After a month filled with muggy training camp practices and four preseason games, Tampa Bay Buccaneers players are eager to show off the results of all that preparation.
With a new head coach (Greg Schiano) and as many as nine potential new starters, the Bucs are closing in on the Sept. 9 opener against Carolina at Raymond James Stadium, where a frustrated fan base will be looking for a reason to believe.
Tampa Bay split its four exhibition games, losing the finale 30-3 at Washington on Wednesday night as Schiano rested his regulars.
"We'll be ready a week from Sunday," WR Mike Williams said after Thursday's practice. "If you want to read anything into the preseason, I'd look more at the Patriots game (a 30-28 win), when most of our starters played three quarters.
"I just want to get in the playoffs after being here two years. (Fifth-year CB) Aqib Talib told me he hasn't seen the playoffs since he's been here. I don't care how we get in, I just want to be a part of it."
Veteran WR Vincent Jackson, signed as a free agent from San Diego, connected with QB Josh Freeman early against the Patriots last week, offering fans a tantalizing glimpse of a new passing combination.
"The rapport between me and Josh is absolutely great," Jackson said. "We've been learning this offense together since April and we have confidence in each other. I know we'll be ready to go when the bullets are real against the Panthers."
Williams has been sporting a bushy beard since the start of training camp, but the third-year pro is returning to a more clean-shaven look.
"I've got to take off this beard," he said. "When I wake up and wash my face, I've always got to take extra time getting it clean, so I'm getting rid of it."
In addition to deciding on a final 53-man roster heading into the regular season, Schiano and his staff must replace Davin Joseph as Tampa Bay's starter at right guard.
The Pro Bowl lineman tore his patellar tendon last week, leaving Ted Larsen, Derek Hardman and Jamon Meredith competing for Joseph's position.
The Bucs yielded five first-half sacks at Washington, and QB Brett Ratliff was unable to step into his throws because of constant pressure.
"Certain guys at times did well," Schiano said of Wednesday night's effort up front, "but there was a little confusion from guys that haven't played together."
Schiano said Meredith and Larsen worked with the first units during Thursday's practice.
"There was no like, 'Wow, that's it, that's the guy' moment," Schiano said after watching Wednesday's game tape. "It's the body of work."