Sean Jones came to Tampa because he wanted to feel the heat.
In more ways than one.
Quite literally, Jones enjoys the sticky, sometimes oppressive conditions of a practice field during a summer in Florida. Some might consider that the main challenge of relocating a career from the likes of Cleveland Philly to the home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but to this Atlanta native, it was a big part of the draw.
More importantly, though, Jones knows there is another kind of heat that can come down on a Buccaneers defender. Heat as in expectations. As in pressure. Jones loves that, too; he knows well the franchise's proud defensive history and wants to be a part of it. The Bucs were out of the league's top 10 in defense last year for just the third time in the last 14 seasons, and getting back is job one.
And so Jones, an unrestricted free agent of some note in a spring that boasted fewer choices than usual in that category, chose to sign with the Buccaneers on March 17.
"Tampa's a great fit for me because I like the scheme, I like Ra [Head Coach Raheem Morris], I like all the guys in the organization," said the former University of Georgia star. "My teammates are great. I wanted to get closer to home, down South. I just want to come down here, play well and try to get a championship. I know here in Tampa they pride themselves on defense, and we're going to play ball. Like I said, we're looking for big things."
Indeed, the Bucs believe that the addition of first and second-round defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price, another year of seasoning for the team's young linebackers and Morris' decision to take over the defensive reins will help immensely in 2010. In the secondary the new additions are Jones and third-round cornerback Myron Lewis. Lewis is big, fast and a very intriguing prospect, but it is always difficult to predict how much impact a rookie will make. Jones, on the other hand, has proved himself on the NFL level, repeatedly and consistently.
In fact, over the past four seasons, including his one year in Philly in 2009, Jones has picked off 16 passes, more than every other safety in the league except Ed Reed (24), Oshiomogho Atogwe (18) and Nick Collins (16). Jones didn't do most of his damage in one big year and then disappear, either; he had at least four interceptions in each of his last three seasons in Cleveland. Notably, he performed in a defensive system with the Browns that makes him well-suited to pick up at the same pace in Tampa.
"We ran a lot of this kind of defense in Cleveland my first five years – pretty much the same thing; it's very parallel," said Jones. "I'm very comfortable with it, just learning every day. I'm excited about the opportunity I'm going to have and I'm looking forward to getting out there against Cleveland the first game."
Yes, the Bucs' first regular-season outing this fall will be against the team that drafted him in the second round in 2004. Between now and then, Tampa Bay's coaching staff will have to figure out how it will deploy its secondary, specifically what role Jones will play on a team that returns its two 2009 safety starters, Tanard Jackson and Sabby Piscitelli. That particular decision is of little concern to Jones at the moment.
"Right now, they've got us rotating with the [first team]," he said. "It's good competition, but if I just worry about myself and go out there and do what I know I can do, there will be great things for me. But it's still a team effort so everybody's going to play. No matter who's the starter, everybody's going to get a shot to go out there and help the team get a win.
"That's one of the reasons I wanted to come down here, just because of the amount of talent we have on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Aqib [Talib], T-Jack and all those guys, I've been watching them on film the last couple of years and they're great young players. I'm glad to be a part of it."
So far, the Buccaneers like what they've seen, as well. The team just began its run of organized team activity day practices earlier this week, giving Jones his first chance to run around within the framework of the Bucs' schemes. Any team-to-team move involves learning a new terminology, but Jones should have little problem with the underlying principles of Tampa Bay's defense.
"You see why Sean was one of those guys that led his league in interceptions or was in top four or five in the last couple years, because of his ball awareness and his ball skills and his eye control," said Morris. "He does so many of those things well, and now you're honing him in and putting him into your system and he's picking up. He has his Rosetta Stone out right now, translating our language and it's working for him. As soon as he finishes processing his Rosetta Stone, we might see a pretty good player."
And Jones might find himself right in the middle of a heat wave. Fortunately, that's exactly what he wants. Bring it on.
"Being in the heat, I'm loving it," he said. "I just know the Bucs have a great tradition – they won a Super Bowl a couple years back and have always had great defenses. I would love to be a part of a defense that's coming up to be one of the tops in this league."