Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis is 179 days and about a thousand NFL twists and turns away. For Nick Reveiz, rookie fullback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a reasonable substitute can be found in Kansas City in less than 48 hours.
The Buccaneers play the Kansas City Chiefs on Friday night in the first preseason game for both teams. While August openers are important games, sometimes entertaining and – this year, thanks to the football-free offseason – perhaps even highly-anticipated, they are rarely confused with the most popular single-game sporting event in the world. But when Reveiz says that this game is "like his Super Bowl," he could easily be speaking for 20-30 players on the Buccaneers' 90-man roster.
It's precisely because of that unusual offseason that this game has taken on a deeper meaning for some of the younger players in the NFL. Reveiz signed with the Buccaneers as an undrafted rookie, an event that would usually take place within minutes of the last pick of the draft in April. Instead, it happened on July 27, one day before the Buccaneers were to report to training camp. Due to the work stoppage, all players in Reveiz's situation were in limbo until a new CBA was finalized.
That was the case, too, for Mossis Madu, a quick-footed back out of Oklahoma who would have loved a mini-camp or two to show Raheem Morris and his staff how he might fit into the Buccaneers' offense.
"We didn't have any OTAs so we didn't really have a chance to prove to Coach we can play," said Madu. "So now we've got to go out there and prove it even more."
Reveiz may agree, but he is being careful not to put any added pressure on himself.
"I think pressure is something that you make for yourself," he said. "For me, I can't look at it like that. A lot of times you get worried, you get anxious…I'm just going to go out there and perform as hard as I can. Really, that's all I can do. I can just give it my best shot and it's up to the coaches to evaluate that. I'm just going to go out there and play my hardest and see what happens."
Reveiz is listed fourth on the Buccaneers' depth chart at fullback; Madu is in the same slot at running back. That means neither player is likely to see any action in the first two quarters of play. But there should be plenty of time for both players to get on the field. In last year's preseason opener at Miami, four different tailbacks got a carry and seven backs total got into the game.
"I have no idea [what to expect]," said Madu. "I just know it will be some time in the second half. That's what he told us: Be ready come the second half. I just try to tell myself I've been doing this since I was about eight, nine years old and nothing's really changed. Now I'm just going to try to go out there and have fun."
Of course, the situation is a little different for Reveiz, because he hasn't been focusing on the fullback position since he measured his age in single digits. Reveiz, in fact, played linebacker exclusively at Tennessee – that was the position he was originally signed to compete at by the Buccaneers – and manned the fullback position just a bit in high school. He was switched to offense by the Bucs' staff during the first week of training camp. On Wednesday, after the last full-speed practice before Friday's game, Reveiz likened his attempts to consume the Bucs' playbook on the fly to drinking from a fire hose.
"I've been a fullback for, I guess, a week and a day," he said. "It hasn't been easy. But [Running Backs] Coach [Steve] Logan and [Offensive Coordinator Greg] Olson have done a great job of really preparing me and giving me the stuff that I need to get better and to learn. The older guys like Earnest Graham and Rendrick Taylor and Erik Lorig, those guys have been big role models and mentors to me. When I've had questions, they've answered them. They've been extremely helpful. They've eased the process for me."
Now he'd like to get a chance to show he can handle the position when the action is live and full-speed. That could be the first step towards Reveiz actually forging a lasting a career in the NFL. It's easy to see, then, why it feels like the biggest game in the world to him.
And if that's not enough to liken Friday's game to the Super Bowl, then consider this: For most players, appearing in the Super Bowl is the most unforgettable moment in their career. That's just the way it feels to some of the youngest Bucs this week.
"It's going to be a dream come true," said rookie tight end Daniel Hardy. "I'm getting chills just thinking about it right now. I got chills the other night when we came out here for our night practice, just in an NFL stadium. It's something that you dream about. It's something I plan on relishing and just having fun."
Black Takes on Nickel Role
In 2009 and 2010, the Buccaneers primary set of linebackers included Barrett Ruud in the middle and Quincy Black and Geno Hayes on the outside. When the defense went into its nickel alignment – that is, five defensive backs and only two linebackers – Ruud stayed in along with one or the other of Black and Hayes.
Now it appears that both Black and Hayes will be in on the nickel defense, at least to begin the 2011 season. With rookie Mason Foster currently leading the competition to win the 'Mike' job and replace Ruud, Morris is likely to keep his two most experienced linebackers on the field when one of the three has to come out. In addition, the team could use second-year linebacker Dekoda Watson in combination with Black and Hayes when they go to a "Redskin" package that puts a linebacker in a pass-rushing position.
All of this could flatten the learning curve somewhat for Foster, who has only been practicing with the team since July 28. Starting a rookie at the middle linebacker spot, often called the quarterback of the defense, isn't particularly rare – Rolando McClain did it in Oakland last year, James Laurinitis in St. Louis in 2009 and Curtis Lofton in Atlanta in 2008 – and it doesn't frighten the Bucs' coaching staff. Still, Morris can do some things to ease the transition.
"It's tough to step in at any one of those linebacker positions," said Morris. "Middle would be particularly tough, but harder if I'm putting more on his plate. Fortunately, he's going to play next to two vets, Quincy Black and Geno Hayes, and Quincy will be able to tell the huddle the call and settle in on some of his assignments. Right now the way things are going [Foster] is the base Mike. We'll be able to put Quincy in that nickel Mike, and so he gets the chance to really focus and lock on his base responsibilities. If [Foster] grows into the [full] Mike and he's able to stay in the there on third down or two-minute, whatever they case may be, that's great, but you need to find a way to play young guys."
Morris said he is not worried about the rate at which Foster is picking up the defensive playbook.
"It's less of a concern; it's more of a, 'Hey, let's get in the base stuff, pick it up, be great at it,'" said the coach. "We have Quincy Black who we have a lot of confidence in, he's got the serious demeanor. We liked him at Mike. I don't know if it's a concern about Mason. I think it's more of [getting the] best two linebackers on the field right now. In nickel, you're going to get Quincy and your proven Geno Hayes up there right now. You go with your Redskin package, you bring in that third backer, you want Dekoda Watson rushing the passer a little bit. You go base, you want Mason, that thick body out there that's ready to hit some people in the mouth and do different things and hopefully he does that. He's still got to prove that as well. I kind of like that little mixture right now. I think it would be smart for us and I think it will be healthy."
Bucs Add Tight End
With rookie Luke Stocker still sidelined by a hip injury and starter Kellen Winslow possibly slated for minimal playing time in the preseason opener in Kansas City on Friday, the Buccaneers made a move Wednesday to bolster the tight end position.
Tampa Bay claimed rookie tight end Collin Franklin off waivers from the New York Jets. Franklin had signed with the Jets as an undrafted free agent out of Iowa State on July 27 but was waived on Monday. To make room for the addition on their 90-man camp roster, the Buccaneers released rookie linebacker Victor Aiyewa.
The 6-5, 252-pound Franklin came on strong in his final season at Iowa State, leading the Cyclones with 54 receptions for 530 yards and three touchdowns. As such, he was awarded the Ray Scott Award at the end of the season as ISU's top offensive player. Franklin's 87 career catches at the end of 2010 had him ranked eighth nationally among all active NCAA tight ends.
The Simi Valley, California native first emerged as a force for the Cyclones at the end of the 2009 season, after missing a portion of the season due to illness. Over the last four games of the season he pitched in with 11 catches for 127 yards, including three for 31 in Iowa State's Insight Bowl win over Minnesota.