Several Bucs players had mixed reactions while seeing NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA executive DeMaurice Smith together at the team's unofficial mini-camp before attending the rookie symposium last week at IMG.
Members of the Buccaneers were surprised to not only see NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith at Tampa Bay’s unofficial mini-camp last week at the IMG Performance Institute in Bradenton, Fla., but also seeing NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell show up as well. Smith was at IMG to oversee the Players Association’s rookie symposium, which was scheduled due to the fact that the league cancelled its own traditional rookie symposium due to the NFL lockout. Goodell received permission from Smith to also speak to the 2011 rookie class at IMG and also stopped by Bucs practice prior to the symposium.
The lockout has been going for over 100 days as both the NFL owners and representatives from the NFLPA work to come to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement, and some Bucs, like defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, were excited to see Goodell and Smith together at IMG.
“I don’t know how my teammates feel about me right now,” McCoy said. “As you guys have seen at the draft, when I saw Goodell I hugged him. Every time I see him from now on I hug him. I was his friend before the lockout and I’m not going to not be his friend because of the lockout.
“With him showing up and he was with De Smith – that’s a good sign. I’m optimistic about that. So when I saw him I gave him a hug. Everybody was like, ‘Really?’ I don’t care. They’ll get over it. We’re still teammates. We’re still family. I’m going to be cool with it regardless. I am feeling very optimistic seeing both of them together.”
Bucs center Jeff Faine, who is also the team’s player representative, had a polar opposite view of McCoy regarding Smith and Goodell both being present in Bradenton at the same time.
“No, I just think they happened to be at the same place at the same time,” said Faine when asked if he viewed both Goodell and Smith being together as a positive. “I think we still have some room to go.
“We’re still together and we’re fighting for what we believe is right. We’re doing all of this out here [at mini-camp] on our own dime. Working out and being away from home, I think this is showing a little bit of sacrifice on trying to get this team better.”
Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman was indifferent regarding seeing Smith and Goodell together.
“I don’t know,” Freeman said. “Nobody really knows. I didn’t see the commissioner. I saw De, but I really don’t know. Obviously, you have to stay hopeful, but at the same time you never really know.”
Once the lockout ends and football resumes, Freeman expects that the players are ready to put any animosity towards Goodell and the owners aside.
“We really are,” Freeman said. “When all this is over we have to get back to football being the main focus. This [mini-camp] is a step towards that.”
The thing that concerns Faine the most as the Bucs’ player representative is how far behind the NFL’s rookie class is without having the benefit of the rookie mini-camp, OTAs (organized team activities) and the mandatory mini-camp over the past two months that would normally help acclimate them to life in the league.
“League-wide the rookies are going to be behind the eight ball,” Faine said. “I can’t even imagine going to training camp without an offseason as a rookie. That’s one of the hardest things and I think it’s a very, very underrated storyline that these guys will have to find their way around the facility. They will literally have to figure out where the cafeteria is. And you can’t forget about trying to strap up and play against guys that have been playing this game for 10 years.”
Faine believes that the more talented and intelligent players will stand the greatest chance of making an impact during their rookie seasons, but that there will be fewer players that burst on the scene like Detroit defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh did a year ago.
“I think there will be some rookie sensations,” Faine said. “I still think there will be some big-time guys. I think it will probably develop a little later than it did last year, but they are definitely behind the eight ball in the learning curve and they are going to have to learn quick.”
One of the players that had an instant impact during his rookie campaign was Tampa Bay wide receiver Mike Williams, who nearly had a 1,000-yard season and set the franchise record with 11 touchdown catches in 2010. Wide receiver is one position that lends itself to having a couple of breakthrough rookies each year. Several rookie receivers have been taking part in their respective unofficial mini-camps across the league this offseason to become familiar with their quarterbacks, routes and playbook.
Because most of the offseason mini-camp and OTA work revolves around the passing game, rookies like Cincinnati’s A.J. Green, Atlanta’s Julio Jones and Washington’s Leonard Hankerson could still thrive even without the benefit of NFL coaching in the offseason as long as they have been able to work out with their new teams and quarterbacks. By scheduling several passing camps in addition to the unofficial mini-camp last week, Freeman has made sure that Williams and Tampa Bay’s other wide receivers have gotten in all the necessary work this spring and summer.
“Our passing game last year was pretty efficient,” Freeman said. “We can improve on a lot of things whether it is third down or completion percentage. You can just keep tuning up with precision and it’s great to have these guys out here and having this whole offseason to work out with them. There are so many discussions we’ve had as far as different plays, different coverages and different looks. I feel like our guys look great – like we haven’t had a lockout.”
Only time will tell if Freeman’s assessment is correct, and that won’t likely happen until Goodell and Smith can end the lockout.
Copyright © 2011 Pewter Report, PewterReport.com and Pewter Insider. All rights reserved. PewterReport.com, the official site of Pewter Report, is an independent source of news and commentary and is not affiliated with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or the NFL.