Who says it was all about the money?
In a random poll of Bucs players last week, the vote was unanimous: The best thing about the new labor agreement was the elimination of two-a-day padded practices in training camp.
"That just put four more years on my career," second-year defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said.
Oh, sure, the reduction in padded practices, which carries over into the regular season, will certainly improve each player's quality of life, but what about the quality of play on the field?
Tackling, in particular, has been a fading art in this game for years, and the reduction in padded practices doesn't figure to make the play on the field any crisper. Or does it?
McCoy said he believes there is just as much, if not more, to be gained from running a team through a casual, non-padded walk-through of plays than putting them through an intense padded practice.
"What made us so good last year was our walk-throughs," McCoy said as camp dawned Thursday. "People didn't think it was anything, because we'd go out there and practice (in pads in the afternoon) for an hour and 20 minutes, but what most people don't realize is that we were walking through for an hour and a half earlier in the morning.
"And that's where you actually get your fits down, and then you go back to the classroom and say, 'All right, what did we learn?' Those walk-throughs, that's where you really learn what you're doing and why you're doing it. And I mentioned that to (rookie ends) Adrian (Clayborn) and (Da'Quan) Bowers. I told them, 'The walk-throughs are where you're going to do a lot of your learning.'"
McCoy spoke after an offseason dedicated primarily to getting himself into better physical shape. The work has seemingly paid off. McCoy arrived at camp looking much leaner than a year ago.
He dropped nearly 15 pounds, he said, going from his regular 2010 playing weight of 310 pounds to 296, and reduced his body fat by 6 percent to 16.5. Still, it's the mental aspect of the game that he believes is most important.
"The NFL is a big learning process," he said. "You can't just go out there and play because there are a lot of athletic, strong guys. But the smart ones, the veterans, they eventually get older and lose all that athleticism, and it comes down to technique and smarts, and that's why they're trying to teach us the game — so we know why we're doing what we're doing."
Walking the walk
Speaking of walk-throughs, the term itself suggests a casual walk through plays. Usually, that's what they are, but that's not what the Bucs conducted Friday on the first day of workouts.
What was listed as a morning walk-through looked more like a regular old practice, minus the pads and helmets. There were individual periods for fundamental tutoring and a heavy dose of fast-paced, 11-on-11 work.
That might seem in violation of the new labor agreement, but the league and union bosses would have been naive to think coaches wouldn't push for the most intense workout possible in those "walk-throughs."
Game of chance
If it seems the Bucs delivered mixed messages regarding MLB Barrett Ruud, it's because they were. Yes, the Bucs were willing to move on, but some in the organization wanted Ruud back.
The problem was that the Bucs were willing to bring Ruud back on their terms only, and those terms were not of interest to Ruud, who on Saturday signed a one-year deal with the Titans.
It's a risky game the Bucs are playing at middle linebacker now. There is no guarantee they'll get the same results from rookies this year that they got last year, but it's a risk they're ready and willing to take.