FAB 2. What Happens When Pierre-Paul Returns To Action?

The Bucs received some good news this week when outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul returned to the AdventHealth Training Center and was cleared to begin rehabbing his fractured neck.

Pierre-Paul suffered a serious neck injury the first week of May when his Ferrari crashed on a slick road in South Florida. That injury initially put his 2019 season in jeopardy, but doctors said that his fractured vertebrae could heal without surgery.

Bucs OLB Jason Pierre-Paul - Photo by: Mary Holt/PR
Bucs OLB Jason Pierre-Paul – Photo by: Mary Holt/PR

After spending three months in a neck brace, Pierre-Paul is one step closer to returning to action. The Bucs are optimistic that he can suit up in late October or November to aid the team’s pass rush down the stretch.

Pierre-Paul will start the year on the NFI (non-football injury) list, and he will be inactive for the first six games of the season. Then he will have the opportunity to practice with the team for the first time and for the Bucs’ brass to evaluate him. If he’s healthy, Tampa Bay will make a roster move and activate him to the 53-man roster. If not, he’ll go back on the NFI list and won’t be eligible to return for the remainder of the season.

So what will happen when JPP returns and plays this season? Let’s explore some potential outcomes.

The best-case scenario is that Pierre-Paul takes the field at midseason with fresh legs and makes an instant impact as a pass rusher off the edge on the weak side. If it’s one thing Pierre-Paul knows, it’s how to get to the quarterback, evidenced by his 12.5 sacks last year and the 71 QB captures in his career.

The other scenarios aren’t so rosy.

Pierre-Paul could come back and look great with fresh legs, but could butt heads with a left tackle or tight end and reinjure his neck in a collision at the line of scrimmage or when making a tackle. Of course the team doctors won’t clear him for contact unless that vertebrae is completely healthy, but there will always be some level of risk of re-injury.

Should that happen, another injury to Pierre-Paul’s neck could not only end his season, but also his career.

Bucs OLB Jason Pierre Paul
Bucs OLB Jason Pierre-Paul – Photo by: Mary Holt/PR

Even if he stays healthy, Pierre-Paul could also be rusty upon his return. He has never played in a 3-4 scheme and hasn’t practiced one play at One Buccaneer Place dating back to the OTAs and mini-camps. Will he have enough time to get in football shape and be anything more than a situational pass rusher?

Or will being a situational pass rusher be good enough for the rest of the year given JPP’s proficiency at getting to the quarterback?

Pierre-Paul is a pro’s pro and knows how to rush the passer, so doing it as a stand-up linebacker instead of a hand-in-the-dirt defensive end shouldn’t be much of a transition. But he has had zero practice time and the intricacies of Todd Bowles’ blitz packages could take some time to nail down.

Playing down the line of scrimmage rather than nose to nose with a left tackle on the line of scrimmage will help Pierre-Paul take fewer helmet-to-helmet shots due to the space he’ll have to work with as an edge rusher in Bowles’ 3-4 scheme. That could reduce his risk of re-injury, which is good.

The last scenario to consider is Pierre-Paul coming back healthy and ready to go, but being gun shy due to his neck injury. I’ve seen players that have had concussions in the past become gun shy and not like to stick their head into the action anymore for obvious reasons.

Pierre-Paul has had his share of injuries in the past, the most devastating of course being his fireworks accident in which he blew off a few fingers and severely injured his hand on a fateful Fourth of July a few years ago. No one is questioning Pierre-Paul’s toughness.

But neck injuries are a different breed. Just ask Ryan Shazier, who is fortunate enough to walk after being partially paralyzed after what looked like a routine hit in a game two years ago. It wound up ending his career and it took him over a year to walk again.

Bucs OLB Jason Pierre-Paul - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs OLB Jason Pierre-Paul – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Some football players aren’t as fortunate. Broken legs and arms can be operated on and heal. Knees and shoulders can also be surgically repaired. But it’s not often that football players recover from paralysis, and the fear of that happening to Pierre-Paul with one bad hit has to be in the back of his mind.

I wouldn’t blame him for having that awful thought present in his head.

But can he block it out and have faith that he will be okay returning to his old ways of hard-hitting football as a Pro Bowl-caliber pass rusher?

The Bucs certainly hope so.

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Scott Reynolds is in his 24th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his son's Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]

26 COMMENTS

  1. Shaq Barrett looks special, could be sack leader.

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  2. Hudson, Cichy and O’Connor should make this team. Sorry Spence, time to finally be released from this roster.

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    Rating: -4. From 20 votes.
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    • With how many sacks. 4?

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  3. Good Fab 5 Scott. For the first time in a very long time, I’m feeling like the team is a real NFL team. I still have some doubts about a few areas, but they have diminished over the course of training camp. I don’t know how well this team is going to behave, but I feel like that the so called ‘experts’ have written us off and are going to be surprised.

    I’m pretty certain the defense is going to be a lot better than people expect.

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    Rating: +15. From 15 votes.
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  4. Unless JPP blew all his money he’s made on fireworks, and expensive cars which he probably has, why would he want to risk his health with this neck injury? Gronk hung it up due to the pain of playing, and Luck shocked the football world by walking away while he can still walk. JPP has made more money then Gronk during his career so why? Love of the game, I doubt it. As you can tell I’m a skeptic by nature so I think he’s just trying to get his last 7 million he’ll ever make as an NFL player. Most of Licht’s FA signings end as badly as his second round picks, so I doubt the JPP saga ends well for the Bucs.

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  5. If he actually gets to play enough, Shaq Barrett will lead this team in sacks as long as JPP is out

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    Rating: +14. From 14 votes.
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    • I must confess that Shaq Barrett has impressed me. I wasn’t sure what we were getting come over from Denver but he has shown that he’s going to have to be accounted for coming off the edge. Speed Rush, Bull Rush, a Spin Move occasionally he’s mixing it up pretty good in there and I think he leads us in sacks this year. The other thing I can’t way to see is when Vea lines back up next to Suh, if its anything like camp where we saw lineman bodies being thrown off the field we could see sacks coming from everywhere. I don’t want to make any predictions but with this aggressive scheme Bowles runs up front & these young hungry DB’s this team is looking more & more like Defensive threat rather than the Offensive threat we saw under Koettter.

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  6. I like the rising of Cichy and really the overall depth we have at just about every position whereas before I believed us to be a bit shaky in areas. I believe alot of guys will shine but I see our safeties and linebackers blowing up. Sure our CB’s will impress but I’m of the mind they’ll find their footing after 3 or 4 games but believe the safeties and linebackers will hit the ground running.(pardon pun)

    I’m hopeful Cappa learned something in Cleveland and all the “correctable stuff” verbiage is right on. I feel it to be. And, when we’ve heard an area that needs focusing on by an individual or a positional group, well those areas have then been addressed and improved. I have faith in the coaching now, they’ve walked the walk so far so who’s to say all that will just stop.

    The players seem to have bought in as well and you can just tell this team is about to make a big splash. It’s all going to look and feel very different.

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    Rating: +11. From 11 votes.
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  7. I do not know! I do not think anybody knows who will come forward on the D , The mystery will start to unfold on the 9th against 49ers, I think that game will be a big tell for the season, Bucs have had no trouble beating 49ers last few years, this year there’s so many changes with a different system, coach and a lot of new faces and there is also the Jimmy G Factor.
    At this point it is a waiting game.

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    Rating: -2. From 12 votes.
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  8. This coaching staff has made a world of difference. Looking on the sidelines, you see and feel a real difference. The game management, especially at the end of games has been extraordinary. I like BA’s not-so-quiet confidence. I expect there might be some early struggles but after the first six games, most of the teams on the schedule are beatable. Fans need to stay positive. This coaching staff has credibility and they are imposing the will of accountability. I think we can win any game we hold the opposition under 25 points.

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    Rating: +8. From 12 votes.
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    • Did I miss something here? since when did coaches start making sacks? You might be right though. With this defensive line of the Bucs? Coaches might need to suit up!!!

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      • Ha! Of course coaches don’t literally make the sacks. But coaching puts players in position to make the sacks. The scheme is modern–finally. It’s an attacking, aggressive mode of defense grounded in deception. It will take time to master, but I really trust Bowles and his defensive staff, particularly the secondary coach who is worlds ahead of what we’ve had since Lake left.

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        Rating: +7. From 7 votes.
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  9. I think Lavonte David will lead the team in sacks. Last time he had a legitimate chance to rush the qb consistently i believe was under greg schiano and he posted 7 sacks i believe. I could see him getting to a similar number in this scheme which I think would lead the team

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  10. Suh leads in sacks if Vea plays next to him most of the year.

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  11. Interesting tidbit re: McCoy’s complaint about his jersey # being given to Suh; Clay Matthews’ # was given to a rookie after he wasn’t re-signed after 10 years with the Packers. It’s a business for sure..

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    Rating: +9. From 11 votes.
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  12. Bill Belicheat has trade for 3 OL in the last 48 hours for depth. Licht hasn’t done anything.

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    Rating: -4. From 12 votes.
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    • That’s because the New England Pats and Belicheat are WINNERS. They have a burning desire to WIn.To stay on top. They identify deficiencies and take care of them quickly..not in 3 or 4 yrs. The Tampa Bay Bucs are somebody’s hobby. And I feel sorry for the fans who have to watch the hype and consistent losing year after year. The O line we have is just a tad above average. It needs some reinforcement badly. But the defensive line is even worse..as you shall see. GO BUCS…Just try to Win 8 games and a lot of us will be happy. Not Bellacheat 8 wins for him is a losing season. That’s the difference.

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      Rating: -12. From 20 votes.
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  13. I have really been pleasantly surprised with many of the developments this year. Going into camp and the pre-season, after the draft I had last year’s defensive backs in a precarious status to even make the team. I thought MJ would likely not survive the cuts. I had Carlton Davis making the team but only has a backup. And Whitehead struggling too. I was completely wrong. Davis will likely be a star in the secondary. MJ has really played well. And Whitehead looks to make the team and likely start. The negative surprise is that Bunting looks overwhelmed, Dean seems inconstant, and Edwards looks banged up. On to the front 7. The best news is that Vea and David will be returning. Hallelujah! If Spence and Nassib play well and the new guys step up we should be fine. I am nervous about the OL, and I am sure Coach is even more nervous. But I see some depth at RB. And I did not expect that. Tanner Hudson has been a blast to watch. I hope he makes the team. Anderson too. I am excited. Will we go to playoffs? Probably not. But if we can reach 8-8 I will be thrilled.

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  14. 8-8 Neha but now 9-7 and I will be happy.

    Go Bucs !!!

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    Rating: -2. From 4 votes.
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  15. Winston hasn’t held this team back from the playoffs, the defense and it’s ex so called leader have.

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    Rating: +4. From 8 votes.
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  16. Would love to see a rundown/appraisal of our competition in the NFC South. Now is the time. Assuming Brees stays healthy and does not play like a 40 year old, hard to see any other team finishing ahead of them. But are Carolina and Atlanta improved?

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  17. Broderick Thomas had 11 sacks in ’91, which was the last time a non defensive lineman led the team in sacks. I have an autographed poster of the “Sandman” tackling Barry Sanders in my office. Great poster.

    This defense is going to be fun. I think they have a chance to be a shut down defense. They’re all swarming to the ball with attitude and the defensive backs are playing fast and physical. The front 7 are bringing heat from everywhere and batting balls down. They could use more turnovers, but I think that will pick up during the regular season when starter play the entire game. Can’t wait.

    I’ve had nothing but great impressions from watching this coaching staff come in and handle their business. They have been bold in their vision. Impressive moves include:

    1. Unearthing talent by running two practices at once. More reps for everyone is a proving ground.
    2. Common sense rules: No blaring music at practice. Focus on learning your job.
    3. Adept at handling adversity. Kicking curses and JPP’s self inflicted accident have been no story.
    4. Diverse coaching staff which employs two female coaches, one on the defensive line.
    5. Accountability: Jettisoning low effort players like Desean Jackson and Gerald McCoy was step #1 and #2. Obvious no brainers that required guts.

    Can’t wait to see this season unfold. Go Bucs!

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  18. Surprisingly, Bob has had a couple of positive comments recently. Even garnered a few thumbs-up. Could it be that twspin is gaining on him as the most doom and gloom poster? Say it isn’t so Ethel.

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    Rating: -1. From 3 votes.
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    • Voting on comments, especially down votes, is cowardly and lazy. When a post doesn’t conform to a person’s rose-colored thinking they down vote instead of making a well reasoned reply. It seems like the comments section around here are consistent for the most part and that’s partially because of the voting feature.

      For the record, I gave you a thumbs up because of your avatar.

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  19. I think they may share the same Bridge 😂 Don’t let Trolls fool you, their compliments are underhanded and any praise is only to lure you in.

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  20. Re: “But what has held him back from greatness – and the team back from the playoffs – is his penchant for untimely turnovers.”

    I couldn’t disagree more. Since Jameis has been QB, the Bucs have posted all of one season where they weren’t 21st or worse in scoring defense. What happened that year? The Bucs went 9-7 and barely missed the playoffs. We’ve all seen comparisons of Winston to some great QB and how their TD/INT ratio was not much better than Winston’s and often was significantly worse, and those “great QBs” won tons more games… but EACH of them played on a team with a top defense. Certainly QBs get the credit or blame for their team winning or losing games, but when it comes to the Bucs in the previous 8 years, they’ve had a decent scoring defense in all of 1 of those years. Every single other year their scoring D was 21st or worse, and was THE worst one year, and the 2nd worst last year. Simply put, you can have a great scoring offense, but if you can’t stop your opponent, it doesn’t much matter–your QB is going to have to try incredible things if you’re going to have any chance of winning.

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    Rating: +1. From 3 votes.
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