The target date has arrived, no setback occurred and Darrelle Revis is ready to take the playing field once again, suiting up for his new team for the first time and, coincidentally, doing so against the club for which he played his first six NFL seasons.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers open their 2013 season against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, and there's little doubt that Revis will find himself under the brightest spotlight. The four-time Pro Bowler – widely considered the league's best cornerback before the knee injury that felled him early last season in his last year in New York – became a Buccaneer in April in a blockbuster draft-week trade. Up to Sunday, all of the attention surrounding Revis has focused on his recovery and whether or not he would be ready for the start of the regular season. Now it shifts to the much more important long-term consideration: How will his presence affect the Tampa Bay defense?
The Buccaneers are expecting the return of 'Revis Island,' a player who can control a large area of the field by himself and thus offer more options to the rest of the defensive personnel.
"He's a tremendous football player, he's an elite-level guy, and I expect him to play like that," said Head Coach Greg Schiano. "I know he hasn't played in games [in 2013] so there may be a little bit of rust there, but he's looked pretty good in practice. He's played in games for a while now, so this isn't his first shot at stuff. I'm confident he'll be ready."
Earlier in the week, Schiano said that there would be no set plan for the number of snaps Revis plays in his first game back, but that the team would "play it by ear." That remains the approach with kickoff just hours away.
"I rely a great deal on his input," said Schiano. "It's his body, he knows how he feels. We have done that throughout the process since we signed him and we're going to continue doing that today."
Revis will help the Buccaneers counter a Jets offense that will be led by a rookie quarterback in his first regular-season NFL game, second-round pick Geno Smith. That conjures up images of a defense licking its chops at the prospect of befuddling an inexperienced young passer, but Schiano points out that Smith won't be alone out there. The Bucs have prepared for what they believe will be a well-designed plan to make the most of Smith's talents, and for Schiano, that preparation reaches back to his days as the head coach at Rutgers.
"Whenever people say that, you've got to remember that it's that quarterback within that scheme," said Schiano. "So we need to prepare our players for the scheme – how they run the football, the different route concepts. And then you take that player within that scheme – and they're going to play to his strengths. Whatever Geno's strengths are, that's what the scheme is going to play to. We just need to be ready. We feel like we have a good feel for him, not only from watching his preseason games, but when we were in college we saw him when he was at West Virginia. We've tried to get that all to the players and I think the guys understand who they're playing."
The changes in the Jets' offensive backfield extend beyond the switch from Mark Sanchez to Smith. Lead back Shonn Greene departed for the Tennessee Titans and now the Jets will go with the duo of Bilal Powell and former New Orleans Saint Chris Ivory. Schiano fully expects the Jets to emphasize their rushing attack, including the possibility of Smith taking off with the ball on occasion.
"Well, they're going to run the ball; that's what [Jets Head Coach] Rex [Ryan] likes to do," said Schiano. "The term he always says is, 'Ground and Pound.' They're going to try to do that and they can do it out of traditional run, they can do it out of gun run, they can do it out of Wildcat run. We expect to see every form of it, but we also know they're going to throw the football. This kid's got a big arm and he can make every throw in the book. I think it's going to be a good mix, and that's going to be part of their plan – changing personnel groups, changing offensive theories, jumping in and out of gun run, jumping in and out of pistol or Wildcat or whatever it is. We'll be ready. We've prepared for it all and the guys just have to go out and execute."
In contrast, Tampa Bay's offensive core remains largely the same as the one that produced franchise single-season records for points and yards in 2012. Josh Freeman is still at the helm, making his fourth straight opening-day start, rookie sensation Doug Martin is back for a second season full of promise, and the receiving duo of Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams is itching to play four quarters after a largely inactive preseason.
"These guys are ready," said Schiano. "Josh is ready. It starts with him and he's ready; he had a great week of practice. Doug Martin's ready. He's fresh, he looks good. The offensive line, save Carl [Nicks], they're ready. And I think, with our receiving corps, we have a group of guys that's confident. We've got to go do it. That's what we've talked about, that now it's time to put the pieces together and go play."
As Schiano indicates, and as the Buccaneers noted on their Friday injury report, Pro Bowl guard Carl Nicks won't play in the opener as he continues to recover from a foot ailment. The Bucs do have their other Pro Bowl guard back on the right side in Davin Joseph, who will be playing in his first regular season game in 21 months thanks to a preseason knee injury in 2012. The Bucs are looking forward to the game in which they can get both guards on the field for the first time since Nicks was signed as a free agent in March of 2012, but they chose not to rush Nicks' recovery.
"Maybe he could have played, maybe he couldn't have, but it's been a long recovery and we wanted to make sure that when he comes back he's fully ready to go," said Schiano. "So, it was a hard decision for him and for us, but it's the right thing to do and we'll see next week how he does. Davin is certainly a leader of our football team and a really, really good player. He played at Miami, he played at New England, and those were important games for him to get work. I think he's confident now that he's ready to go."
Nicks, TE Tom Crabtree and FB Erik Lorig all stayed back in Tampa for the weekend and are three of the team's seven inactives on Sunday. The other four are QB Dan Orlovsky, CB Rashaan Melvin, DE William Gholston and DT Chris Jones. Nicks, Crabtree, Lorig and Melvin are out due to injury. Gabe Carimi will start in place of Nicks at left guard.
The Jets' seven inactives are Sanchez, LB Danny Lansanah, G Will Campbell, T Ben Ijalana, T Oday Aboushi, DL Quinton Coples and LB Scott Solomon. Sanchez, Ijalana and Coples are out due to injury. Garrett McIntyre will start for Coples at outside linebacker and, although DT Kenrick Ellis is active for the game, he will be replaced in the starting lineup at nose tackle by Damon Harrison.
The Buccaneers and Jets will kick off the regular season at 1:00 p.m. ET at MetLife Stadium and will be aired on television by FOX. The game will be broadcast by the Buccaneers Radio Network and its flagship station, US 103.5 FM. That radio broadcast will also be carried live on Buccaneers.com. Visit Buccaneers.com throughout the evening for further reports on the evening's action, including coverage of the team's postgame press conferences.
Ready for some football? Schiano says the Bucs are.
"It's the first of 16 one-game seasons and we've prepared hard and we're ready," he said.