TAMPA, Fla. — Warnings have been issued, verbal barbs traded. Around One Buc Place, this is the offseason of a secondary makeover, of glamour introductions to safety Dashon Goldson and cornerback Darrelle Revis as The Answers to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ greatest flaw in 2012.
It is only June, but banter between a new-look secondary and a proud receiving corps has a fall feel. Ask receiver Mike Williams, a four-year veteran, who has both dished and received sharp words himself.
“It’s a competition every day,” said Williams, who had a career-high 996 yards receiving and nine touchdowns last season. “We’re all talking stuff to each other. Even Revis — he’s talking stuff too, and he’s not even back yet.”
This is OTAs, so much of what happens on practice fields around the league remains a tease. There is trash talk. There is a glimpse of what could come. There is a chance chemistry gained in the spring will transfer to training camp and beyond. There is also a chance it might not.
Still, for the Bucs, another benefit of the Revis and Goldson signings is the effect it could have on their top two pass-catching options, Williams and nine-year veteran Vincent Jackson. Of course, Revis remains little more than a bystander as he works with Todd Toriscelli, the Bucs’ director of sports medicine and performance, to rehab the NFL’s most-watched left knee. The Revis/Goldson combo remains an unknown, a tantalizing possibility — one that likely will not be revealed until training camp.
Yet Revis’ absence from drills has not prevented pointed talk between receiver and secondary stars in recent weeks. It is expected and predictable, but it is also a good sign for Tampa Bay as big-name additions become acclimated in their new setting.
For example, Revis has taunted Williams with statements like, “When I get back, no catches for you!” Meanwhile, Williams says Goldson is taking numbers for training camp, plotting his attack.
“It’s fun going out there and competing versus those guys,” Williams said. “It’s going to be good, because they’re going to give a lot of receivers trouble this year.”
Which could make Williams and Jackson deeper threats next season. The Bucs were No. 10 in pass offense last year (248.9 yards per game), behind NFC South rivals New Orleans (312.3 ypg) and Atlanta (281.8). Jackson, signed to a five-year deal after seven seasons with the San Diego Chargers, emerged with a career year (1,384 yards receiving) and earned his third Pro Bowl appearance. More is expected next fall.
Until then, the four stars will continue to build. The matchup between a receiver and secondary player is a test of will, but it is also one of ego. Physical strength is a plus. But a mental edge is often required to become and stay elite.
Revis, Goldson, Jackson and Williams all have one. In addition, Revis, Goldson and Jackson own Pro Bowl pedigrees. Williams is a rising talent, someone who describes his working relationship with Jackson as “like twins.” The Bucs can benefit on both sides of the ball from this mix of size and speed, agility and drive.
“It isn’t going to do anything but enhance our performance on defense,” Goldson said of playing against Jackson and Williams. “We’re playing against a good group — Pro Bowler, with Vincent. And coming with Mike, he’s a good football player. We all know that. We’ve got to go out here and compete with these guys on the football field to make our jobs easier on Sundays. … Every time we come out here, it’s more like … a game atmosphere as far as your mind-set — you’re coming out here and competing. All of us compete out here.”
That is what coach Greg Schiano envisions, as he should. He anticipates an “intense” training camp with Revis and Goldson matching wits with Jackson and Williams. Those repetitions could pay off in many ways, but the most obvious are these: The better the defense Jackson and Williams face in the NFC South and elsewhere, the more they will be prepared; the better the offense Revis and Goldson face, the more they will be comfortable.
“When you have that veteran leadership,” Schiano said, “I think it’s going to raise the level.”
Raising the level is something that is possible for all involved in this discussion. That is reason to study how the addition of Goldson and Revis, once he returns, affects Jackson and Williams.
The respect between the four players is there. So are challenges and opportunity. Just listen to Williams, who, when asked to describe what comes to mind when his new secondary teammates are named, said this …
On Revis: “Interceptions. Turnovers. More plays on offense.”
On Goldson: “Big hits. Interceptions. More plays on offense.”
More plays on offense. More chances to showcase ability. More opportunities to grow.
Now is a time for talk. Soon, a moment for action will come.
Revis and Goldson will be there. Jackson and Williams will be waiting.