WHIPPANY, NJ (WFLA) — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will remember their New Jersey summer trip for years to come.
What began as a planned two-day practice session with the New York Jets wound up being an impromptu side trip to another NFL team facility and lost repetitions replaced by a gain-in-play installation.
The week culminates on Saturday with a preseason game between the Bucs and Jets.
The plan was set in place earlier during the spring. A Saturday game would mean two practice sessions at the Jets facility in Florham Park. But before the Bucs departed for Newark on Tuesday, they were informed that the Jets would prefer just one practice.
While no official explanation was given, the Bucs had two adjustments to make.
How much of a practice plan for an actual opponent could the squeeze into a couple of hours? And where would they practice on Thursday?
Wednesday’s energy was instant, thanks mostly to the cameras of HBO’s ‘Hard Knocks’ documenting every move made by Jets’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Jets fans did the familiar “J-E-T-S” cheer.
A festive atmosphere was immediately tempered by a devastating injury to Bucs’ wide receiver Russell Gage Jr., who tore his patellar tendon in a non-contact moment. Bucs offensive players and Jets defensive players stood stunned while an emotional Gage was carted off the field.
Then, the energy met high intensity as skirmishes between the two teams began to erupt. What first began as a chippy punt return session picked up when Bucs’ linebacker Lavonte David got involved with a Jets player, landing a blow before the two were separated.
Other incidents followed, including one involving Bucs’ right tackle Luke Goedeke.
“It turned out really well besides all that stuff,” David said. “Got to get better. Definitely in between the lines, everything was smooth.”
It was a very productive day for the Bucs, but then the plan changed. Without a practice site for Thursday, the Bucs looked at all options and ran into a stroke of luck.
The New York Giants, who practice at their facility adjacent to MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, had Thursday off. They opened their doors for the Bucs, who boarded busses early Thursday and traveled 25 miles from the team hotel to the Giants facility.
Instead of a padded practice with the Jets, the Bucs went into an installation mode, running offensive and defensive schemes, adding to what the team has already learned during training camp.
Head coach Todd Bowles noted after practice that the team had to adjust the same way teams have to change their plans during a game. By the time practice was over, the day was considered a success. But cornerback Carlton Davis III said he would have also liked to go up against the Jets for another time.
“I really was disappointed because I was looking forward to competing with those guys,” Davis said. “We got some good work in, but you know, the first day is the feel out. You get your feet wet. The next day is when you really get it on. So, you know, it’s going to be a party.”
The Bucs will have to settle for a preseason party on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at MetLife Stadium.