For an edge rusher your hands are your tools, your weapons. You need them to punch and grab and leverage yourself past the offensive tackles that stand between you and the ultimate target, an opposing quarterback. There are a lot of factors that go into attacking a passer, but the hands are the most direct form.
On July 4, 2015, outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul’s life was changed forever when an accident involving fireworks left his right hand severely damaged, losing most of his index finger and much of his thumb and middle finger as well. But Pierre-Paul persevered.
“He’s come back from some serious stuff,” Bruce Arians said about Pierre-Paul. “He’s kind of a freak of nature as far as healing. He has a great belief in his faith and I think sometimes that helps heal you.”
The following season Pierre-Paul played in eight games, totaling just one lone sack. He then recorded seven sacks over 12 games in 2016, 8.5 sacks in 2017 and in the 2018 season became the first Buc to reach double-digit sacks – with 12.5 – since Simeon Rice notched 14 in 2005.
Tampa Bay is again hoping for a miraculous recovery, this time from a very different injury, a fractured neck the pass-rusher suffered in a South Florida car accident this past May that once again threatened Pierre-Paul’s career.
Early reports suggested everything from a career-ending injury to a November return at the earliest, but Pierre-Paul was officially back to practice with the Bucs on Tuesday following a week of isolated practice in pads and claimed that his return was never in any doubt, in his own mind at least.
When told that not many people can return from a fractured neck, Pierre-Paul’s response was simple.
“Not many people can return from a blown off hand either,” Pierre-Paul said. “So, I had no doubts. That’s it.
As far as game action, neither Arians nor Pierre-Paul had an answer for when the edge rusher could return to the playing field. Arians responded with a simple, “we’ll see,” while Pierre-Paul insisted that he’d be ready when his number is called.
“I feel good,” Pierre-Paul said. “All I can say is that everything is good right now. I’m on the right track, I’m going to keep [moving] forward and I’ve got a lot to do in a short amount of time. That’s all I can say.”
Pierre-Paul’s eventual return will be a welcome sight for the Bucs, obviously because of his talent due to their struggles in getting after the passer through six games, but also his leadership.
“It’s a huge, huge thing because he has been one of the vocal leaders for a long time,” Arians said. “Not having his presence, I can already feel the difference. Obviously he’s feeling his way football wise, but last week going out to practice, coaching, doing all those things, giving young guys advice, it’s fantastic.”
Tampa Bay’s 2.2 sacks per game puts the Bucs in the bottom third of the league and of their 13 total sacks, nine have come from newly-acquired Shaq Barrett with Carl Nassib behind him at two.