TAMPA — One of the first promises that Bruce Arians made when he took the Bucs’ head coaching job was that he’d do everything possible to put the best players on the field.
In an effort to do that, he is putting everyone on the field.
Arians employs a unique practice model, running drills on two separate practice fields, something he did during the just completed offseason workouts and plans to maintain throughout training camp next month as the Bucs whittle the roster to 53 players.
This way, both first-teamers, fourth-stringers and everyone in between will receive an adequate amount of reps to impress coaches. Arians’ motivation is a simple one: You can’t find a diamond in the rough if he’s sitting on the sideline. It’s also one of the reasons Arians hired such a large staff of assistants — nearly 30 total — to ensure no player goes unnoticed.
The methodology is unique in the NFL, but Arians plucked the idea right out of the 1970s, when he was an assistant coach under the legendary Bear Bryant at Alabama.
“We had four of them running,” Arians said of using multiple fields during his time with the Crimson Tide. “We had 250 players back in the ’70s and ’80s.”
Players can move back and forth between the fields, with players on Field 2 getting promoted to the field with the first- and second-teamers. Veterans don’t want to find themselves getting reps with the reserves.
“Yeah, there’s no doubt,” Arians said when asked whether there’s a competition element to the system. “If you’re on Field 2, you want to put great stuff on tape to get over there (to Field 1).”
Rookie wide receiver Scotty Miller made his way onto Field 1 during offseason training activities after injuries to starting receivers combined with his strong play. It has allowed Miller to get reps with the first-team offense and starting quarterback Jameis Winston.
“I’m getting a lot of good reps, so it really gives me an opportunity to show what I can do,” said Miller, a 4.3 40-time speedster who will be competing for time in the slot and on the outside. “I’m kind of getting thrown into it quickly, but I need to be because I need to be ready to go. … I was on the second field the first two days. I think and I was making some plays and they pulled me over to the first field and I’ve been there ever since. A couple guys are down so it’s really good to work with Jameis and the ones.”
Miller said there’s definitely a difference practicing with the ones and twos, going against starting defensive backs as opposed to fringe roster players.
“When you’re going against a starting corner man-to-man and he’s in your face, it’s a little different,” Miller said. “It feels good for sure. And it feels good that they’re noticing what you’re doing. I think that’s the thing. The film, the eye in the sky doesn’t lie, so if you’re making plays over there. They’re going to notice and they’re going to pull you over. I was happy about it but the day I got pulled over, I was like, ‘Okay, I’ve got to make sure I know what I’m doing No. 1 and I’ve got to play well.’”
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Even when practices are moved into the team’s one-field indoor practice facility, Arians can simulate two fields by splitting the field at the 50-yard line.
Arians said the system will also help players with conditioning during training camp. The more football snaps players get, the better game shape they will be in, and they will be better prepared for the number of snaps they might have to play during the regular season.
“You can run wind sprints all year,” Arians said. “But as soon as you get to camp, you’re going to pull a groin because you’re not changing directions, so it gets us in great football shape.”
Once the regular season begins and the roster is down to 53 players, the Bucs won’t have the roster numbers to run two full fields, but Arians said he might run some drills on separate fields.
“We’ll have different days where we have two 7-on-7s or two blitzes just to get off the field faster, so we’re not out in the heat for so long,” Arians said.
Players already notice a different feel to practice, and it’s a new challenge.
“You’ve got to be able to go,” cornerback Vernon Hargreaves said. “There’s no backups. Your backup is on the other field. So you’ve got to go. You’ve got to fight through. You have to find a way. Six, seven, eight plays in a row, just like a game.”
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.