In a potentially awkward moment, Tampa Bay Buccaneers player representative Jeff Faine and general manager Mark Dominik, on opposite sides of the ongoing NFL labor impasse, suddenly found themselves side by side at Thursday night's Sneaker Soiree, honoring the local sports scene.
Tampa Bay's veteran center and Dominik were each answering questions from the media before the event when they realized they were standing only a few feet apart.
"It's good to see Mark's face,'' said Faine. "I miss (offseason workouts) because I miss being around the guys. I had dinner with (left tackle) Donald Penn the other night and it was fantastic just to see his face. These are the guys you go to work with every single day. You have a relationship with them that goes beyond football.
"You're friends and this situation we're in right now is taking us away from our closest friends. I am an optimist at heart and the next couple of days will tell us a lot about what direction we're heading.''
Faine described the mood of most NFL fans toward the labor dispute as "indifferent'' at this point.
"I think it will be very meaningful if we get closer to August or September, when we'd be getting ready to play games,'' he said. "Right now, the lockout is just something for fans to talk about in the offseason. We have a very young team and it would have been great to have this offseason to build upon last year.
"Our quarterback, Josh Freeman, was at the facility constantly last year, working with his wide receivers before the cameras were even there. This lockout is going to have some impact, but there are teams in a lot worse position than we are. You look at the Tennessee Titans – completely new staff, new quarterback, new playbook. That's tough.''
With all contact between the organization and players prohibited during the lockout, Dominik said his scouting staff is already working diligently on preparing for the 2012 draft.
"We'd love to get going, but it's obviously going to take a little time to get everything worked out,'' said Dominik, who was asked about the workouts Freeman has been leading in the Bay area.
"I'm not surprised because Josh is a leader,'' Dominik said. "Whatever the players decide to do, we're certainly proud of. We'd like to get them back on our grass, but I'm glad Josh has taken it on his shoulders to lead our guys.''
After reading some online comments questioning his commitment to the Bucs, Faine said he will now participate in the informal practice sessions organized by Freeman.
"It was very disappointing,'' Faine said of the critical blog posts. "I know my teammates know what it's really about with me. They know my commitment and dedication. It's something that shouldn't be challenged or questioned.
"I wear my heart on my sleeve and support my guys until the end of the rabbit hole. It definitely hurt me, but I know it didn't come from my teammates. All I know is I'm excited to be part of this football team.''