Now that players are locked out, they cannot enter team facilities, talk to coaches or partake in any official NFL business. They actually don’t have to abide by the personal conduct policy or submit to drug tests either. As Miami Herald writer Jeff Darlington joked last night, it’s kind of like spring break for the players. But that doesn’t exactly make fans feel great either. Especially if you have a young team that could use the work or if you have some guys who know how to find trouble.
Right now the Bucs are in a state of purgatory, they can’t contact their players and players can’t come to One Buc Place. Fortunately the Bucs, like pretty much every other level-headed NFL team, already had a contingency plan in place. Josh Freeman has already been given enough game-tape to fill a room in the NFL films vault. I know that players like Arrelious Benn have been given given rehab directions. But there’s a ton to consider when you look at how this lock-out is going to affect the Buccaneers.
As we all know, Josh Freeman was instrumental in organizing unofficial workouts last off-season, and has said he plans to do the same this off-season. But it’s not as simple as just calling local high schools and getting the guys together. Unfortunately the status of all contracts right now are frozen, meaning players like Cadillac Williams who are a big part of the offense but don’t know whether they’ll be with the team next year are in limbo. And what incentive does a player like Caddy have to go out and potentially risk injury practicing for a team that may not even resign him.
Last year, the Bucs working out independently of the team was a sign of initiative, but they also had some stability backing the efforts. With contracts frozen, no pay coming and players barred from seeking treatment, many players may just opt not risk anything until they are receiving regular paychecks again. I can’t fault anyone for feeling that way. You could blow your knee out during the lockout and never make another dime playing football.
Then you also have players recovering from injuries. As we wrote about a few weeks ago, guys like Arrelious Benn who will be rehabbing all off-season will have to do so away from the team’s training staff. That means that all his progress and any adjustments or follow-ups that need to be made will be done by other doctors and trainers, not the Bucs’. As you could probably imagine, there’s a big difference (beyond just familiarity) in reading someone’s medical chart and in filling it out with them. Here’s another issue, and I’m not saying Benn or anyone on the Bucs are like this, but when a team’s training staff is helping to rehab a player they can stay on top of that guy. The team will make sure every precaution is taken, ever exercise and activity required is completed, etc… When you rehab on your own, there isn’t someone necessarily standing over you making sure you do it right. Don’t want to go home and do the routine the trainer prescribed? Don’t. No one’s going to fine you or anything if you don’t. See what I mean?
The Bucs were the youngest team in football last season and actually, probably will be again next season too. This is the time in a player’s career where coaching is absolutely essential and the Bucs have a roster of young players who are about to receive zero coaching from the Bucs talented staff. When Jeff Faine said Josh Freeman’s workouts would have a limited effectiveness, a lot of fans jumped down his throat (specifically over at JoeBucsFan) but this is exactly what he meant. The amount you can gain from unsupervised, unofficial team drills on a high school field in Tampa is limited. There is no coaching, there’s no way to go back and evaluate the work. It’s very possible the entire team could begin to develop bad habits, and practice them regularly, without coaching. I’m not saying it’s likely. But with regard to fundamentals, mechanics, nuances of route-running any small, seemingly insignificant element of the work being put in, all it takes is the tiniest mistake to begin developing bad habits.
Here’s an example, Josh Freeman drops down and throws side-armed when he feels pressure a lot of the time. That’s not proper mechanics, but it’s how throwing the ball comes naturally to Josh. With coaching from Alex Van Pelt and Greg Olsen the Bucs are working to eliminate that aspect of his delivery. When you throw side-armed it can affect your accuracy and it makes it easier to bat the ball down at the line of scrimmage. Now Freeman normally gets away with it because he’s so athletic, but that’s bad fundamentals. You put in a few months of unsupervised work and all the time spent trying to undo the natural inclination to drop down and throw side-armed can go right out the window. It’s like that for other players too. While at face it’s great the team plans to still meet up and do unofficial work, not having coaches there limits how beneficial that work can actually be. When was the last time a player improved greatly and when asked for the reason he said, “you know, I just played a ton of touch football this offseason.”
I genuinely want to believe every single player on the Bucs is a good person who always makes smart choices. Unfortunately, history says that is not true. The off-season is always a tense time with regard to some players (especially those with previous run-ins). However, typically in the offseason the league’s personal conduct policy and the drug testing that is league-mandated will mitigate some misbehavior because it can very literally cost a player part (or all) of his livelihood.
Right now those league-sanctioned safeguards don’t exist. That’s great news if you’re Jerramy Stevens, but not so good if you’re the Bucs. It may not seem like it, but all the players need to be more careful than ever about being accountable for themselves. Even with no conduct policy, owners can still just straight up cut players once the NFL resumes operations if they found trouble over the lockout. But more than that, there’s no set timetable for when the lockout ends and things revert to business as usual.
It could be weeks, it could be months. But I guarantee you some player will smoke some weed just because there’s not testing, the lockout will end abruptly and he’ll fail a drug test and get suspended. Just because there’s no drug testing now, doesn’t mean as soon as the lockout is over the NFL won’t send a dude to your locker with a cup as soon as you get back in the building. Now, I honestly don’t care if football players smoke pot. I understand it’s banned because it’s illegal (which is why you shouldn’t smoke it), but let’s be honest here for a second. It’s not a performance enhancer, it’s not destructive to your body like alcohol is and I’m pretty sure if players could just go home and smoke a little, you’d have a lot fewer guys getting hammered in clubs and ending their nights in squad cars.
But, the fact remains it’s banned and my philosophical views notwithstanding, there are still going to be players taking advantage of the lack of testing. I hope the Bucs can avoid that pitfall, because as the team learned with Tanard Jackson last year, one suspension can really set a team back.
There’s obviously plenty of other ways the lockout is going to affect the Bucs too. We’ll revisit the topic regularly. So stay posted for coverage of the CBA and your Tampa Bay Buccaneers.