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Bucs players get creative with personal workouts during the pandemic

Team facilities and gyms are closed, leaving players to buy gym equipment, enlist the help of family members and train at home.
Cameron Brate doesn't get to work out with teammates like O.J. Howard at the Bucs facility, which is closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Cameron Brate doesn't get to work out with teammates like O.J. Howard at the Bucs facility, which is closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. [ Times (2018) ]
Published Apr. 13, 2020|Updated Apr. 13, 2020

TAMPA — Mazzi Wilkins tried working out at a nearby park until it was closed. He checked out the field at Plant High School, his alma mater, but it was padlocked. Eventually, the Bucs cornerback resorted to setting up some orange cones on a patch of grass in his neighborhood so he at least could run a few drills.

“The majority of parks are closed, and they’ll kick you out," Wilkins said. “I’ve been kicked out of a park. I couldn’t get on at Plant.

“It’s basically like you’re in high school. You didn’t know what you were doing, but you were on the grind. You don’t know what to do, so you’re just finding a way through things."

Related: Bucs among teams looking to trade up for a tackle: report

Linebacker Kevin Minter is preparing to chase ball carriers in the fall by running after his 2-year-old son of the same name. He is in Atlanta with his wife, Sydne Rie, who delivered a girl only two months ago.

Fortunately, she had some weights that Minter has lifted a few times in the garage when he’s not getting in some roadwork.

“Our strength coach has been sending stuff out through email," Minter said. “I’ve also been just doing some stuff that my trainer has been sending me, trying to do some stuff around the neighborhood and do some running.

“I try to stay away from people as much as possible, but it’s definitely a struggle. We’ve had to rework the whole strategy this offseason and kind of just take it day by day."

With NFL facilities shut down, there won't be any contact with other players anytime soon, leaving Bucs like cornerback Mazzi Wilkins, left, charged with their own conditioning for a bit.
With NFL facilities shut down, there won't be any contact with other players anytime soon, leaving Bucs like cornerback Mazzi Wilkins, left, charged with their own conditioning for a bit. [ Times ]

Cameron Brate followed the news closely about the coronavirus. Fortunately, the house he recently purchased in south Tampa had enough space in the garage for him to purchase weight-lifting equipment and set up a makeshift gym since NFL facilities are closed.

“I kind of saw this coming," Brate said. “By mid-March, I had some connections and luckily we had moved into the house. I have enough space in the garage to put a ton of equipment. I use some of the parks for running. They’ve closed some of those down as well. That’s been the biggest challenge."

Typically, Phase 1 of the Bucs’ offseason workout program would have begun this week, overseen by strength and conditioning coach Anthony Piroli.

“It’s a huge problem," coach Bruce Arians said. “Anthony Piroli handles each guy individually, so each guy has a workout routine for them. Now it’s finding a spot to do it. Not everyone has a gym in their home, you know?

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“That’s probably the hardest thing for guys to stay in lifting shape, especially in conditioning shape for this time of year because this is a build-up time for (organized team activities). You always like to build in March to get ready for April. So it’s hard on them."

Related: Tampa Bay’s NFL draft prospects tackle a new normal in getting noticed

This a particularly important time for Wilkins. A year ago, before signing with the Bucs in late July, he was shoveling sand and helping to build a beach at a new hotel and resort on Treasure Island. The former USF standout earned a spot on the practice squad and played in five games, recording three tackles.

“It feels good to be where I’m taking a step, but with that comes pressure and I know I have to do way better,” Wilkins said. “I’ve gotten a little time and I’ve seen a little, I’ve been programed in the NFL for a year. But now I’m more ready to solidify myself in the league."

Wilkins says he has done Yoga University on YouTube. With only some kettlebells and dumbbells at his disposal, he is mostly focused on technique and explosiveness in small spaces.

“I’ve been concentrating on the little things in my game where I do not have to move too much," Wilkins said. “The smaller things, like stance and starts. Getting good breaks, 2-3 steps, a good burst."

This would usually be a busy month for strength and conditioning coach Anthony Piroli.
This would usually be a busy month for strength and conditioning coach Anthony Piroli. [ Times ]

A year ago, Brate’s offseason was spent recovering from hip surgery. He felt as if he didn’t have much time to improve his game, just prepare his body to play in one.

Although his numbers didn’t drop dramatically, something seemed to be missing. Brate finished with 36 catches for 311 yards and four touchdowns. His 8.6-yard average was the lowest in his career.

But 2020 is expected to be a breakout year. He re-negotiated his contract, taking a pay cut from $6-million to $4.25-million to remain with the team. Lately, the only passes he has caught have been thrown by his girlfriend, Brooke Skelley.

“It’s super encouraging the way I feel," Brate said. “Everything just takes time. Last offseason all my work was put into rehabbing my hip. Now I’m able to get back to working on my game, my strength and speed and I’m real happy where I’m at and for the first time in few years."

With a wife and young children, Minter says he doesn’t want to take any chances and is adhering to social distancing, even when working out.

Quite frankly, Minter is a little apprehensive about the future when the NFL allows players to return to work and to team facilities.

“You get kind of nervous. ... You definitely don’t want to put (your family) in harm’s way by going to the facility," he said. "Just being honest, a cold at the facility normally gets spread pretty fast among the team. So, you know, I can only imagine what this virus could do. At the same time, if we all get tested and we all took that, hopefully we can get the season started.

“Some of the stuff I’ve been hearing, how they’re going to isolate us and such, they do a pretty good job of that. We might be able to hit the ground running and this still could be a good season."

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