TAMPA — What the Buccaneers began Monday when they assembled at One Buc Place for the first time under new coach Lovie Smith is known around the NFL as an offseason workout program.
Oddly, players don't get much of a chance to actually work out during this period of the offseason.
For starters, the entire program is voluntary, and while players can spend as much as a whopping four hours per day at the team facility, the team can only dictate what the players do for two of those hours.
Most of the players' time is devoted to learning offensive and defensive schemes. That's the boring part of football, but for a team like the Bucs, it's critical this is time well spent.
New coaches bring new schemes, new plays and new terminology. It takes time to learn all that, but it has to be learned now if a team hopes to contend once the season starts.
“When you're starting from scratch and building, you have to do it in such a way that you have a foundation in place (by the end) of the spring,” Bucs wide receiver Vincent Jackson said.
“When you start up in training camp, you don't want to be behind the eight ball saying, 'Oh well, it's our first year together. We should have more time to learn.'
“No, we're putting this together now and we're doing it the right way this spring so that when we hit training camp we're just fine-tuning and getting ready to roll.”
The NFL recognizes how important it is to build that foundation. It gives teams with new coaches a two-week head start on their offseason workout programs and an extra minicamp to help even the playing field.
It's up to the new coaches to take advantage of that extra time and get their new systems installed, but it's up to the players, as well, Jackson said. He's confident Bucs players will take advantage of the time.
“It's about putting in the time and being accountable — just showing up, and I think we'll have north of 95 percent attendance throughout the spring from our guys,” he said.
“That's going to be huge for us — to have guys in the building getting to know each other and getting to know the system and putting the work in out there on the field. That's going to give us the head start we need to catch up. Other teams have been together for a few years and have their systems installed. We don't have that luxury, so this time of year is important for us.”
Now entering his third year in the league, 2013 All-Pro linebacker Lavonte David might be expected to take on more of a leadership role on the defensive side of the ball this year.
David, though, seems a bit hesitant.
Quiet by nature, he said he is starting to exert himself a little more than in the past, but he is not ready to push the unquestioned leader of the defense aside: two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.
“Right now, Gerald is the clear-cut leader,” David said. “There are times when guys come to me, and I do step in when something needs to be said, but right now, I'm going to leave that role to Gerald.”
He can't erase it from the record books, but Smith has officially put the Bucs' 2013 season behind him and wants his players to do the same.
“To me, it doesn't really matter what happened last year,” Smith said recently. “For me, it's all about going forward and creating the best situation and the best group of men we can for our needs going forward. It's really as simple as that.''