TAMPA, Fla. — A centerpiece of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ future stood far from the action, working through his own schedule, building toward a day when he can return. There, on the edge of a practice field, cornerback Darrelle Revis continued his recovery.
It was Monday at One Buc Place, the first morning of Tampa Bay’s organized team activities. Nearby, rookie cornerback Johnthan Banks and safeties Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron joined teammates in drills, an exercise of the necessary and sometimes mundane almost four months before a Week 1 matchup against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium.
Revis, dressed in black shorts and a red-collared shirt, never stood too far away from Todd Toriscelli, the Bucs’ director of sports medicine and performance. This is the cornerback’s life now, a month after he posed on a stage with a red No. 1 jersey flanked by coach Greg Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik as Tampa Bay’s prized offseason addition and an answer to help correct the NFL’s worst pass defense from last season (297.4 yards per game). This is Revis’ existence in living a build-up to the fall, when he and the Bucs hope memory of a torn ACL in his left knee seems distant.
“Darrelle is learning the system,” Schiano said later Monday. “He’s watching certain things, and then he’s doing other things with Todd. So it’s kind of a split deal there. But (it’s) all aimed at having him ready at the beginning of the season. That’s the main goal.”
There is plenty riding on Revis’ recovery – for him and Schiano, for Dominik and the Bucs’ medical staff, for the Glazer family and followers of a franchise that last reached the postseason after the 2007 campaign. Revis has the oft-repeated resume – a four-time Pro Bowl player, a three-time All-Pro, formerly The Best Player on the Jets – but the six-year, $96 million move that brought him to Florida remains a high-stakes gamble.
Revis has said Tampa Bay has taken a risk. He is confident the trust is well placed, but only time will show if he is proven correct. Many factors and unknowns remain to be sorted, and much about his status will stay a mystery until he runs out of a tunnel in a meaningful game for the first time since crumpling to the grass at Sun Life Stadium last September. For now, watching the cornerback’s rehab is like observing a dented Ferrari receive a new exterior, with fine attention given to the repair.
So the Bucs must continue to wait and hope their strategy is wise. Revis is being held out of OTA workouts, and for good reason. He is an investment — his contract, which includes no guaranteed money, is worth $54.75 million greater than the deal Goldson received — and nothing about his rehab can be done with haste.
“Revis will be back shortly,” Goldson said. “But we expect him back healthy. No rush.”
When it comes to Revis, caution is the spring’s theme within the Bucs. An active offseason that included the signings of Goldson and the star cornerback, plus the retirement of 16-year veteran defensive back Ronde Barber, continues with Revis’ build toward the fall. The watch will continue in the coming weeks, but visions by Bucs’ leadership have already formed.
Schiano and Dominik expect the cornerback to return in time for a reunion with the franchise that let him board a jet southbound from Morristown, N.J. — “I don’t have anything to prove to the New York Jets,” Revis said when he was introduced at One Buc Place — but they also anticipate the player to perform at a level that made him widely regarded as the league’s best at his position. That will be the fragile balance Tampa Bay must manage all season: How to expect elite performance, but also keep in mind that Revis could be a different player because of the injury? How to draw the most from a driven, Type-A talent, but also protect him from himself when necessary for his health?
How to push, but also preserve?
“It’s obviously the first day, so you’re not going to get all the looks you’re eventually going to get,” Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman said after Monday’s workout. “You look at our safeties, man. Those guys are big. It’s definitely a different structure out when you look at the shell of the secondary. I know when you get Darrelle in there it’s just going to add more of a presence.”
That’s what the Bucs expect from Revis this season and beyond: A presence, a force, a factor. They envision “Revis Island” to be a reason why they compete with Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton, after going a combined 3-3 against the trio last season.
The dollars invested in him say as much. Dominik’s pursuit of him, which the general manager recently told NFL Network began when Revis injured his knee that day in Miami Gardens, Fla., does as well. Expectations are high.
“He’s got to learn the scheme,” Schiano said. “He’s got to learn the techniques and the verbiage. So I think we’re in a good place. We’ve got a long way to go. But I think he’d tell you he’s feeling better every day, he’s doing more every day and step-by-step is how we’ll get there.”
As practice carried on Monday, the steps in motion were simple to see. Revis ran between cones, each movement part of a process to return. He looked fine. He looked normal. A month into a new chapter of his professional life, another phase in his recovery had begun.
This is just a start. But the stakes, and the hope he represents for a franchise’s future, could not be higher.