Coach Arians gives his insight into the start of training camp and the 2020 season amid Covid-19 restrictions and new protocols
By: Michelle Sabin
Sports Talk Florida – Bucs Reporter
Buccaneers Head Coach Bruce Arians is very confident the NFL will be able to pull off a 16-game season. He admits that while the protocols in place are, to him, extremely safe, it’s ultimately going to take discipline from the coaches, players and staff being smart when they leave the building.
This is coming off the heels of the Miami Marlins announcing a number of players and coaches testing positive with Covid-19 at the return of the MLB season. Coach Arians differentiated the two sports, saying “baseball’s got to travel to the cities and stay a lot longer than we do. We’re in and out. There won’t be any going out to restaurants and that type of thing. We’ll try to sanitize the hotel that we’re at as best we can, and the visiting locker room. Then, just get back on the plane and come home.”
And while the NBA seems to have found success with their self-proclaimed “bubble” in Orlando, Coach Arians does not see that working for football, claiming “obviously, the bubble’s not going to work with as many guys as we have. We have 120-something on the field every day.”
The NFL and NFLPA recently reached an agreement that allows for 16-man practice squads, player opt-outs and the absence of a preseason. High-risk players who opt out of the 2020 season will receive a $350,000 stipend and their contracts tolled. A player who is not high risk but voluntarily opt-outs will receive $150,000, and their contracts will be also tolled.
Players from several teams around the league have already started opting out, but Coach Arians denied having knowledge of any Buccaneers who will do so, including Donovan Smith, who had previously indicated he may not play this year.
Arians expects Smith to report on time for training camp; however, he also added, “obviously it’s a personal choice for guys to do this and I respect their choice.” If Donovan Smith does opt out, Arians said they have guys ready to go at left tackle, including Joe Haeg, Tristan Wirfs and Brad Seaton.
The lack of offseason practices and preseason games will impact the quality of play at the start of the 2020 season. Arians said, “I think it’s definitely going to take a hit. You’re not going to be in the same football shape you [would have been in if] you had all the learning that takes place in the spring and a true training camp with four preseason games to look at a lot of young players. So yeah, it’s going to take a hit.”
He said there’s a big impact with “the offensive line and defensive line not being able to work on pad level. We’re going to have 14 days in pads – that is not a lot of time to get ready to play in a ballgame against really quality opponents, but we’re going to have to get it done.”
According to Arians, the rookies missed over 400 snaps this spring, but he has a plan to bring everyone up to speed in training camp, saying “we’ll try to catch back up and do two fields of practice when we’re in limited, 90-minute to 125-minute practices – we’ll probably do a lot of two-field stuff like we did in OTAs.”
This will be a critical time for the players vying for their spots on Sunday, because Arians clarified, “I don’t have anybody penciled in as starters until I see them play and not make mistakes.”
He does feel good about the veteran leadership on the team, especially on the defensive side of the ball. For the offense, Arians explained, “when you add Tom [Brady] and Rob [Gronkowski] to go along with the guys we have on offense – we’re still young on offense, but they’re very, very mature people and players”, adding “Mike Evans is a great leader, [and] Chris Godwin. We’ve got tons of leadership.”
QB Tom Brady is reportedly way ahead of the curve on picking up the Buccaneers offense, but the collaboration will begin once camp starts. Arians made it clear that this process is a dual effort, saying “him learning what we do, me learning what he likes, meeting in the middle and doing a lot of different things. I’m not going to ask the other 21 guys to learn something new when they’ve already had a good year and good experiences in the offense.”
While speaking on the depth of talent of WR John Franklin III and finding a place for him, Arians acknowledged that “he can throw and he’s coming in as a wide receiver, so he will be in the offensive rooms. He could possibly give the Buccaneers a third quarterback.”
There is also a possibility the Bucs add a third quarterback to the roster, who Arians explained they would keep away from the team, or allow only virtual involvement. This decision will come after training camp, once they know their protocols and see how everything is working.
On the defensive side, Arians discussed the pass rush, giving a shout out to Anthony Nelson who came back from a knee injury and Arians felt was solid in the games. He is anxious to work with the young players who “have a lot of speed off the edge” including Kazhin Daniels, Quinton Bell, and Michael Divinity. Arians also wants to see continued growth from veteran pas rushers Lavonte David (who was just named top 100 in the NFL) and Devin White.
Overall, Coach Arians said “I really like our ball club. Knock on wood we can stay healthy this year and do the things we want to do. We want to get in the playoffs.” Buccaneers fans are just as hopeful to see the season start and make it the full 16 games – a playoff run in January would be the best part of leaving 2020 behind.