Bucs tight end Jerramy Stevens wanted to get as far away from Seattle as he possibly could and coming to the Tampa Bay area helped him accomplish his goal. After five seasons with the Seahawks, Stevens needed a change of scenery and a fresh start to his NFL career. Tampa Bay gave him that opportunity despite the legal baggage that he was bringing with him.
In March, Stevens was arrested in Arizona on charges of marijuana possession and driving under the influence. Stevens was found guilty in October of a DUI and traffic violations and was sentenced to 30 days in jail, but will have 18 days taken off the sentence if he completes an alcohol program.
The sixth-year tight end was suspended one game this season - the 37-3 victory vs. the Atlanta Falcons two weeks ago - for violating the NFL's Substance Abuse Policy and also docked one additional game check. Stevens served his punishment and is now glad to have all of that behind him and heading to the playoffs on a winning team in Tampa Bay.
"Definitely," Stevens said. "It was kind of hanging over my head this whole season and I didn't really know what was going to happen. It was not easy for myself or the coaching staff. I'm really happy it's behind me and I can go forward and help us get this playoff run started.
"I can't say it's been tough to enjoy. I've really enjoyed this year, being in a new town with a new team. I've really enjoyed the opportunity to be down here in Tampa. It hasn't been real difficult," Stevens said. "I consider myself lucky to be on this team. I knew I was going to catch on, but this was the team I wanted to come to this off-season. This is where I want to stay. Things are working out. The team is winning and I'm helping us get there."
Stevens is no stranger to the playoffs as he reached the postseason in four of his five seasons in Seattle, including participating in Super Bowl XL vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was also very familiar with the West Coast offensive system that Bucs head coach Jon Gruden uses after working under Seahawks head coach Mike Holmgren, who runs a similar system.
Holmgren and Gruden actually worked on the same staff in San Francisco in 1990 when Holmgren was the offensive coordinator and Gruden was an offensive assistant. Stevens has gotten more comfortable in Gruden's offense in the latter part of the season and it has shown in his performance. He has six receptions for 81 yards and three touchdowns in the last three games for the Bucs.
"I've been comfortable for a little while," Stevens said. "I think Coach Gruden is getting more comfortable with me and more confident in me being in the right place. I think it started with that New Orleans game and me making that big play. I think his confidence in me just soared from there and I want to make a play for him. He's put me in position to do that."
Stevens has been patiently waiting for his opportunity in the offense and has received several opportunities at the end of the season.
"I knew he had brought me in this year because we had real good discussions in the offseason," Stevens said. "He told me to be patient and make plays when called upon and that's what I've been trying to do."
Stevens should see more opportunities not only in the season finale vs. Carolina, but in the playoffs as well. With the injury to wide receiver Maurice Stovall vs. San Francisco, the Bucs head into the playoffs with only three healthy, experienced wide receivers in Joey Galloway, Ike Hilliard and Michael Clayton.
Stevens along with fellow tight ends Alex Smith and Anthony Becht will be called on more in the passing game to make up for the lack of depth at the wide receiver position.
"We were able to isolate some things for him [Stevens] last week. He responded," Gruden said. "When you lose as many receivers as we have, you have to generate some playmaking from other positions, and the tight end position's one of them."
With his 6-foot-7, 260-pound frame, Stevens has the size and athleticism that gives the Bucs a mismatch with him in opposing team's secondary. Stevens and Smith allow the Bucs to use two-tight end sets at different times during the game and keeps the defense off-balance.
It's difficult for a defense to know when the Bucs are going to run the ball or send as many as four receivers out in a pattern when they go to a two-tight end set. This was evident in the 49ers game last Sunday as Stevens found a way to get open in the secondary for two touchdown receptions. Smith also finished the game with six receptions for 79 yards.
"That's why they brought Jerramy in because [Gruden] envisioned being able to have two tight ends which would make it very hard for defenses to match up with," Smith said. "If we are running down the field on seam routes so whenever you create mismatches like that it's tough for defenses. They don't know if you are bringing in two tight ends to run the ball or if you are going to go four vertical. It creates mismatches and I think that's what Gruden saw when he brought Jerramy in here."
Stevens hasn't had a problem with his role on the offense this season, but is happy to get any opportunity to make a play on Sundays.
"I think it's more opportunities - more plays," Stevens said. "For the last seven or eight games, every time I come in the game they change the defense up or roll the coverage towards me and it's been creating opportunities for other guys to get open. That's been my role, to pull the safety and the linebacker off. I'm willing to do that. We've been winning, so there is no reason why I would be unhappy to do that. With Joey getting nicked up and with Ike being nicked, it's given me the opportunity to be on the field more and given me more chances to make plays."
CARTER IS FINALIST FOR SUPER BOWL COMMERCIAL
Bucs defensive end Kevin Carter is one of nine NFL players that have been selected as finalists for the "Super Ad: Who Wants It More" commercial that will be aired during Super Bowl XLII. Carter tells a story about watching the Carolina Panthers' mascot dancing, which causes his teammates to break out into laughter despite a losing effort.
Carter recalls the story from his time with the St. Louis Rams, who drafted him in 1995 out of the University of Florida. Other finalists for the award include Pittsburgh's Willie Colon, Cleveland's Joshua Cribbs, Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck, New England's Larry Izzo, Philadelphia's Reno Mahe, Kansas City's Turk McBride and Tank Tyler, Minnesota's Adrian Peterson and Houston's Ephraim Salaam.
For the second consecutive season, the fans are allowed to pick the pitch that will become the NFL's Super Bowl commercial. Instead of fans presenting ideas similar to last season, NFL players will be going head-to-head off the field with their pitches, which is a first-time thing for this idea.
These videos are available to be seen and voted on at www.nfl.com/superad in the Video Sidelines section.
Bucs cornerback Brian Kelly (knee) didn't participate in practice on Thursday for the second consecutive day this week. However, he was joined by several players on Thursday with place kicker Matt Bryant (illness), wide receivers Joey Galloway (team decision) and Ike Hilliard (knee) and running back Earnest Graham (ankle) all not participating in practice. Bucs fullback B.J. Askew (ankle), defensive end Patrick Chukwurah (hamstring), linebacker Ryan Nece (groin), running back Michael Pittman (ankle) and defensive end Greg White (quad) were limited in practice.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
Gruden on if he thinks Carolina is a good matchup to preview the New York Giants.
"Yeah, I do. They're massive football teams, deep backfields and explosive skill on the outside, and both teams have very good corner coverage. The Panthers have three different cover guys and the Giants appear to have outstanding players as well. That's where the meeting rooms and the practice work have to take all of it into consideration. When we get to the game on Sunday we're going to dress 45 guys that are healthy and try to use our best judgment."
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