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Bucs rookie undaunted by special teams, masks relaxed and vets may rest longer

Notebook | Coach Bruce Arians wrapped up the second minicamp practice after about an hour Saturday.
Bucs rookie linebacker Grant Stuard isn't hesitant to shine on special teams, something he also did at Houston.
Bucs rookie linebacker Grant Stuard isn't hesitant to shine on special teams, something he also did at Houston. [ CHRIS O'MEARA | Associated Press ]
Published May 15
Updated May 15

TAMPA ― Linebacker Grant Stuard knows the best way for him to make an impact as a rookie is on special teams, an area in which he excelled during his career at Houston.

The Bucs’ seventh-round pick, and last selection in the draft, plans to be one of the best special teams players in the league in his first season.

“I feel like I have the opportunity to be dominant in that area of the game,” the 5-foot-11, 230-pound Stuard said Saturday. “More than likely, it’s about the matchup. And it’s very tough to match up with me with 30 yards of space between us because if you’re a DB or receiver, I’m stronger than you. And if you’re a linebacker or a tight end, I’m going to be faster than you.

“I look at my matchup, feel the matchup and attack them whichever way I need to. But I really feel I’m unblockable in that area of the game so I’m trying to be one of the best players in the league in Year 1 in that area of the football.”

Related: Having found relevance, Bucs late draft pick Grant Stuard now seeks roster spot

Unmask that man

The NFL changed their COVID-19 protocols Saturday to allow for vaccinated players, coaches and personnel to work without face masks. It was a milestone that did not escape the notice of coach Bruce Arians, who is vaccinated.

“Everybody’s out of jail, brother,” Arians said. “It’s a different feeling in the whole building. I know you guys (media) feel it, too. Everybody came to work today and it’s like, there’s a different vibe in the building. It does feel great. It feels fantastic.”

For those who aren’t vaccinated? “It’s like you got the scarlet letter on if you’ve got a mask on in the building,” Arians said. “I don’t think it’s going to be any problem. Some guys will probably not do it, but the majority so far have already.”

Related: Bucs fifth-round selection K.J. Britt has the ‘it’ and ‘hit’ factor

Vets not necessarily welcome

Coach Bruce Arians observes drills during rookie minicamp.
Coach Bruce Arians observes drills during rookie minicamp. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

While the NFL Players’ Association fights for more time off during the offseason, the Bucs and other teams resume voluntary organized team activities May 25.

Arians says it’s important for rookies and players at the “bottom half” of the roster to attend. But he isn’t looking to put any of the team’s 22 returning starters from the Super Bowl 55 championship team on the field even if they do show.

“The length of the season — you plan four to six more weeks of practicing — it will drain you quick this time of year,” Arians said. “Even if they come, you ain’t doing too much. We’ll get you ready in July and August with plenty of time. ... We won a world championship but we did a lot of really bad things on tape that we’ve got to fix. Not necessarily on the field but mentally.”

Arians said he has to keep in mind the Bucs played until February, so their offseason really isn’t as long as most other teams.

He said he learned something from his 2015 Arizona Cardinals team that lost to Carolina in the NFC Championship Game and went 7-8-1 the next season.

“Totally. Just the physical-ness on their bodies and I think you can burn out real fast,” Arians said. “Going to the championship game and coming back and having real strenuous (organized team activities), I learned a little something about that football team.”

Brush with greatness

Stuard can’t wait to begin meeting some of the Bucs veterans who won Super Bowl 55. He had his first brush with greatness Friday when he bumped into tight end Rob Gronkowski.

“I saw Gronk in the hallway,” Stuard said. “I was like, ‘What’s up?’ He was like, ‘What’s up, man?’ And he just kept walking. It was cool.”

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