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Bucs wrap up intense offseason overhaul

The SportsXchange

TAMPA, Fla. - In a little more than five months since being hired as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' head coach, Lovie Smith has compiled a new coaching staff, helped overhaul the roster through free agency and the NFL Draft alongside general manager Jason Licht and diligently worked to change the culture of a franchise coming off two turbulent seasons under Greg Schiano.

Even for a man going through his 18th season in the NFL coaching waters, Smith is looking forward to getting away from One Buccaneer Place for a bit as the team wrapped up its final minicamp practice Thursday.

"We all have things to do, but I want the guys to get away for a period of time, completely away from football and enjoy themselves because we have a long haul coming up," Smith said of his parting message to the players. "But while you're there, you can run on the beach down in the Bahamas or wherever, when you come back though, there's some things we've got to do and we have to come back ready to go."

Smith's conditioning program during the downtime will consist of unpacking "about 2,000 boxes" as he gets settled into his new home. He has 43 days until the team opens training camp on July 25.

It will be a different environment for Smith, who returns to the Bucs as head coach after being on Tony Dungy's staff from 1996-2000, when training camp was held at the University of Tampa.

"I'm pretty excited about our training camp here and our fans getting a chance to watch their football team play and practice," said Smith.

The majority of the team's training camp practices will begin at 4:30 ET. Smith noted that's around when most of the team's regular-season games will kick off, and he wants to practice in the heat that can serve as a home-field advantage. He also wants to give fans who work much of the day and opportunity to catch some of practice after leaving the office.

Smith acknowledged the Bucs have undergone a heavy amount of change since he was hired the first week of January. But he is also pleased with the veterans who have stepped up as leaders, naming defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, quarterback Josh McCown and center Evan Dietrich-Smith in particular.

"It could go really right down the line, just have real men that come to work," said Smith. "When I talk about the guys, the smile is real on just believing on the guys. When you come to work and say 'Hey do this,' and they're anxious to do it, how can you not be just kind of pumped up? It is a close locker room and that'll help a lot."

For now, Smith makes no bones about enjoying the time between now and training camp. And he wants his players to come back mentally and physically ready to take on the grind of a long season. The coach has high expectations for his team, but the competition across the board will be fierce.

"We have a lot of new players coming in," said Smith. "But if we say and we mean what we say, putting a group together, get in pads and let's just see how it turns out, see how good we can be.

"We've got to be ready, the Carolina Panthers, division champs coming in (for the Sept. 7 regular-season opener), and they're feeling pretty good about coming down to Raymond James, and we've got to do something about that."

-- The Buccaneers signed third-round running back Charles Sims. Terms were not disclosed.

Sims has impressed the coaching staff during the Bucs' offseason program with his versatility as a runner and receiver. Offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford has indicated his preference for a running back by committee approach, and Sims is vying for playing time in a backfield that includes Doug Martin and Mike James coming off significant injuries as well as Bobby Rainey.

In 48 career games in college between Houston and Virginia, Sims rushed for 3,465 yards and 40 touchdowns on 592 carries, adding 2,108 yards and 11 more touchdowns on 203 receptions.

The Houston native transferred to West Virginia for his senior season.

The ninth-ranked running back in the 2014 class by NFLDraftScout.com, Sims ran a 4.46-second 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine.

According to NDS analyst Dane Brugler, Sims' "size belies impressive quickness and acceleration, making him a tough target for would-be tacklers. Presses the hole before making decisive cuts with a strong plant foot to burst through the crease. Shows good vision and beautiful acceleration to speed up in a hurry."

While Sims is tough and physical, Brugler also noted he lacks an ideal body type for the position, "running too tall at times with inconsistent pad level and ball security."

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