WR Paris Warren was incredibly poised in the aftermath of his injury last September, and he's similarly unfazed by the challenge lying ahead of him
Paris Warren says his primary goal is to build confidence, but honestly, that doesn't appear to be a problem for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' under-the-radar, fourth-year wide receiver.
Even though he's one of 14 wideouts fighting for approximately six roster spots, and even though he has a total of five regular-season receptions on his resume, Warren seems to have little doubt where he'll be this fall.
Asked as to whether or not he'll still be on the Bucs' roster after it is pared down to 53 in September, Warren answered succinctly. "Yeah," he said. "Definitely. I have no worries. I let my play talk for myself."
Warren missed all the 2007 season due to a nasty leg injury suffered, quite memorably, as he scored the game-winning touchdown against the Houston Texans in the Bucs' final preseason tune-up. At the time, the final round of roster cuts was just 48 hours away, and Warren was sure he had done enough in the past month to prove he deserved a spot.
He remains certain that he would have made the team if he just could have avoided misfortune for the three minutes and nine seconds remaining in the Houston game as he crossed the goal line. Was there a spot waiting for him on the 53-man roster in 2007?
"Oh yeah, definitely," said Warren, again displaying little deficiency in the confidence department.
Before we mistakenly paint a picture of Warren as an egomaniac, we should make it clear that the former Utah star is pleasant, approachable and not outwardly cocky in the least. Confidence is a tool for every player trying to make it in the NFL, and Warren's teammates clearly have an abiding affection for him. The entire group gathered around him on the field at Raymond James Stadium after he was hurt in the Houston game, kicking off a trend the team would unfortunately see repeated too many times last fall. Quarterback Luke McCown said he was "heartbroken" after Warren's injury, citing all of the receiver's hard work in the previous months.
Warren simply believes, without any apparent hesitation, that he's good enough to play in the NFL and for the Buccaneers. And even though Warren is a former seventh-round draft pick who spent much of his rookie season in 2005 on the practice squad and has played in a total of eight regular-season games, this might not be empty hubris.
Warren just might be right.
He did, after all, make the Buccaneers' 53-man roster coming out of training camp in both 2005 and 2006. He didn't get into any games as a rookie before being bumped to the practice squad, but he had a late-season opportunity in 2006 and was productive in a limited amount of snaps. As to his belief that he was earmarked for the roster again in 2007, Head Coach Jon Gruden essentially said the same thing in his postgame press conference after the Houston game.
In just 26 games at Utah, the Sacramento native had 156 catches for 1,885 yards and 16 touchdowns. He slipped to the nether regions of the draft on the basis of unremarkable 40-yard dash times, but the Bucs believe his production in college can translate to the NFL. Warren was having something of a coming-out party last summer, with a team-high 15 catches for 191 yards and four touchdowns, before his last big play did him in.
Replays of the play that left him with a badly dislocated ankle are difficult to watch – his leg twists unnaturally as he dives across the goal line and the Texans defender makes a lunging grab at his feet – but Warren was amazingly calm in the immediate aftermath.
"I was just so mad," said Warren, explaining his apparent stoicism. "I was lying on my stomach and I told myself to turn over because I already knew I was hurt. By then, the trainers were talking to me, and I'm pretty good with pain."
Surgery followed, and the long road to recovery. He says he's running essentially at full-speed now, has been for about three weeks. Now that he can run all the routes again, he is working hard to regain his timing with the quarterbacks. And then there's that little matter of confidence.
See, Warren may be fully confident in terms of the big picture, but he knows he has to get back to the point where he makes every step, plant and cut without worry.
"I'm going to be better," he said. "It's always a climb. But my main thing is to build my confidence up, using that foot, planting it in the ground and not thinking about the injury again. Other than that, I'm pretty good. I'm still taking it one day at a time, but I'm feeling good."
There may be some unconscious trepidation for Warren as he takes a certain step here or there on the field, but it's nothing that is weighing heavily on his mind. At this point, he's simply climbing back to that roster spot he's sure is waiting for him this fall.
"Nervous is over," said Warren. "It's just me building the strength back up, coming out and going to work. The hard part is over."