Bucs offensive tackle Donald Penn has never been short on confidence or afraid to speak his mind. Thursday was no different as the veteran left tackle spoke freely with the media as the team wrapped up its offseason program.
All the pressure in the world was on Bucs offensive tackle Donald Penn.
The entire team gathered around the veteran lineman shouting encouragement halfway through the final day of Tampa Bay’s three-day mandatory mini-camp. Penn was ready as the JUGGS machine shot the football through the bright sunshine. Calmly, Penn stepped under the descending football as it fell into his arms. The practice field erupted with cheers and high fives, as if the Buccaneers had just clinched a playoff berth.
The catch signaled the end of the first mandatory mini-camp for the Buccaneers under new head coach Greg Schiano, and a nearly six-week break before the team and coaches will next get together for the start of training camp at the end of July.
“I was joking around with coach [Schiano] about what a great athlete I am and he threw that up there and I did a good job,” Penn said. “I know I can catch and you guys [the media] know I can catch. If I had dropped it we would have had to continue practicing. So since I caught it we ended practice early, which is great. We have been working hard, real hard, and put in a lot of work. And for him to do that today just shows how much work we put in and [that we're] doing a good job for coach to give us that day off.
Penn was asked why out of the 88 players in attendance he was given the honor – and pressure – of ending the mini-camp early.
"I don’t know, maybe because I talk so much,” Penn said. “I was talking about how good of an athlete I was, but I’m glad he put it on me. Because I knew I was going to catch it and I knew I was going to be able to do it for the team. I kind of like those challenges.
“He could have given me a little warning so I could have talked to Preston Parker and got some pointers. But it was spur of the moment and we've been doing a lot of that. Yesterday we did a lot of situational stuff. Spur of the moment he'll blow the whistle and we'll go team and it'll be situational stuff, which is big. With this young team we need to learn that situational stuff fast. So that's good.”
Penn went on to talk about the difference in this season’s OTAs and mini-camps versus years past.
"To tell you the truth, the intensity. Coach asked for it to be here and it stayed there all three days,” Penn said. “And it didn’t drop, really. That's the one big thing you have to take into the next few weeks off and take into camp. We are competing out there. A couple times a defensive guy made a play and I had to go congratulate them. [Anthony] Gaitor made a good play on [Vincent] Jackson in the end zone yesterday and I had to go congratulate Gaitor because it was such a good play. And I’m on offense and we're competing. But the intensity level is there and we're fighting and working.”
Changing a culture of losing, as Tampa Bay did in 2011, isn’t always easy, but Penn said it starts at the top with the leadership of Schiano.
“Everyone has bought in,” Penn said. “And that is something Coach Schiano said when he first got here was that the sooner we buy in the sooner we will start winning. And I think everyone is buying in. No one likes losing. Last year was real tough on everybody. Losing that many games at the end it was tough, real tough. I don’t think anyone in that locker room wants that feeling again. I definitely don’t.
“I bought in when I first met with coach Schiano when he first got here. I was already bought in. I want to win. Everybody in that locker room knows what they put out last year wasn’t as good as it should have been. We were hoping Rah [Raheem Morris] was going to be here to do it with him but that’s part of the game, it has changed with Coach Schiano coming in. I was already bought in coming into this offseason. I wanted to get stronger. I was kind of excited with the moves we made. I kind of want the season to start right now.”
With the three-day mini-camp in the books, the next official time the team will be back together will be in late July with the start of training camp. Penn has some big plans set for the almost six-week break.
“Yeah I am getting married in July,” Penn said. “I’m going home to get ready for that. Chill with my family, get my training together. I’m going to try and make this year one of my best years yet. So that is my plan. I got big Carl [Nicks] next to me and he'll make me a better player than I am, so this year coming up I want to be one of my best years yet.”
Penn thinks this season may surprise some people and his confidence was apparent when describing what he expects from the 2012 season.
“I always tell you guys [that] I talk a lot of stuff, but I back it up,” Penn said. “You have got to be confidant to play this game. If you don’t have confidence to play this game then you aren’t going to be good at it. That’s my opinion and that’s how Schiano feels. That is what he is bringing to us.
“We have to go in there confident. We are going to go in there on Sunday and we are going to have the sun on our side and the fans on our side. And that is our plan this year. We're going to run people out of that stadium. We're going to be in the best shape, we're going to play the longest and we're going to be physical and tough. And we're going to be perfect at all the little things.”
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