An NFL training camp is full of fires to be put out, land mines to step around and hurdles to jump over. A team can have injuries on the field and mutinies off it. Major distractions away from the practice facility can lead to serious problems inside the locker room.
The Bucs have three preseason games left, and the next three weeks might not look a whole lot different from the past three weeks. But officially, the Bucs broke camp Wednesday in great shape, literally and figuratively. Here are some examples of why the Bucs can call their training camp a success:
No catastrophic injuries
Defensive end Da'Quan Bowers tore his Achilles tendon in May, but since training camp, the Bucs have avoided serious injuries. Safety and first-round draft pick Mark Barron and tight end Dallas Clark missed the preseason opener, but both are back in pads. Left tackle Donald Penn is working his way back into shape after a calf strain. Wide receiver Arrelious Benn is rehabilitating a knee injury. But despite coach Greg Schiano putting the team in pads every step of the way, the team is as healthy as you can hope for. Tired and fatigued, but healthy.
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Players have bought into the new coach
The Bucs rid themselves of potential problems Tanard Jackson and Kellen Winslow Jr. before camp started. Those who remained not only have accepted the no-nonsense style of new coach Greg Schiano, they have embraced it.
"I love what he's doing with us," linebacker Najee Goode, above, said. "He pushes us and gets the best out of us. The best part about it is everyone wants to play for him. We're all buying into it."
It would have been easy for the Bucs, especially the older ones, to dismiss Schiano as a college guy and dropkick his rah-rah, hard-nosed, toes-on-the-line ways. The players, however, have eaten up Schiano's my-way-or-the-highway demands and asked for seconds.
"They have worked very, very hard," Schiano said. "That is what I was most excited about. … What I was really pleased with was the effort, the buy-in that the guys exhibited."
The offseason moves have looked good
If you want to know how well a player is fitting in with his new team, watch how others behave around him. So far, Bucs players are gravitating toward veteran wide receiver Vincent Jackson and guard Carl Nicks, the organization's two biggest offseason free agent acquisitions. Despite his impressive resume and more impressive skills, Jackson has stood out because of his work ethic. Same with Nicks, right. It's easy to get motivated for games, but when a team has two proven veterans who treat every training camp practice and weight-room session like it's the conference championship game, it has two special players and, best of all, two special examples.
Don't laugh. Chad Johnson is out of a job and the Dolphins are down a receiver because of Johnson's arrest, accused of head-butting his wife over the weekend. Remember when Bucs cornerback Aqib Talib had that run-in with a cab driver? That happened during training camp, and it had regular-season consequences when Talib was suspended for the 2009 opener. When a team doesn't have issues off the field, problems on the field can get 100 percent of everyone's attention.
Competition has brought out the best in everyone
If there was such a thing as a training camp MVP, wide receiver Mike Williams and running back LeGarrette Blount would be in the running for the award. Maybe Williams found another gear to keep pace with Vincent Jackson. Maybe Jackson's presence is taking some of the heat off Williams. Whatever it is, Williams has been a training camp star, including making one of the best catches of camp Wednesday.
Meantime, selecting running back Doug Martin late in the first round appears to have motivated Blount, who had a big game in the preseason opener and showed he wants to remain a major part of the offense.
"We help each other, and it's great competition for everybody in the backfield," Martin said.
The starting (and backup QB) look good
Josh Freeman's offseason weight loss of about 20 pounds was alarming to some, but training camp has eased those concerns. Freeman, top left, looks fit and healthy. No more baby fat and chubby cheeks. He is looking, and playing, like a man. Then there's backup Dan Orlovsky, bottom left. If he was good enough to start somewhere, he would be starting somewhere. But he has been sharp enough in camp and in the one preseason game (8-for-8, 91 yards) that the Bucs won't be too nervous putting him in a game if they have to.
Greg Schiano isn't going to tear his rotator cuff patting himself on the back. He says next year's training camp, and the one after that and the one after that (assuming he's still here) will be, in his words, crisper and cleaner. And just because training camp has ended doesn't mean Schiano is about to tap the brakes.
"I do understand these guys have been busting their humps," Schiano said, "but we still have some hard work to do."
But so far, so good.