There were nearly two dozen separate periods during the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' training camp practice on Sunday morning, many of them focusing on specific game situations. Number 13 was labeled "P.U.P.," which stands for Pass Under Pressure, or what is often called a blitz period.
For the defense, blitzing is a risk-reward proposition. The reward can be great if the pressure gets to the quarterback before he can make the play he wants to make. The risk, of course, is that the offense will find a way to quickly exploit the absence of the blitzing defender(s) and create a big play.
The Buccaneers are hoping that Vincent Jackson is the kind of player that can make defenses pay for taking that risk.
The potential for such a development for Tampa Bay's offense was evident on the very first snap of Period #13 on Sunday. Both Jackson and quarterback Josh Freeman read a safety blitz with press coverage by the corner assigned to Jackson. An adjustment was made, silently, and at the snap Jackson beat his man and accelerated up the right sideline. Freeman had more than enough time to loft a perfect floater downfield and Jackson easily loped under it for a big gain. There was no safety over the top to help out the beaten cornerback.
"We've got a couple different reads that we can adjust to against pressure looks," said Jackson after the practice. "That was a look where it was obviously single coverage, and sometimes we'll take that shot. We just want to be a complete team. We want to be able to run the ball, we want to be able to protect the quarterback, and of course when we do have the opportunities, stretch the field."
Jackson wants to be a complete player himself. He has made it clear since he signed his lucrative free agency deal with the Buccaneers in March that he wants to be a receiver who does it all, catching short, long and intermediate throws and even drawing coverage away from teammates so they can make the important plays. Still, Jackson's body of NFL work, particularly his career 17.5 yards per catch, make it clear that he is a big-play threat. A strong running game will help the Buccaneers unlock that threat, but so will any chemistry that Jackson and Freeman can build together.
That's a work in progress, obviously, as the two have yet to play a single game together, but Head Coach Greg Schiano can already see the connection developing between his two offensive stars.
"I think it's great," said the coach. "They're getting a good feel for each other. They appear to get along both on and off the field which I think is big. I think team chemistry and enjoying being around guys outside of when you just have to be, I think that's all good stuff. I look at our offensive line and they're like that. That's encouraging. Sometimes when you take over a program, that's lacking. I think we have it in some areas. We have some real good unit chemistry and positional chemistry which gives us a little chance."
Over the last four seasons, Jackson has caught 35 passes that resulted in gains of 25 or more yards. That's the 10th-highest total in the NFL in that span, despite the fact that he played in only six contests in 2010. The only two receivers in the league who have played in the same number or fewer games than Jackson over the last four years and had more "big-play" catches are Mike Wallace and Andre Johnson. Skeptics will point out that Jackson caught all those passes from a different quarterback, San Diego's strong-armed Philip Rivers, but the Buccaneers believe Freeman can deliver the football to him just as effectively. Jackson obviously believed he could succeed with Freeman as his passer, and he feels like they're quickly forging a connection.
"It's great," said the veteran receiver. "We've put a lot of work in together out here in the field and obviously in the classroom. The more that each of us growing in the new offense, we're seeing the same things, out there communicating with our hand signals and everything. I think we're going to get a great rhythm and we'll get this thing going in September."
Jackson played in some prolific offenses in San Diego, and was teammates in certain seasons with the likes of Antonio Gates, LaDainian Tomlinson, Darren Sproles, Malcom Floyd and Ryan Matthews. Last year, when Jackson racked up 1,106 receiving yards and nine touchdowns, there were five different players who had at least 43 catches in the San Diego offense, plus a 1,000-yard rusher in Mathews and another 490-yard back in Mike Tolbert. When a defense has that many weapons to worry about, that brings more opportunities to everyone.
Jackson thinks the same thing can and will develop in Tampa, with such teammates as Mike Williams, Arrelious Benn, Dallas Clark, Luke Stocker, LeGarrette Blount and David Martin. In addition to his own growing chemistry with Freeman, Jackson sees the young quarterback finding a way to spread the ball around effectively.
"It's very dynamic; I love it, to tell you the truth," said Jackson of the Bucs' offense. "There are so many options. We've got a plethora of great receivers and running backs, and tight ends as well. We're going to be getting the ball to everybody. We're going to be very balanced in all three phases, and it's just exciting right now."
Nothing was more exciting for the Buccaneers' offense on Sunday morning, however, than the big play between Freeman and Jackson. If that was indeed a sign of their developing connection, that's the best news the team could get in the early days of training camp.