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Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp opens with sense of stability

TAMPA — At least they know Josh Freeman is the starting quarterback.

There is familiarity with the offensive and defensive schemes as well as continuity with coordinators.

And none of the 80 players on the training camp roster are expected to be limited physically when practice begins Saturday.

But maybe the best thing the Bucs can say about the contrast to the first season under coach Raheem Morris and general manager Mark Dominik is this: The calamity has been replaced by relative calm.

"The thing that has been encouraging about this offseason is we continued to go with the plan we started last year and establish the youth on the team. But it's young players with talent," Dominik said. "We wanted to surround Josh Freeman with players he can grow up with and have those combinations for years.

"There's a lot more stability with the coaching staff, and I have confidence in Coach Morris and what he did with the defense the last six games. (Offensive coordinator Greg Olson) has had the entire offseason to implement his stuff. To know all 80 guys will walk out every day, it says a lot about our trainers and strength coach. It's great to know we'll get as much work as we can when we put on the pads."

Players report to camp from noon to 3:30 p.m. today and undergo physicals. And they have to pass a conditioning test at 5. But before the first practice on Saturday morning, the Bucs have some rather big loose ends to tie.

It starts with signing Oklahoma defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, the third overall pick.

Tampa Bay signed safety Cody Grimm, a seventh-rounder from Virginia Tech, to a four-year deal Thursday, leaving only McCoy without a deal among the draft picks.

The pace of signings around the NFL — especially for first-rounders — has been extremely slow because of no collective bargaining agreement in place for 2011 and a possible lockout looming. McCoy's representatives also control negotiations for numerous first-rounders, including quarterback Sam Bradford, the first overall pick by the Rams.

Dominik and agent Ben Dogra have said they are making progress. But there still is no agreement on if McCoy will sign a five- or six-year deal and how the more than $30 million of guaranteed money will be paid.

One player who won't report today is left tackle Donald Penn, who declined to sign his $3.168 million tender as a restricted free agent then saw the club reduce the offer by $100,000.

Penn is seeking a long-term extension and could miss several weeks of training camp — if not part of the regular season. Much of that will depend on the development of Demar Dotson, Xavier Fulton and James Lee, who will battle for Penn's spot. But none has started a game in the NFL, and it's hard to imagine the Bucs putting Freeman, their franchise quarterback, in harm's way.

But those two issues pale in comparison with the series of missteps that snowballed a year ago.

The drama began with January's abrupt firing of Jon Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen. There also was the purging of veterans, including Derrick Brooks and Warrick Dunn, and the hiring — and later firing — of offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski and defensive coordinator Jim Bates.

Freeman's development was affected as he was forced to sit and watch a battle for the starting job between Byron Leftwich, who was benched in Week 3, and Luke McCown, who was traded before the season started.

Morris took over the defense and returned to the one-gap, Cover 2 scheme. And the Bucs allowed an average of 17.7 points over the final six games.

"I've always been a defensive fundamentalist," Dominik said. "Defenses win championships, and that's going to be my approach toward the team. And Coach Morris certainly has a defensive passion of his own.

"It's nice to have linebackers battling. It's going to be really important in terms of the front four with McCoy and (second-round pick Brian Price) up front as well as Stylez White. I know Roy Miller is not going to just give up the job. I think what should be exciting is they have some talent as well and not just out there battling to see who plays."

fast facts

Bucs training camp

Players report today, and practices start Saturday at One Buc Place in Tampa. Tickets are free, but fans must register and reserve them through the One Buc Club at Buccaneers.com. If all tickets aren't claimed, they are available to walk-ups on a first-come, first-serve basis. For details, call (813) 870-2700.

Practices

open to public

Times and dates subject to change.

Saturday: 10:20 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

Sunday: 2:30-5 p.m.

Monday: 10:20 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

Wednesday: 10:20 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

Thursday: 2:30-4:35 p.m.

Aug. 6: 10:20 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

Aug. 7: 7-9 p.m. (Raymond James Stadium; no tickets required)

Preseason games

Aug. 14: at Dolphins, 7, Ch. 8

Aug. 21: vs. Chiefs, 7:30, Ch. 8

Aug. 28: vs. Jaguars, 7:30, Ch. 8

Sept. 2: at Texans, 8, Ch. 8

Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp opens with sense of stability 07/29/10 [Last modified: Thursday, July 29, 2010 11:40pm]
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