on Aug. 5, is unlikely to play. And the Bucs are playing it safe with tight end Kellen Winslow to protect a chronically sore knee. He didn't make the trip.
The Bucs still have the youngest team in the NFL and will count on some new players, especially on defense, Bowers and first-round pick Adrian Clayborn at defensive end and third-round pick Mason Foster at middle linebacker.
Tonight's game also is a homecoming of sorts for quarterback Josh Freeman, a Kansas City native who grew up going to games at Arrowhead. As long as Freeman is in the game, which is expected to be between 12 and 20 plays, Joseph and tackle Jeremy Trueblood will be protecting him.
"It'll be different," Joseph said. "But I think a lot of teams are in that same scenario; not a lot of practice and really taking this preseason game more seriously than the average first preseason game."
Rick Stroud can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.