Jason Pierre-Paul thinks his homecoming with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is going to be a big hit.
"It means a lot, you know," said the longtime New York Giant of returning to Tampa, where he starred for the University of South Florida Bulls. "It means a lot. It's been nine years. I know everybody's excited – I'm excited, my son, he's excited [that I'm] closer to home. So I'm really pumped. I think this is going to be one of my best years."
If Pierre-Paul proves those last words right, we will likely see one of the Buccaneers' most notable droughts end. The last Tampa Bay lineman to reach double digits in a sack in a single season was Simeon Rice in 2005. Pierre-Paul's best season in that category was 16.5 in 2011, and he also had a 12.5-sack campaign in 2014. Even last year, his first full 16-game season since he suffered a hand injury in the summer of 2015, he recorded 8.5 sacks, which would have led Tampa Bay's defense.
Pierre-Paul doesn't have to match his 2011 total to make a big impact; if 2018 proves to be "one of" his best years, it will make a big difference on the Bucs' fortunes. And that in turn could end an even more important drought, potentially sending the Buccaneers back to the postseason for the first time since 2007.
Pierre-Paul has been in the playoffs since then. His big sophomore campaign helped push the Giants to the final game of the entire NFL campaign, where they upset the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI. He had a tackle for loss, a quarterback hit and two passes defensed in New York's 21-17 win. Pierre-Paul was also on the 2016 Giants squad that won 11 games before losing in the Wild Card round. He says he's still getting a feel for his new teammates in Tampa but he already knows the key to getting the Bucs back to the postseason.
View some of the best photos of the first day of Buccaneers' 2018 Mini-Camp.
"Effort, man," said Pierre-Paul. "I think you start by effort and determination. Every guy has to be determined to win, to think of winning and putting in the work. I think if we put in the work we'll be fine.
"It starts with hard work, dedication, communication. That's basically it, and being determined. It's not just saying it, it's actually doing it."
Pierre-Paul has spent the offseason working out on his own while he took care of the details that came with the big change of being traded to a new team and finding a new place to live. In his absence, there has been plenty of talk during OTAs that there is a new and very close-knit attitude at One Buccaneer Place. Pierre-Paul said the coaches spoke to the players about respecting each other on Tuesday, and he thinks that's an important part of building a championship team as well.
"All I can say man, when it comes to a Super Bowl team – even Vinny [Curry] can tell you – when it comes to a Super Bowl team it's all about the communication and respect that you've got for guys, and everybody coming together," said Pierre-Paul. "There's no beef in between."
The Buccaneers traded a third-round pick to the Giants to acquire Pierre-Paul, who is likely to step right in at left end on a largely remodeled defensive line. After finishing last in the NFL with 22 sacks last year, the Buccaneers not only swung the deal for Pierre-Paul and his 58.5 career sacks but also signed Beau Allen, Vinny Curry and Mitch Unrein in free agency and spent a first-round pick on Vita Vea.
That's a lot of new talent, but the key to whole group could still be holdover Gerald McCoy, a six-time Pro Bowler who will presumably see a lot fewer double-teams with so many other rushers for opposing defenses to worry about. McCoy is also sure to remain the team's defensive leader, both on and off the field, and that's just fine with Pierre-Paul.
"Obviously Gerald's been the guy here and I'm all for falling behind him, and we're going to do it together, man," he said. "I'm a guy, I don't really speak much. Everybody sees my effort and stuff from my play and my football game. I'm not a vocal leader, man. That's something I've never been, you just see it in my game, my effort."
The Giants took Pierre-Paul with the 15th-overall pick in the 2010 draft. He had played only one season at USF after transferring in from Fort Scott Community College, where he coincidentally had Lavonte David as a teammate. Pierre-Paul had only taken up football as a junior in high school, having first focused on basketball. His climb from the juco level to first-round pick was steep, and he continued his ascent with his early dominance in New York. He's since overcome a major obstacle, his hand injury, that could have derailed his career, and now he says he's still "only going up." Pierre-Paul is clearly expecting a big season in 2018, and he's thrilled at the thought of creating that in a Buccaneer uniform.
"It feels like a dream," he said. "To be honest it feels like a dream, I'm still dreaming. Being in red, it's a big change in my career. It's been eight years with the Giants and now I'm here for Year Nine. It's a big change, but I'm ready and I'm up for it. I'm up for the change and I know I'm going to bring my best game and show those guys, too."