Buccaneers Head Coach Greg Schiano has recently conceded that, with a roster relying so heavily on a handful of very young players, his team is playing attention to the concept of a “rookie wall.” Tampa Bay’s starting 22 includes three rookies who have opened every game and played virtually every snap – S Mark Barron, RB Doug Martin and LB Lavonte David – and that trio has already played about as much football as they have in any previous season.
Of course, the NFL season is a grind for any player, not just rookies. Schiano believes his team has prepared itself well to handle the rigors of a playoff stretch run.
“That’s how we build our club,” he said. “[Head Strength and Conditioning Coach] Jay Butler and his staff and [Head Trainer] Todd Toriscelli and his staff do an incredible job of doing just that, getting guys ready for the long haul. So much of it is taking care of your body – the weight lifting, the heavy stuff that you do during the offseason. It lightens up a little bit during the season, although not that much lighter, but I think more of it is taking care of their bodies in the training room, doing the little things, spending the extra time in the facility to make sure their bodies are healing.”
The Bucs’ rookie starters are pretty much essential to the team’s playoff hopes. Martin is the team’s leading rusher and the NFL’s leader in yards from scrimmage. David is the team’s leading tackler and among the league’s top producers in that category. Barron is both a hard hitter and a playmaker in the secondary. Earlier this week, Schiano said that their handling of the rookie wall is as much a mental issue as a physical one. Fortunately, they have mentors in the Buccaneer locker room who can help them with both sides of that issue.
“We have great veteran leadership with guys like Ronde Barber and Vincent Jackson, and you go right down the list of guys who know how to take care of their bodies,” said Schiano. “So all the young guys, they look up to those older fellows and they do the same. And that’s critical.”