PALM HARBOR ― Bruce Arians had to dodge a few raindrops at his family foundation’s golf tournament Monday, but he didn’t duck any questions about his team’s decision not to participate in the NFL’s offseason workout program.
Instead of swinging clubs, the Bucs were to begin pushing iron and working on conditioning at the club’s AdventHealth Training Center this week.
Arians had been critical of veteran players opting out, at one point suggesting they didn’t want rookies to have a chance to take their jobs.
But very little onfield work is permitted until the middle of May and Arians noted meetings would be virtual anyway.
“The opting out thing doesn’t bother me at all,” Arians said. “...Get it started back in your brain. We made a lot of mistakes last year. We were 7-5. We weren’t world beaters at that point in time. Learn from those so when we do get on the field, we’re more than ready to go.”
The Bucs are only a couple months removed from winning Super Bowl 55. Arians’ two-day event at Innisbrook Golf Resort was the first mass interaction many players have had with fans since becoming Super Bowl champions.
“It’s exciting,” receiver Chris Godwin said. “When I first got here, this all feels so weird because we really haven’t been able to do this in a while. To really be able to be closer to people and to have those conversations and see their excitement is awesome. It makes everything we did feel a little bit newer now.”
There’s no doubt, Bucs players are enjoying the recognition that comes with being Super Bowl champions. Both Godwin and receiver Mike Evans said they’ve been recognized more often at random times. Godwin was interrupted while shopping at Whole Foods. Evans was identified as a champion while getting a pizza.
“A guy kept staring me down and he said, ‘Oh, snap! You’re Mike Evans! You won a Super Bowl!’” Evans said. “Everybody in there knew who I was, and it was pretty cool.”
A year ago, with team facilities closed due to COVID-19, Bucs players were making plans to gather at Berkeley Preparatory School for a passing camp with Tom Brady. The quarterback had knee surgery about seven weeks ago and may not be able to throw until in June.
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But Godwin made it clear that when Brady is ready, his teammates will be ready.
“As a collective unit, I think we’re all very passionate about what we have going and I think we see how much better we can be, and so I think we’ll be excited when we get back together,” he said. “... I think we’ll probably get together at some point in the offseason, whenever Tom is ready to go, and start building again.”
The golf outing raised $400,000 to help support programs to prevent child abuse and raise awareness for court-appointed special advocates (CASA) and guardians ad litem.
Here are some other highlights from conversations with players and coaches:
⋅ The Bucs are still basking in their Super Bowl adulation.
“Oh, it’s totally different,” Arians said. “You can see how (the players’) walk is different. The look on their faces is different. They’re actually being recognized as a champion. I go back to what (Brady) said right before the (Super Bowl) game. ‘You guys will be honored for the rest of your life.’ And that speech meant a lot to those guys. It meant a lot to me.”
⋅ Bucs players and coaches believe they will be better in 2021.
“Everybody wants this feeling again,” Evans said. “To me, it doesn’t really feel real but it feels good, and I want to feel this again and everybody else does. That’s why you see guys signing for less money, and we want the team back to try and do this because this doesn’t happen often. ...
“We didn’t have an offseason last year and Tom was learning a new offense on the fly and he did a helluva a job so I feel like our offense will be much better.”
Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles agreed.
“It’s great to have familiarity in your defense, and with these guys coming back, obviously we can grow even further,” he said. “We really haven’t even scratched the surface yet.”
⋅ Even as defending Super Bowl champions, with 22 starters returning, the Bucs believe the 2021 team will have to start over.
“We have to start at the bottom with our fundamentals,” Arians said. “But there’s no strangers in the locker room right now. ... But getting everybody back just showed the bond that team had. And I say that team because this is a new team.”
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