TAMPA — Nothing like a visit to the White House and receiving a Super Bowl ring the size of a manhole cover to make you forget about last year.
But that’s what the Bucs have to do when they report to training camp Saturday to begin preparing for the 2021 season as defending NFL champions.
Like 31 other teams, they have had a precipitous fall from the league’s summit.
The first workout is Sunday, and the first preseason game is Aug. 13 against the Cincinnati Bengals.
All 22 starters return from the Super Bowl 55 team, and job openings will be scarce. That said, Bucs players and coaches insist they’re not hanging on to yesterdays.
“That’s the thing about the whole building. Nobody is worried about last year,” linebacker Devin White said. “Yeah, obviously we got the same team back and we know what that team did. But we’re working on building it with each other again and being better than last year.
“That’s all we talk about is stacking the days, and the only thing that counts is when we’re on the field in that moment. Tomorrow don’t count and yesterday don’t count. It’s all about that day and that moment.”
That’s the influence of quarterback Tom Brady, arguably the most process-oriented player in the league.
Even as the Bucs were preparing to take one final victory lap last week, with Brady cracking jokes with President Joe Biden and players hamming it up with their rings on Instagram, coach Bruce Arians already had informed his players to prepare for a grueling training camp with the only focus on getting better for 2021.
“It’s new year. Coach did an amazing job setting the tone,” defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh said. “... The focus is on what the task is in front of us. Everything that happened last year is water under the bridge.
“He laid out the pillars and expectations of every single guy, and you’ve got to earn your spot, every single guy.”
A year ago, Arians said the Bucs needed to defeat COVID-19 before they could worry about other opponents.
On Thursday, the NFL notified all 32 teams that in the event a game can’t be rescheduled due to a COVID-19 outbreak that stems from unvaccinated players, that team will forfeit the game. It also will impact playoff seeding.
A year ago, with no vaccines, only three Bucs players missed games due to COVID-19: running back Ronald Jones, White and receiver/kick returner Jaydon Mickens.
On Friday, the Bucs placed safety Jordan Whitehead on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Whitehead, who played in the Super Bowl with a torn rotator cuff, did not accompany the Bucs on their visit to the White House Tuesday or attend the ring ceremony Thursday.
Receiver John Franklin (knee) and defensive back Chris Wilcox (hamstring) will begin training camp on the Physically Unable to Perform list.
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With the continuity of the coaching staff — both offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles return — the Bucs will start the 2021 season far ahead of where they were this time a year ago.
“We didn’t have the install coming into (mini)camp,” White said. “We just hit the ground running. We didn’t have a meeting. This time when we got there, it was straight to practice. because they know we know our stuff. Offense and defense. That’s the good thing about having guys who have been in the system. ... We have the best defensive coordinator in the game, so now he can call more.”
Try as they might, there’s no escaping how winning a Super Bowl has changed the trajectory of their careers and life.
“We all had a hand in turning it around. That’s the No. 1 reason I’ll be remembered forever,” White said. “And the number two way it impacted my life is that it got me more notoriety, because when you’re in the playoffs, there’s not too many games on.”
Receiver Mike Evans agreed. “People recognize me more and more, and it’s always like, ‘Congratulations on a Super Bowl,’ and ‘go get another one,’ so it’s cool.”
Now if only the Bucs can forget about that Super Bowl they won less than six months ago.
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