Editor’s note: Below is the story of a man who visited the Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp. His name is Alen, and he did it on Saturday.
I’m visiting a Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp practice for the first time today. Held at the practice fields a few hundred feet from Raymond James Stadium, it’s set to begin at 8:45 a.m., just about the time I park my car on a grassy and wet “parking lot”. I’m parked in the visitors area opposed to media because despite having been issued credentials by a Bucs PR coordinator, I want to experience the camp as a fan.
I’m parked next to a big, black truck. I end up doing so after being instructed by the parking crew to follow it all the way down to the end of the invisible parking lanes. The truck driver never went all the way down, though. There was a king-sized puddle of water and he smartly left it for some other bozo to park in it. I was going to be that bozo until the passenger in my car suggested otherwise.
After an hour-and-a-half commute, my immediate reaction is to get out and stretch my tall and wiry body. Weighing in at 144 pounds and 6-foot-1 tall, I become really numb at a certain hind part and creaky at others after an extended sit. While stretching, I scan the area, observing the mid-sized green trees and lamp posts randomly placed along the lot. Each post has a poster attached to it. The first I see features Dashon Goldson, the newly minted free agent signing from the San Francisco 49ers.
I cross over to the concrete and walk toward the stadium, only to quickly change direction like a safety would and head toward the practice field after seeing that’s where everyone else was going. The path to it is decorated with advertisers, a ship, and three vehicles. Stationed to the left, the pirate ship is a replica of the one that’s docked in the stadium and the vehicles on the right vary in size, with two being Ford Raptors trucks — one maroon-ish, one black — and the other a van. The Tampa Tribune, the official team newspaper, is also stationed right behind the ship and like any other modern day print newspaper, it receives no attention.
A slight left and follow of the crowd leads me toward two parallel fields. As I walk toward them, I pass in between a set of large white tents and pods that remind me of a military setting. Something about their organized positioning and loud whiteness gives that vibe. The white first aid pod to my left also helps. They’re all occupied by a plethora of random people, fans and sellers, that I try to avoid in fear of being shafted into spending serious sums of money.
I’m finally at the practice fields now and a squinting security guard directs us to my left, through an L-shaped tunnel of sitting observers. The majority of them are draped in team gear and drenched in sweat, wiping their bald heads with towels and clapping for the players stretching. I suppose this is how they prove their passion — yell the loudest, clap the loudest, and dress the loudest.
I turn the corner in search of a seat and manage to find one at roughly midfield. I go up three silver bleacher seats and sit, waiting for players to hear commands about the next step they’re taking. I also take a paranoid moment to scan my surroundings, and my eye is drawn to a sweaty fellow to my right. He claps loudly and yells “yeah!” at the stretching players while the rest of us sit quietly. There’s always one.
The players are done stretching and I can’t help but notice running back Doug Martin. He’s chiseled, built like a Greek god from head to toe. His backside, specifically, which isn’t something I typically look at in the same sex, doesn’t go unnoticed. After idly standing, he quickly lines up, runs a couple of short square-ins and effortlessly catches passes.
Further upfield and to the right are three quarterbacks standing, led by returning starter Josh Freeman. He wipes his face with a towel through his facemask as he stands to the left. In the middle is towering third-round rookie Mike Glennon and to the right is No. 2, Adam Weber, a second-year man. They’re all wearing green, an indication that they cannot be tackled by defenders.
Off to the left end of the field are several linebackers and defensive backs. Linebacker Dekoda Watson stands out from the group, as he’s quietly separated into the background. He’s likely listening to the coaches and waiting for his turn in a hand-fighting drill that sees each defender shoot up from a four-point stance and come forward.
The next drill emphasizes man coverage techniques. Linebackers and defensive backs are all instructed to press the offensive player at the line and then stay at their inside hip. Some struggle with it and are talked to individually as a consequence.
Following the defensive drills, it’s the special teams’ turn to take a stab at practice. The punter walks out and lines up deep into his own red zone, ready to catch the long snap from the long snapper and punt the ball to the return man. Eventually, there ends up being two players who catch punts separately, Eric Page and Chris Owusu, both fighting for a final roster spot. They manage to haul in the ones that came to them. Not all did, though, as two sailed wide and out of bounds.
I’m losing interest in the special teams drills. Honestly, they’re not that interesting, and it’s not helping that the Florida sun is beaming directly onto my forehead. It’s hot, and the sweaty armpits all around me confirm that.
I grab my phone and camera and start to move back toward the right, where more defensive backs are doing drills. One of them not participating is the $16 million man, Darrelle Revis. He’s in the back of the group, watching his teammates go through reps as he continues to practice lightly after coming off a serious knee injury. The group turns and lines up in a horizontal line like they are getting ready to run sprints. Revis moves behind them and keeps watching with both hands and helmet behind his back.
The position drills have just ended and all the players are jogging to join their teammates in between the two fields. This is a dangerous time to be in the bleachers. There’s no action on the field, thus there’s nothing to watch. People can’t keep quiet to themselves at this stage of practice, and so they began to chit-chat to random others. I thought I’d be safe in the shade, where only a handful of people were, but I was wrong.
I don’t know his name, but I know that he hails from South Dakota. He mentioned this, along with the fact that he was a huge Bucs fan. I couldn’t tell by the autographed No. 19 Mike Williams jersey and his stories about going to games in Lambeau to watch the team play. He wouldn’t stop talking, even though I wasn’t making eye contact. I thought this was the beginning of the end so I tried to inch away and snap more pictures, using that as my get-free card. I made it out.
My escape leads me to watch the offensive linemen practice combination blocking next to the goal post. There are two offensive linemen that line up with their hand in the ground across from one defensive lineman and a linebacker setup roughly five yards behind the line of scrimmage. When the drill begins, both linemen engage with the defensive lineman and then the one furthest left disengages, climbs to the second level, and blocks the flowing linebacker toward the sideline. If this drill is any indication of the coming season, the offense will look to get the ultra-talented Martin in the open field more and mainly moving forward, which he excels at.
Following the combination blocking drill, the same group of linemen practice flowing laterally and building a wall of blocks. It’s interesting to watch how the blocking is practiced and then how it’s used in games; both are done very similarly, although the latter has more moving pieces that makes it difficult to execute.
The linemen continue to practice, now working on their hand quickness. Two linemen are holding up blocking bags while another relentlessly punches them side-to-side. There’s also other linemen and tight ends blocking, such as free agent signing Tom Crabtree, who has now been pushed back twice in the drill.
After observing the linemen, I make an effort to catch the defensive backs on the other field. They’re at the far right and are admittedly difficult to see. It’s one of the pitfalls of being a non-credentialed fan.
Another pitfall is the difficulty of snapping pictures; the squinting security guard that I met when I first came to the practice is back again and reminds me twice that I can’t stand next to the red fence and take pictures. I have to be back where the seated observers are. Nevertheless, I take a few pictures of the defensive backs standing and talking among each other.
One of the pictures I’m unable to get is of Revis dropping into coverage. It’s part of his light practice, and I see him cover in a small window between two of his teammates. He looks fluid and not apprehensive about his surgically-repaired knee. I’m impressed.
What I’m not impressed about is the increasing difficulty of watching this morning practice. The covered bleachers are trapping the sun’s rays and making it even hotter than it really is. In addition to the heat, the players are just far enough away to make it difficult to analyze their performance in-depth. All in all, the bleachers are not a prime location to study football. It’s certainly not like sitting at home and rewinding the All-22 film.
On that note, I step away from the red fence one last time and start to walk away from the field. I’m heading toward my car, passing by the white tents and first aid pod that reminds me so much of a military camp. As I get closer to my car, I see the Ford Raptors trucks and the pirate ship again. I hear that the maroon-ish colored Raptor costs $51,000, and head home.