Tell us once and for all about that process of deciding [to
come back] and what sealed it for you?
"It was very similar to last year to be honest with you. It took
a little bit longer obviously because we were establishing a coaching staff and
whatnot. But I talked to Mark [Dominik] a month and a half ago or so and we
agreed to get together. I got together with him and Greg, or Coach Schiano I should
say, and we had a pretty honest and frank conversation about me. They didn’t intimate
to me that they didn’t want me to keep playing. They left it on me to make a
decision and when I was gone on vacation I made a decision. It’s that simple."
Was it a factor at all that they were active in free agency
and picked up some important pieces?
"No, that really didn’t have much to do with me, although I am
excited about the guys we brought in here. This is a young football team and it
showed its youth last year, probably not in a great way. Getting guys like Carl
Nicks and Eric Wright and Vincent Jackson, who I didn’t know was that big, that’s
huge for this program. I’m excited to be a part of it, of course, but as far as
me making my decision, it was on me feeling like I could still play and them thinking
I could still play and that they wanted me. I got that feeling, so here I am."
Do you see your role changing at all? Is there any chance?
Has there been a discussion about that?
"There could be. We talked about that. That was part of the discussions.
I'm not sure what that will be. It’s like I’ve been speaking Ilocano for 15
years and now I’ve got to learn Tagalog. None of y’all know what that is
either, [they’re] Filipino t doing similar things, but I don’t know where I fit in yet."
Going back to last year, how difficult was it? How were you feeling at the end of the year? Were you kind of leaning one way or the other?
"I don’t know if I was leaning one way or the other, but I definitely didn’t feel good about it. Even though my personal year wasn’t as disastrous as it felt like because we lost so many games, I didn’t feel great about it. But it’s the good thing about this game. In the NFL you start over every April. You start working toward a championship. When I felt like that this team was going to make a push and try to win, that helped me make my decision to come back."
I know it’s very early, but when you talk about your role, do you feel like there’s an opportunity for you to still be in a very similar role?
"Yeah, but that will play itself out. I’m no stranger to competition at my position. I'm not scared of that. They’ve been trying to replace me since ’98. I welcome that. At the very least that makes me better. At the very worst, the guy that’s better than me is going to get everything that I’ve got and hopefully he comes out better. But that all is what it is. I don’t make those decisions. I had a coach in college, Rick Lance, who used to say, ‘The position doesn’t belong to you. You’re going to have to win this next year as well.’ That’s the way I’ve always approached my job, so we’ll see."
What’s your impression of Coach Schiano and this new staff?
"They have a very direct purpose. The ship’s a little bit tighter than it was last year, but that’s a good thing. We need direction. We’ve got a bunch of young men that need guidance and he’s giving it to them. He was very direct about it and I think that’s the way it should be. I like the approach and I think it will work well for us."
Schiano’s a former DB’s coach, could you tell that from
"Yeah, I could tell that. We’ve had some pretty direct conversations about defensive backs and defensive schemes and whatever else. But he’s a football coach. When I look at him all I see is football and I like that about him. He’s honest about what he knows and what he doesn’t know. He’s quick to give his experience but also he’s asked me about mine and what advice I can give him just from being here for so long. I look forward to working with him."
You talked about learning a different language. You played a very similar style defense for your entire career. How dramatic of a change is it for you personally given your history?
The change isn’t that dramatic. Obviously the scheme that Monte [Kiffin] ran for all those years and the scheme that Raheem [Morris] ended up running the past couple of years, I’ve been in that since the get-go. In the year that Jim Bates came in here and ran his system, we ended up falling back on the old scheme that we had. This is the first year since I’ve been here where everybody’s new. I’m getting to know these guys and this system like it was my first year in the NFL. I like the challenge, I’ll accept that challenge and I think everybody in our room accepts that challenge. We had a pretty lively meeting today just talking about one simple defense and that’s good. You learn that way. Hopefully by camp in another couple week and by mini-camp and OTA’s we’ll have this down and we’ll just get ready to play football.
After all you’ve accomplished at your position, would you change a little bit if they even suggested moving to safety on occasion?
"I did that a couple years ago, but I’m too small to small to play safety. I’m tiny, after the workout out here I'm like 180 pounds. So I’ll fit in where I fit in. They know that I'm here to help this team win no matter what role that’s in."
What’s your opinion, in general, on the Wonderlic Test and how you did on yours?
"I have no idea [how I did on mine]. You guys can look it up. I don’t think it’s a factor. They put you in a stressful situation and have you answer a certain number of questions. Really, guessing doesn’t hurt you. It is what it is. But if it factored into the Bucs drafting me, I have no idea. I don’t remember what I scored, but I don’t think it really translates into football IQ and how you are as a player. I wouldn’t pay that much attention to it."
What Josh Freeman faced last year was tough with the deficits he had to play against and he didn’t get a lot of help from other guys rising to the occasion, so what do you think he’s gained from going through that? Do you think he’ll be a better play because of that?
"He will be. I imagine he will be. It hurts to fail. It hurts to not be your best even though you try as hard as you can to be exactly that. So I think he takes that and learns from it, obviously. We didn’t do a lot of things right last year on either side of the ball. At times Josh, you know, he wanted to be the guy and that’s not always the way it works. But he’ll learn from it. There’s always a positive in there somewhere. He’ll look at this film from last year and see how he can get better and evaluate himself off what we’re doing this year and I’ll imagine he’ll be the Josh Freeman we all want him to be."
Eric Wright mentioned that he really hoped that you would come back and also learn from you. Have you met him?
"Yeah, I’ve met him. He’s a great guy and he’ll help us. There’s no doubt about it. You don’t get very many opportunities to pick up guys like him, especially after the year he had last year. We’ll welcome this. You can never have too many good ones at our position. The way this league works, we’ll end up with six or seven DB’s on the grass at times. It’s nothing but positive for us that we get guys like that."
From a DB’s perspective, what’s it like having a Vincent Jackson and how do you prepare for a team differently when they have somebody like that?
"Again, I didn’t know he was that big. I knew he was big, but I didn’t know he was that big. I’ve never played against him. But he gives us some serious credibility at the position. Not that Mike [Williams] and Regis [Arrelious Benn] didn’t do that last year, but they’re both young players. This guy’s proven. There’s a certain fear factor when you play guys like Vincent Jackson. It’s the same as when we played guys like Randy Moss back in the day, or Steve Smith, or T.O. when he was still playing, or Megatron [Calvin Johnson] now, of course you can’t go without mentioning him. You know that you’ve got to prepare for them and you know one way or another they’re going to find a way to him the ball and at some point you’re going to have to adjust to deal with him, and we have that. That’s awesome for Josh. I know he’s excited about it, hopefully the community is excited about having a guy of that caliber in this building, and I expect huge things."
He makes it easier for everybody else, right?
"You would think so, but we’ll see."
You have some perspective in that you’ve seen how quickly things can change in this league, for the better and for the worst. Does that kind of give you some hope that you’re never that far away?
"I look at the Giants’ last two Super Bowls. Those guys almost played their way out of it. They lost six or seven games in a row and you only need an opportunity to get there. If you make the playoffs you can make a run. We saw a young
Do you sense excitement in the community at all?
"I haven’t been out in the community that much. I don’t know. But people are excited about our signings, for sure. I know once everybody gets to know Coach Schiano they’ll be excited about his direction, too. This is a different direction for this franchise, even more so than any of them since I’ve been here. Sometimes change is good."
What are your feelings about Bill Sheridan and Butch Davis?
"Bill’s great. I’ve spent a lot of time with him. He called me right after I signed welcoming me in. Butch, you don’t see him much. He sits in the back of the room and doesn’t say anything. But the staff is good. Spending time with Ron [Cooper] and his assistant Jeff [Hafley] in the DB room, they’ve already got a feel for the guys and that’s what it takes. They’re teachers and they’ve got to teach us something new. But it’s got to be a good working environment and right now it seems that way. I’m excited about it, I'm looking forward to it."
What are your feelings about the Saints and the bounties?
"You hate that that comes out. Obviously there’s no place for it in the game, but I'm shocked that it came out. There’s too much going on in this game for that to be part of it. It’s unfortunate. The penalty is excessive, but I think our commissioner is trying to make a point and we all know how he makes his points. So, it is what it is."