After the 10th and final OTA practice ended on Friday, the Bucs will have three mandatory mini-camp practices next week from June 4-6 before having some time off until training camp starts in late July. These practices have given coach Bruce Arians the opportunity to see most of his team up and close and personal for the first time.
There is still a long way to go before the season kicks off in September, and changes to the roster will be made, but these practices have given Arians and his staff the time to analyze the players early on and figure out where the direction of this team is going so far.
“I think we accomplished everything that we set out to accomplish these OTAs,” Arians said. “I like where we’re at. Obviously we need a lot more work. We’re not a finished product by any stretch.”
That product will be changing rather quickly, as Arians stated that he will be bringing in some veterans during mini-camp to build more competition and truly get the best 90 players on the roster without naming any names.
“Next week will be fun,” Arians said. “We’ll add some faces, some veteran tryout guys to see how we get to 90 to go to camp and continue to grow as a team. Like I tell the guys, we won’t be a finished product until we get down to 53. There are 90 guys looking for a job and we’ll keep churning that roster until we find the best 53.”
Arians was happy to state that the Bucs worked hard during the OTAs and he’s gotten everything he could want from his guys.
“So far so good,” Arians said. “It’s just a matter of the tempo in which we practice is different, the way we practice is different. Getting two fields, guys have acclimated really well to it, couldn’t ask for any more effort or enthusiasm – maybe better execution – but we’ll get to that.”
Arians had originally planned to cancel the entire last day of practice, though he still felt that the Bucs needed to work out some kinks at practice, including the execution he discussed.
Instead, only the defensive line and a couple of veterans were given the day off for the group to go golfing. Mike Alstott had a charity golf event on Friday, so he wanted some of the guys to bond another way.
“We wanted to support Mike first of all, his foundation,” Arians said. “My whole goal all along was to cancel this practice totally, but we just weren’t far enough along, so that’s what I told him last night. It’s a great fundraiser, I’m hoping those guys have a good time, there was a bunch of young guys that were scared to go play, and they probably shouldn’t, veterans, it’s okay.”
As necessary as it is to get reps in, Arians also sees the importance of building that team identity on and off the field. When he had a year away from coaching, Arians recalled that it was the unity that he built with others that he missed most. That probably explains why he had some of his former players from Temple – the first team he ever was a head coach for – at practice on Friday. It’s that type of sentiment that he’s looking to instill in the Bucs.
“That’s always been the fun part,” Arians said. “Working with Jason (Licht), all our scouts and coaches, building a team and an identity. People want to say ‘culture’ but I call it an identity. That’s the most fun in this business – building relationships. You saw all these kids from Temple from back in the ’80’s that I’m still close to, building relationships is what I missed the most when I wasn’t coaching.”
The emphasis on team-building is what Arians thinks will make the Bucs a team that works better than others. It’s what makes a team aggressive even in practices where they’re not wearing pads and technically are not allowed to hit their opponent. Arians saw enough though to confidently predict that the team’s aggressive nature will carry over once the pads are on in training camp.
“That part’s really hard,” Arians said. “We talk about being smart, fast, and physical, but the physical part we have to wait. You can only do so much in shorts. But I like the attitude and what we’re practicing and I see that transferring over to practice very very quick.”
Adding to this mindset of course is the addition of defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. Much has been made of Suh’s reputation for playing with an edge to his game, with sometimes taking it too far. Many also believe that this edge was needed for the Bucs. Arians will tell you though that the Bucs have had it this whole time.
“It’s already happened,” Arians said in regards to having his defense play with a mentality like Suh. “He’s just going to fit in with the rest of the guys now. They’re playing that way.”