TAMPA, Fla. — The start is like daybreak on a clear morning: All sunshine, little heat. Around NFL training camps in late July, the skies are clear, the dreams large, and for those who follow the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the positive feelings flow.
“Realistically, 10, 11 wins, playoffs, who knows from there?” said Brent McUmber, 29, a fan from Clermont, Fla., as he stood in a Raymond James Stadium concourse Saturday before the Bucs’ night practice. “If we make the playoffs, anything can happen. Joe Flacco proved that.”
With swipes against the Super Bowl MVP aside, McUmber’s take was typical as the Bucs strapped on pads for the first time this training camp. Fans trickled in with visions of Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson, a “No Fly Zone” and an NFC South title dancing in their heads.
The preseason starts Aug. 8 against the Baltimore Ravens. The regular season kicks off Sept. 8 against the New York Jets.
The season for high expectations? It’s already on.
“It’s looking really good,” said David Watts, 23, a fan from Cocoa, Fla. “We already had a good team building with Revis and the other guys that came on this year, plus (wide receiver) Vincent Jackson and (running back) Doug Martin from last year. It’s going to be a good year. We’ve been kind of in a rough patch, and now that we’ve kind of got our team building back up, we’ve got a good foundation again, good defense again. I think we’re going to have a really good season.”
In the fall, there will be time to turn back the dial on the idealism. There will be quality time against Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton. The New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers are all threats, and navigating the NFC South will require surviving some of the NFL’s choppiest waters.
But Saturday was not the time or place for such thoughts. Signs of football had returned, and with it, possibility for the faithful: The sight of beer poured, the smell of hot dogs and french fries served up at concession stands, the sound of the first “Tampa … Bay!” chants.
“I think you see it throughout the whole community,” Bucs co-chairman Bryan Glazer said, standing on the field as fans settled in. “I think you see an atmosphere where people are very excited this year about the team.”
Harvey Rhinehart is one of those people. The 70-year-old from Odessa, Fla., has been a season-ticket holder since the Bucs played in the old Tampa Stadium. So far, he likes what he sees in this newest group wearing pewter and red.
What impressed him most about the Bucs’ offseason?
“Picking up Revis,” he said.
What’s his prediction?
“I’d like to see a division win,” he said. “I’d definitely love to see a Super Bowl win. But we’re still building. Prediction-wise, I’ll say 10-6, 11-5.”
Like any true believer, he has reasons. Plenty of them.
“I think they’re going to be extremely good, because having (guard) Davin Joseph back and Vincent Jackson back, the offense is going to be solid. Let’s pray that no one gets injured. But if they have the line that they have there now playing throughout the season, I think (quarterback Josh) Freeman is going to be extremely good.”
Time will show. The short glimpse Saturday left something to be desired. Coach Greg Schiano said the practice “wasn’t crisp, but it was fun.”
In July, though, “fun” is good enough.
“If they don’t take the division,” said Tyler Combs, 29, a fan from Orlando, Fla., “I think they have a solid shot at the wild card.”