Signing free agent receivers has always been a risky proposition – across the league or within the Buccaneers' organization. The $55.5 million contract it took to sign Vincent Jackson made many a fan nervous, but early returns show Jackson will be more like Keenan McCardell than Alvin Harper.
The Buccaneers success rate in signing or acquiring No.1 receivers who work out in a positive way has been mixed at best. Alvin Harper and Bert Emmanuel are two that obviously were failures by the front office for the most part. Not all have been bad, in fact Keyshawn Johnson and Keenan McCardell were key contributors in the Super Bowl run – and win – in 2002.
The Buccaneers made another bold – and expensive (5-year, $55.5 million) – attempt to upgrade their offense this past March by signing former Chargers’ receiver Vincent Jackson.
So far Jackson appears to be heading towards adding to the success rate.
Buccaneers’ receiver coach P. J. Fleck told PewterReport.com today that Jackson is even better than he thought he would be.
“A hundred percent better,” Fleck said. “He raises the bar every time he is out here. That says a lot about him as a person as well as a competitor. For a guy who has been to two Pro Bowls, seven years in the league, going on his eighth, to constantly come out here and out compete, not [with just] the other guys, but himself. That’s what makes him special.”
Jackson spoke to the media after Sunday’s first full padded practice and didn’t spend much of the conversation talking about himself, but rather the overall team.
“I’ve been doing it for a long time, since we were all in Pop Warner, Jackson said. “You know, there’s always a little bit more excitement, a little more buzz. Guys are flying around and popping but good day, productive. We’re just trying to put one together each and every day and focusing on that mission. So, lots of room for improvement, but we’re making strides.”
Jackson has averaged 17.5 yards per perception in his seven-year career totaling 4,754 yards on 272 receptions with 37 touchdowns. His veteran presence is something that fellow receiver Mike Williams appreciates.
“One thing he has taught me is we can complement each other,” Williams said. “If he isn’t open then I have to get open, or if I’m not open he has to get open. That is one thing he has taught me.
“The way he prepares also. His notebook is crazy. It is like a dictionary. You have our whole offense if you find his notebook.”
Jackson is relishing the role as veteran leader of the young Bucs’ receiving corps.
“You know it’s more of a role I’ve taken here,” Jackson said. “Most of the guys here are kind of in their third or fourth year as far as receivers go so I do what I can.
“Obviously we have Coach Fleck who is a great wide receivers coach and I’m learning from him as well, and I’m just kind of being his echo, you know what I mean. When he’s up there coaching other guys, I’m back here talking to the guys on the side. I’m just making sure, reiterating, some of the big points and just doing what I can to help us get better.
“We want to help each other and help the team make strides and the only way we can do that is, you know, try to bring each other along not try to be so competitive where we’re trying to see other guys not be successful.”
Fleck spoke on Jackson’s leadership.
“Coach Schiano has a saying – leadership leads,” Fleck said. “You don’t have to talk, you don’t have to yell, you show up in the front you’re leading.”
Something that is always a concern when you bring in veteran free agent is how the new personality will mesh with the current roster. Building good chemistry with your quarterback is important and Jackson says that foundation was set months ago.
“Yeah, we started back in late March – early April, out here working in our drills and OTA’s and everything,” Jackson said. “He’s just a big, physically strong, gifted quarterback. I work very hard at what I do as well, you have two guys obviously learning a new offense, but we’re doing it together. So, we’ll learn at the same time, we’re on the same page communicating each and every day, spend a lot of time together on and off the field and so that natural relationship’s been built.”
Jackson talked about the style of offense the Buccaneers will run, and while he couldn’t be too specific, it is obvious Jackson is excited by what he has seen so far.
“It’s very dynamic; I love it to tell you the truth,” Jackson said. “There are so many options. We have a plethora of good receivers and running backs and tight ends as well. We’re going to be getting the ball to everybody so we’re going to be very balanced in all three phases. And it’s exciting right now, I’m having a lot of fun with it.”
Jackson’s presence on his young teammates has been apparent. But Jackson isn’t the only who has been inspired by Jackson in the building.
“He challenges me everyday to make myself a better coach,” Fleck said. “Every single day to make sure I continue to push him.”
While it is too early to definitively say how Jackson pans out, the early reviews are in – Jackson is not only more like Johnson and McCardell than Harper and Emmanuel – he may be better than all four. Fans, coaches – and general manager Mark Dominik – all have their fingers crossed.
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