When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers open training camp on July 25 at Disney's Wide World of Sports in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., it will mark the 12th camp for cornerback Ronde Barber, who has spent his entire NFL career with the Bucs. Barber, who was a third-round draft pick from the University of Virginia, is a four-time Pro Bowl selection. He has 33 career interceptions for 584 yards in returns, six going for touchdowns.
As told to NFL.com Senior Columnist Vic Carucci
Training camp is a time to reestablish yourself. You reestablish your focus every year. You do that in minicamps and OTAs and everything else during the offseason, but you don't get a real feel for your team or where you're going to be on your team until training camp. At least, that's the way I've always felt.
When I was younger, camp was always about trying to win a job or secure a job. As I've gotten older and kind of established, it's a way to continue to prove to myself and to everybody else that I am that guy. Your testing ground is on the practice field because guys are trying to make the team. You have young receivers going up against the old vet on the other side of the ball, and I have to be able to compete against them.
You have to get yourself in a training-camp frame of mind. You go from being a full-fledged adult, paying taxes and everything else, to having to be in bed at 11 o'clock at night and in your room 15 minutes before that. It does somewhat belittle you to be put into that state. It builds camaraderie among the team to have everybody on the same page, so in that respect, it's definitely worth it. Would I like to go home and sleep in my bed every night? Of course, but I understand the need for the camp regimen.
Anybody is lying if they say they like getting up and going to that first practice of the day, because it's impossible. Your body is taxed from the day before. You're doing your damndest all night long and, really, that next morning to re-hydrate yourself, if you're smart. If you're not, you're sitting with an IV in your arm after practice. It's a stress on your body and it's hard to get up in the morning. The alarm clock goes off way too early every morning of camp. For me, that's 6:55 a.m.
Jon Gruden likes to create a competitive atmosphere in camp. At some point, during whatever we're doing -- whether it's competing in seven-on-sevens, one-on-ones, goal-line situations -- he'll just break a period and we'll go right into a one-on-one session between the O-line and D-line. We form a big circle, and everyone is cheering the respective sides. And Jon's the one calling them out. He'll yell, "Give me Kevin Carter and Luke Petitgout!" That's pretty much his personality and what he always portrays. I like having a competitive atmosphere in training camp. It's essential for the growth of your team to build something amongst the units. If you don't have it, then you just lackadaisically go through camp and go through the motions and run your plays. It's boring.
But camp is a grind. Most days, you run through two practices a day. You're dehydrated. You're facing as much adversity as you can, which is really part of the purpose of camp -- to see how guys deal with adversity, how your body can cope with adversity during the hottest months in the summer. Usually, your most mentally-tough guys are the ones that are standing on top, the ones who are your starters.
GM's perspective: Bill Polian
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And training camp is unique for guys in Florida. We're going to Orlando, where it's stifling because there's no gulf breeze. You get the gulf breeze on the West Coast and you get the sea breeze on the East Coast. We go right in the middle of the damn state, where the air is still and it's humid. It's a challenge to understand your body and how to hydrate yourself and how to make yourself compete for your job, and not everybody's able to deal with it. You see a lot of young guys, and even some veteran guys who we bring in, that just don't know how to prepare themselves for dealing with the heat every day. When you start dehydrating, you start cramping, you start pulling muscles. When you think about it, there's definitely some irony in having training camp at Disney World. Sure, there are some fun aspects of camp, but in reality, we're going to Disney to work and everybody else is going there to vacation.
The worst part of training camp is being away from home. That's the best part, too. You get a chance to separate yourself from your day-to-day life, and, if you're one of the good ones, you get to do something that you really love to do. It attaches all of your focus to it, and that's pretty cool. Training camp is when you really get to know your environment and understand your coaches, because that's when you really get to spend time with them and find out how you relate to them.
When my twin brother, Tiki, was playing for the New York Giants, we would talk with each other throughout our respective camps by phone or through texting. We would share a lot of stories, how things were going, what was happening … basically, "What did you do today?" It's not always easy to do things by yourself, but the unique thing with Tiki and I was that we always shared our experiences. We were very fortunate that way.
As a rookie, camp was exciting just because you were getting your opportunity. It also was very frustrating because I had no idea how to be a professional. I was just going through the motions, going through what I thought was right, and in reality it was probably completely wrong and I struggled as a rookie because of it. I wasn't able to adapt to an NFL camp. Not that it was any harder than what we did at Virginia; it was just the learning and the understanding of what it takes to be successful on this level. It was probably three years in when I finally realized that camp was where you had to establish yourself, that it was the proving ground of every NFL player. It's not in the offseason, because there's no pads, no hitting. It's during training camp when it becomes somewhat real.
Rookie hazing is a part of every camp throughout the league. When Tony Dungy was our coach, he just flat-out refused to have it because he wanted the young guys to get acclimated to the team concept of football. He didn't want them alienated because of their youth. Tony didn't have to threaten any fines. He just looked at you and you knew he was serious. Tony was that father figure that you didn't want to disappoint, so when he said something that definitive, it's not going to happen.
But as vets, you still try to make rookies as uncomfortable as they can be. If you leave your helmet out there on the field, a rookie had better pick it up. That's not even a question. I did that as a rookie, every rookie does. As a rookie, you're trying to establish yourself. You're trying to find a way to fit into the group that you're not yet a part of.
Really, all 32 NFL teams are one big click. You've got to find a way into that click. The teams that do that best during training camp are the ones that are successful, especially early in the season.