Tampa Bay tight end Jerramy Stevens spoke with Charlie Campbell for this month's Pewter Report Conversation – Stevens' first extensive, one-on-one interview since his press conference in June. Stevens came to the Buccaneers before the 2007 season, and after not seeing the field much in the first half of the season, Stevens ended the year with a ton of production.
Against New Orleans last December, Stevens caught the game-winning touchdown with 14 seconds remaining in the game. That was the critical win for the Bucs en route to winning the NFC South. Stevens finished the season strong and became a real red zone weapon. After his productive season, it seemed that Stevens was a lock to be re-signed for 2008.
Then in January, the Seattle Times published a series of stories documenting the transgressions of the football program at the University of Washington from almost a decade ago. Stevens was a focal point of the Times' investigative piece. The article brought back an alleged rape committed by Stevens in 2000. At the conclusion of a police investigation, Stevens was not charged with any crime. After waiting for months on the free agent marketplace, Stevens re-signed with the Bucs in late May.
After re-signing with Tampa Bay, the Seattle Times piece ignited a firestorm of bad press for Stevens, and calls for the organization to end the relationship. There were writers who six months earlier had written that Stevens turned his life around and proved himself worthy of a second chance, were then writing that he should not be on the team for his past transgressions and allegations of wrongdoing.
The Buccaneers held a press conference with Stevens shortly after he re-signed. There, Stevens did not want to re-address the allegations from eight years earlier. In his first in-depth interview since re-joining the team, Stevens discussed his time as a Buccaneer and a Seahawk, his family, his future in the NFL, and the controversy from the offseason.
Jerramy, you came to the Bucs a year ago and had a productive season. I'm sure you, your teammates, and coaches envision your production only going up in 2008.
"I hopefully have carried some of the momentum over from last season. What's good is that I started well this year after ending well last year. That tends to stick in coaches' minds. It was good for me to come on and help us get some wins, and at least have me make some productive plays at the end of the season. I had a good training camp, and I think it will all rollover into the regular season. Hopefully, I can step back into the game action and get right back into the groove."
Early this season, John Gilmore and Alex Smith both have had strong games and provided some playmaking ability. Last year as a unit, the tight ends had the most touchdown receptions on the team - more TDs than the wide receivers (9-8). This year could be a repeat of that performance given the way the tight ends and receivers have started off.
"Hopefully we have touchdowns coming from every where. It is never the same as it was the year before. I plan on getting into the end zone a lot. I know Alex and John do as well. We do enough runs down there that play-actions are really good, on the goal line and from the 10, or the 20. That is my area, so I expect to be in the end zone a lot."
In 2007, you had some big changes to handle. After growing up and living in Washington all your life you moved cross-country to Florida. As a football player, you were in a new offense with a different rotation at tight end. That must have been quite a change.
"Yeah, but it was a much needed change to go through. I was really excited about the opportunity to get out of Washington – Seattle, specifically – and to get a fresh start. I was excited to get to a program and a system where I felt wanted and had a chance to get started fresh, and to go forward with my life. It has been really good for me personally to be out here. To be on a new team, and have great teammates that have been real supportive. I feel like I've fit into the team really well. I get along with everybody. It has been a great positive change for me, for sure."
I'm sure it meant a lot to you that Jon Gruden and Bruce Allen were willing to give you that fresh start.
"No doubt about it. I think that when I talked with them both personally, we discussed that at length. This was an opportunity to come out here, and leave all that behind in my past, and just go forward with the Bucs in my future. That was exactly what I needed and wanted. I am definitely most grateful to Bruce Allen, the Glazer family, and Coach Gruden for being willing to give me that chance and having confidence in me."
After returning from your suspension, Coach Gruden said this about you, "Jerramy has a chance to be a great man, a great Buccaneer, and real contributor for us and we are excited to have him back." What's your reaction to his comment?
"We've had that conversation numerous times. That was the same thing we discussed when I first came out. That was exactly what I was looking for, and that was exactly what they were offering. I felt like it has worked out perfectly."
Ironically, your first game as Buc last year was against your former team – Seattle. That must have been a little stressful, and had a different feel than your typical game.
"There was a lot going on during that week personally for me. I didn't come out and get as much time on the field and play as well as I would've liked to. For me personally, whenever I try too hard, I don't play my best. It was good for me to learn from that. Now I focus on going out there, staying within myself, and do what I'm asked to do – rather than feeling like I have to go out there and prove myself and do more than I need to on any play. I'm going to go out there, have fun and relax. That is when I do my best."
When you were with the Seahawks, you beat the Bucs in Tampa in 2004 and 2006. Last year, Seattle won again – this time out there – and with you as a Buc. This year, you play them on Sunday night at home on "Mike Alstott night." How do you see the result different this time?
"I think that we are going up and they are headed the other direction, unfortunately for them. I still have a lot of friends on that team and in that program. We are headed in a different direction than they are. We are on the rise and they are in a little bit of a decline, so we hopefully will keep our momentum going up and head into that game on a nice, long win streak. Then keep it going, and show the nation what we've got on Sunday night."
Last year, you were second on the team in touchdown catches with four. All of that production came in the final month of the season. At times during the season, the team struggled in the red zone. Instead of scoring touchdowns, there were too many drives that ended in field goals. Why did it take the team awhile to go to the mismatch that you present in the red zone?
"I think there was some hesitation to get me involved because we didn't know what my status was as far as getting suspended. That was hanging over my head, and we didn't know exactly what was going to happen. Once I got my suspension, going into the last month, it gave me the chance where everybody knows what is on the table. I'm not in a situation now where I play a game and then miss a few after I had some momentum going. Coach Gruden had the confidence in me to cut me loose, go out there make some plays. Our quarterbacks had the confidence in me to give me shot, and I had been doing it all year in practice. I was ready and they were ready. I'm just happy that I made that catch against the Saints. That was really the jumping off point for me. To come in the game at the end of it, having not played much, and to make that play was big. It could've been a much different situation for me if I didn't make that play."
Well, you made that play. Then you catch two touchdowns at San Francisco and another one against Carolina in Week 17. Then you head back into free agency. It seemed like a no-brainer that you would be back here. You re-signed at the end of May, which was quite a long wait.
"Unfortunately, I caught some bad press from the Seattle Times. I haven't been their favorite person for a long time, so it was unfortunate timing for me, and you don't know what may have been. I had to get some stuff out of the way as far as my legal issues. There were still some things that I had to take care of and get wrapped up. I know the Glazers, Bruce Allen, and Coach Gruden wanted me to be completely done with that by the time I reported. We had real good lines of communication open. I knew what I had to do. They were just waiting for me to get that done, and when I did, I signed the contract and got back on the team. With everything behind me now, it feels good to know that I can just go out there and play. I'd like to finish off my career here as a Buc. If I play like I know I can, then I think they'll be excited about keeping me around."
Considering the way you finished the year, I'm sure you had some discussions with other teams and thought about signing elsewhere.
"I was considering some others, but this was the place that I wanted to be. I definitely feel that I've been on the same page with Coach Gruden since I first met him when I was a free agent coming out of Seattle. I definitely wanted to come back here. They knew that. It was out in the open. It was a situation where it was me wrapping up my obligations to the court, and doing what I needed to do to get back here. I tested the water and I did have some other options, but this is where I wanted to play. I'm glad that it worked out."
For me, watching the OTAs when you were gone – the stadium OTA in May comes to mind – Gruden was yelling that "our tight ends from last year aren't here so you guys have to pick it up." You know the way he rides guys. Then you came back by June and were in the last OTAs and the mini-camp. It looked like you picked up where you left off last season, and getting back into the offense.
"Definitely. This is a complicated offense though, but once you get it down it is very fluid. You're able to go out there and take advantage of opportunities that Gruden creates. He puts you in a great position where you have to beat one guy, and if you can't do that in the NFL then you shouldn't be here. I felt like it was great to be back with the guys. I think that was what made the transition so easy. Everybody was real supportive of me in my situation. The veterans on the team, the captains, they were real supportive of me and I really appreciated that. When I came back, it was coming back home, and it felt real natural to get on the field, make plays and joke around with the guys. It was just a good situation."
It also must have been easy to come back considering the presence of coach Bob Casullo. He is your tight ends coach, but the two of you go back to Seattle.
"He's our tight ends coach, but he was the special teams coach in Seattle. I've known him for a long time. I feel like we've done a great job of communicating. Not just him, but Coach Gruden, and Bruce Allen, too. We've had a great time as far as communicating. It has been real open and real candid. You have to appreciate that in this business."
Coach Gruden has said that you are an improved blocker. Gilmore had a big block on Earnest Graham's 46-yard run in New Orleans. Smith had a big block sealing the edge on Graham's 68-yard run. You're going to be called on to do that also this year.
"Definitely. That is part of this offense, and that is what is good about this offense. Everybody kind of gets a tag coming into the NFL when you do certain things well. Then a stigma gets attached to you. I'm going to do whatever they ask me to do. That is kind of the arrangement that we have. I'm going to be called on to block whether it is run or pass blocking and we just have to get it done. I've worked hard at it and I feel like I am improved. I look forward to the opportunity to get out there and do it."
You have a good point with players getting tagged with one dominant skill. Gilmore is a good example. He was known as a blocking tight end, and then against Atlanta he had two catches for 41 yards and a touchdown.
"It is about getting an opportunity. Some guys aren't given the opportunity to go out and catch passes because they think you're a blocker. Or they don't let you block at all because they think you're just a bigger receiver. But in this offense, you're going to get the opportunity to do both. That is why it is fun for everybody to play in this offense."
In Seattle, you played for one of the most respected NFL coaches in Mike Holmgren. Gruden learned under him when Holmgren was the offensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers. Then Gruden worked for Holmgren for three years in Green Bay. The two have remained friends over the years. How would you compare and contrast the two Super Bowl winning coaches?
"(Laughing) Wow, compare and contrast! They are very different individuals. I have a lot of respect for Coach Holmgren. He is one of the reasons why I was able to come here. He talked to Coach Gruden about the kind of person I was. He had my back on that, and said I was a special guy. Yeah, I've had my bumps in the road, but [Holmgren] and I have always had the same type of communication that I've had with Coach Gruden as far as being real candid and real honest. They are different guys. I would say that biggest difference is Coach Gruden is somebody you can joke with. He obviously has control of the team and what he says is final, but you can have a more jovial interaction with him. You can talk a little bit of crap, and it is all good. Coach Holmgren is really, really serious on the field everyday. You step him away from the field and he is real cool and he is very easy to talk to. But on the field it's about football. I'm going to say that he is more intense than Coach Gruden is. Coach Gruden is fiery on a play-to-play basis, but Coach Holmgren is a stickler. He likes things done exactly right every single play. If everything isn't exactly how it is supposed to be then he is going to be upset. It is a different kind of upset because he doesn't yell all the time but when he does, it is big. Gruden is kind of always getting on somebody about this or that. Holmgren waits to erupt every once in a while. That would be the biggest difference. Similarities? They are obviously really intense and have a great knowledge of the game. They do a really good job of communicating what you are supposed to do. That makes it easy to play for them, and hard to mess up for both of them."
Looking at the offenses, it seems like Gruden's has a lot more motions and shifts. You are a big part of that as a tight end. I don't recall seeing that with Coach Holmgren.
"No you're right. That is a big difference, and the style of offense is a big difference. Supposedly, both are West Coast offenses, but this is not a West Coast offense to me. To me, this is Jon Gruden's offense, and it is morphed into something totally different from the West Coast offense. The Seattle offense is more of a base West Coast offense. Kind of a ‘We do what we do,' regardless of who you're playing. We ran the same dozen plays all the time, and it just felt like we were going to run them better than whatever defense we were playing. If the defense played better that day, then we lost. Here in Tampa, we scheme and make new plays every week to take advantage of the weaknesses of the defense. Both systems work and are proven. It is just about the different style of coaching that they have."
If you were a coach, which would be your system?
"I wouldn't be a coach. My dad was a coach and I've been in athletics my whole life. I've seen the stress that goes with coaching. It is not something I'm interested in even in the slightest."
I imagine you learned some good study habits to learn the NFL offenses.
"Well, I played quarterback in high school. I think that was probably the education process for me as football goes. As far as studying in school, there was no choice. We had to get good grades or we were in trouble. The study habit thing wasn't too much of their influence. I always knew what I had to do, and school was never too difficult for me. But it was an endgame with my parents. I had to get good grades."
You've become a recent family man yourself. You've settled down here in Tampa and have become a father. How have those changes in becoming a family man impacted you as a football player?
"It has changed me greatly as a man. It hasn't had too much influence on football. I approach the game the same way that I always have. I think outside of football, it has put some things in perspective as far as importance goes. My family has always taken precedent over football my whole career. To have a son, which is my own family, it kind of puts things in perspective as far as what is important. It gives you the opportunity to look at football as not just as a game. Playing for yourself has a different approach to it as far as spending your money, and what you do in the offseason, how you just chose to spend your time. Now that I have a son, it is geared towards the opportunity that I can give him, the path to be successful, and to study what he wants to study, do what he wants to do when he grows up. That is something that I never thought of before I became a father. It was go out there, have fun, win games, have fun in the offseason and enjoy life. Now it is kind of, ‘Well I did that for seven years. Now it is time to be accountable for somebody else.'"
Last year was a good year for you on and off the field. Then there was the Seattle media and the Tampa media drudging up the controversy from eight years ago. You thought that was unfair because you weren't charged with anything in that incident.
"Yeah. There is no doubt that it was some [expletive]. I don't think there is any other way to put it. That is why I was unwilling to address it when I had that media conference. I wasn't going to address something that happened eight years ago that was false then. Nothing has changed. I addressed it then, and I just didn't feel the need to explain anything that had already been dealt with, and I wasn't going to go back a year – let alone eight years – to talk about something. I felt like I kept my obligations and I kept my word to Tampa, the community, and the fans of Tampa. I've come out here, and I've done right, and I've done exactly what I said I was going to do. Yeah, it was rough, and it had an impact on my contract situation. It was unfortunate. It definitely wasn't cool, but that is a part of sports. Unfair? Who knows unfair? I thought it was some [explective] though, just because I wasn't going to deal with a situation that I had already been through."
As I talked with Coach Casullo, you were getting hammered and couldn't tell your side of the story, or didn't feel you had to given that this is something that you feel is in the past. There were reporters writing last December that Stevens is doing great and he's put his past issues behind him. Then they wrote, "Why are the Bucs bringing him back with this background?" Is that hypocritical?
"That is kind of what the media does. It is whatever the hot ticket is at the time to some degree. Obviously, not everybody, but when something that comes up like that and it is a big story, everybody is going to address it. Yeah, I didn't feel the need to address it. I think that upset or may have angered some people – that I didn't feel the need to address that – but that is stance that I continue to take on it. I've dealt with it. I didn't like it. Obviously, it was hard on my family and myself to deal with something that had already been put in the past, or so we thought. But that's what happens when you play professional sports. You are part of a life that is not private."
FOR STEVENS, IT'S ABOUT WINNING GAMES RATHER THAN PILING UP CATCHES
During his college career and his tenure with Seattle in the NFL, Jerramy Stevens relished his role as a receiving tight end. Stevens had 74 catches in three seasons at the University of Washington and 130 receptions in his first five years with the Seahawks. But as he has matured, the 6-foot-7 tight end is more concerned about winning, especially after a Super Bowl XL to forget in which Stevens caught three passes, but dropped four others in a 21-10 loss to Pittsburgh.
"I used to get a little more enamored with that when I was in college, but at this point, it is about wins," Stevens said. "I've been in the Super Bowl and lost. Now, it's only about the Buccaneers winning games. Whatever I can do to help the team win, I'll do. I want to go out there and make plays. I feel like it is a constant mismatch when I'm on the field. I think that I've done a pretty good job of establishing that I am a win in the one-on-one matchups. I don't think there is anybody who can cover me. I'm just glad that I am on a team that is willing to use me."
STEVENS FOCUSED ON FOOTBALL NOW THAT LEGAL WOES ARE BEHIND HIM
After being sentenced to 12 days in jail and fined $3,160 for a DUI conviction in Scottsdale, Arizona on March 13, 2007, Buccaneers tight end Jerramy Stevens was suspended for the Atlanta game last year, in addition to the first two games of the 2008 season by the NFL for conduct violations. Stevens also had to weather fierce criticism from the Tampa Bay media and sports radio over a Seattle Times story that came out in January, detailing his problems with alcohol and a rape allegation from eight years ago. Stevens is glad that all of those distractions are behind him and he can focus on football.
"Without a doubt," Stevens said. "I'm not feeling like anything is being held over my head. I can go out there and have fun, play, and let the contract stuff take care of itself after this season. Hopefully, I'd like to be here. Everybody in this organization knows that I like it down here and I would like to stay. I have a son now, so I have to make a business decision, but this where I want to be. I'm having more fun here than I've ever had."