DT Chris Hovan (red jersey) simply wants to perform his assigned tasks within the Buccaneers' system
There is a dress code when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers travel to away games, but nothing too strict. Suits are certainly not required on the charter flight, though they're seen here and there, mixed in with more casual attire.
Defensive tackle Chris Hovan has just two Buccaneer trips under his belt so far, but he's already made his own dress code clear. Hovan wears natty suit-and-tie combinations, even as some teammates slide into nearby seats in jeans and polos.
This might seem to be at odds with Hovan's NFL reputation. During five seasons in Minnesota, including a 2002 campaign that produced several all-pro honors, Hovan often came across as a wild man on the field, with elaborate eye-black streaks on his face, huge tattoos on his arms and hair flowing out the back of his helmet.
Hovan's hair is now close-cropped and he hasn't yet broken out the eye-black in Tampa, but he still plays the game with a passion and a non-stop motor. That does not, however, make the suit waiting for him in his road locker a contradiction. You see, a road trip in the NFL – any game, really, home or away – is straight business to Hovan.
That's true, he insists, even of the Bucs' first regular-season road trip of the year, and the potentially emotional coincidence of its location: Minneapolis. Hovan was released by the Vikings after the 2005 season.
"Just control your emotions and treat it like it's a job," said Hovan of how he will handle this homecoming of sorts. "Have fun when you're out there, but it is a job. Go out there and get your job done.
"I think you've just got to zone everything out, go out and do your assignment. Just go out there, do your job, put your suit back on and come back home."
The Vikings moved Hovan out this offseason as part of an enormous overhaul to their defense. At the two tackle spots they know have a massive pair of Williamses, Kevin and Pat. Kevin Williams, the 2004 Pro Bowler, fills the pass-rush role, with 22 sacks over his first two years in the league. Pat Williams, a free agent signee from Buffalo, is the stout run-plugger. Both weigh in excess of 310 pounds.
Hovan landed in the perfect situation. Despite the Vikings' moves to bigger men, Hovan is actually a larger nose tackle than the Bucs had in their most recent starter Chartric Darby. Still, he fits the Buc standard at that position with his quickness and relentless play. Buccaneer Head Coach Jon Gruden has been very complimentary of Hovan's work since camp began in late July, as he has seemingly fit in well with a star-studded line of Simeon Rice, Greg Spires and Anthony McFarland.
And that's exactly what Hovan wants to do. Buccaneer coaches stress a player's responsibility to the system, a system that has succeeded marvelously for the better part of a decade. Hovan has clearly bought into that team approach. While Gruden joked on Wednesday that the Bucs would be picking Hovan's brain on Minnesota's offense, the former Viking knows it's more important to remember the specifics of his current job.
"I'll be as much of a help as I can be [in scouting the Vikings], but you can't deviate from your game plan," he said. "You have to go out there and run your game plan, and [add] whatever hints and secrets you might have. But you still have to go out there and run the defense with the other guys. Do your job and trust in the guys who are doing their jobs, and everything will work out."
Whether or not he gleans any plays, Hovan will certainly recognize some of the faces on the other side of the line of scrimmage. He has seen close-up the work of such Viking stars as Daunte Culpepper and Michael Bennett, and he surely has had some practice-field battles with interior linemen like Cory Withrow and Adam Goldberg. But, again, this isn't a reunion; it's business. Hovan expects his former teammates will see it the same way.
"Yeah, some guys I might know, but they're just a face and a number when I play them," he said. "That's how they have to look at me, too. No hard feelings, but it is business. Get your job done on the field, man."
No matter what defense he's in the middle of, Hovan says one thing never changes. As dominant as Culpepper can be, as much as the Bucs have to consider him the Vikings' most dangerous player, the first thing that much be accomplished is the containment of Bennett and his backfield mates.
"Whatever you do in this league, you have to stop the run," said Hovan, sounding like every Buccaneer defender of the last eight years. "Every team in the league tries to build its offense off of the run – play-action, bootleg, whatever. You build your offense on how you run the ball. First and foremost you have to stop the run."
That, you might say, is Hovan's job on Sunday.