NFC South: offseason program

Countdown to offseason work

April, 1, 2013
It won’t be too long before NFC South players get back to work.

Offseason programs don’t start as early as they once did, due to changes in the collective bargaining agreement, but they’ll be starting this month. The offseason program now is broken up into three phases. The first phase includes two weeks that are limited to strength and conditioning and physical rehabilitation activities.

The second phase involves three weeks of on-field workouts that may include player instruction and drills, but no live contact or offense vs. defense drills. The third phase is a four-week period that includes 10 days of organized team activities (OTAs) with no live contact but drills that include offense vs. defense are permitted.

Each team also is allowed to have a mandatory minicamp. Courtesy of the NFL, here’s the schedule for the offseason program for each of the four NFC South teams:

The Atlanta Falcons will begin their program on May 22. Their OTAs will be held May 28 through May 30, June 4 through June 6 and June 11 through June 14. A mandatory minicamp will be held June 18 through June 20.

The Carolina Panthers begin their offseason program April 15. OTAs are scheduled for May 21 through May 23, May 28 through May 20 and June 3 through June 6. The mandatory minicamp is scheduled for June 11 through 13.

The New Orleans Saints start their program April 15. OTAs are scheduled for May 21 through May 23, May 28 through May 30 and June 10 through 13. Minicamp is scheduled for June 4 through June 6.

April 15 is the start date for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offseason program. OTAs are scheduled for May 20 and 21, May 23, May 29 through 31, June 3 and June 4 and June 6 and June 7. The minicamp is scheduled for June 11 through June 13.
As expected, the New Orleans Saints opened their offseason program without quarterback Drew Brees.

I’m sure the fact he is carrying the franchise tag, hasn’t signed his tender and wants a long-term contract is part of the reason Brees didn’t show at the team’s Metairie facility. We’ve known that was coming since Friday, when it was reported that Brees wasn’t planning to attend.

But there’s a bit of a twist to this story. Even if Brees had signed a new contract weeks or months ago, he still might not have joined his teammates Monday. Brees reportedly is in New York at the NFL’s offices. Brees, former New Orleans linebacker Scott Fujita and NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith reportedly are meeting with league officials. NFLPA president Dominique Foxworth and union legal representatives also reportedly are in attendance.

Brees and Fujita are members of the NFLPA’s executive committee. Presumably, the meeting is related to the league’s investigation of player involvement in a bounty program. The NFL already has issued a $500,000 fine, stripped the Saints of two draft picks and suspended coach Sean Payton (for a full season), general manager Mickey Loomis (for the first eight games of the season) and assistant head coach Joe Vitt (for the first six games of the 2012 season).

The league has said 22 to 27 players were involved in the bounty program and has said fines and suspensions are possible. But no official announcement on player discipline has been made.

Buccaneers getting back to work

April, 2, 2012
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers get a little jump on the rest of the NFC South on Monday.

The Bucs get to start their offseason program -- two weeks before the Falcons, Panthers and Saints are allowed to start. That’s because league rules allow teams with a new coach a head start on their offseason programs early. Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano and his staff have been allowed only limited contact with their players up until now and this will represent their first chance to teach what will be new schemes on offense and defense.

“There are tremendous challenges when you implement new systems,’’ Schiano said during last week’s owners meetings. “It’s a game of reps, so the more times we can install, the better we’ll be. You just keep teaching. It’s like the old saying, 'it’s not what you know, it’s what they know.' You can have things in a playbook, but if they can’t do it on the field, on demand, it’s wasted knowledge. We’ll certainly challenge them mentally, but we’re not going to paralyze them mentally.’’

Schiano and his assistants have spent the past few months reviewing a 2011 season in which the Bucs lost their final 10 games and former coach Raheem Morris was fired.

“Other than to evaluate personnel and steal whatever scheme things we like, I didn’t try to over-analyze,’’ Schiano said. “Things kind of got going in the wrong direction and, when that happens, you can try to over-analyze everything. A lot of guys I think are excited about having a fresh start. A lot of people in the organization are looking to start over. The old saying is 'adversity reveals character, it doesn’t build it.' We’ll have our share of adversity. One of the things you train for and prepare is that adversity. To me, that’s mental toughness and there’s certain ways you can build mental toughness. We’ll approach that as a staff. Until you’re in the fire, you don’t know how guys will react. We’ll see.’’

Here’s the bright side: This is probably the start of a healing process for the Buccaneers. It’s hard to imagine things getting much worse than they were late last season. Schiano is known for his organizational skills and ability to build. Morris ran a very loose ship and some players seemed to give limited effort as the losing streak dragged on. Some of those players might already be gone. The ones who return have a lot to prove to Schiano. There’s really nowhere to go but up for the Buccaneers and their new coach.