Buccaneers' defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul has been worth every penny, or rather pick, to the Bucs' defense so far this season. He's relentless in his preparation; his energetic and passionate playing style palpable since training camp. He's become a vocal leader not only for the defense, but for the team as a whole.
Pierre-Paul was acquired via trade this past offseason, with the team giving up a third-round pick in order bolster their defensive front with the proven pass rusher. That pick was surrendered to the New York Giants, who the Bucs will now travel up to the Big Apple to face. Pierre-Paul had spent his entire career up until this season in New York and there's good reason to think that energy and passion he's been playing with all season will be even more magnified inside the Meadowlands.
"It's been checked off since I left there and I'm pretty sure they know I'm bringing the house down," Pierre-Paul said of the game. "At the end of the day it is what it is and I know once I get there I'm just going to be going 100 percent."
Pierre-Paul was drafted by New York in 2010 out of the University of South Florida, right here in the Bucs' backyard, and spent eight very productive seasons in the city that never sleeps. His best season came in 2011, where he had an obscene 16.5 sacks and a combined 93 tackles on the season. It garnered him both All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors. His last double-digit sack season came in 2014 when he had 12.5. He's almost surpassed his 2017 total of 8.5 with the eight he already has for the Bucs this season and is on pace to return to double digits.
"Playing there was awesome," Pierre-Paul said of New York. "The fans were amazing, great teammates, great organization. I loved it there."
"But I'm here now and I love it here," he added with a big, cheesy grin.
Returning to the place where he's had most of his career success carries weight, make no mistake. It also carries a sense of familiarity with former teammates, coaches and atmosphere. He downplayed any sort of intel he could give the Bucs given the drastic changes the Giants have made to their roster since last season, including a new head coach, a new stud running back and a different system than he was in.
View photos from the Buccaneers' practice Wednesday at the AdventHealth Training Center.
One player Pierre-Paul did have a message for? The guy under center.
"Eli is Eli, man," Pierre-Paul said. "I know one thing – if he's hot, he's going to continue being hot. We've got to get after him early and he knows I'm coming. I'm coming Eli – I'm coming. Just letting you know."
It was said in jest, as he pointed his water bottle at the surrounding cameras in the locker room like he was trying to point to Manning directly. While he had limited opportunities to get to Manning as a member of the same team in practice, something Manning was assuredly thankful for at the time, it will now be Pierre-Paul's job to get to Manning as a member of the opposition. While Pierre-Paul takes that assignment seriously, he made sure to also touch on the respect he has for the quarterback and the impact Manning had on him while they were teammates. It seems the Bucs have the veteran signal caller to thank for some of Pierre-Paul's work ethic and his propensity for early-morning workouts, with Pierre-Paul saying he remembers Manning's car always being the first in the parking lot.
"He's one of the greats," Pierre-Paul said of Manning. "That man won two Super Bowls, how can you say he's not one of the greats? Me, personally, he's in my hall of fame.
"But I ain't falling asleep on Eli."
Another player Pierre-Paul won't be falling asleep on is running back and rookie phenom Saquon Barkley. Although, Pierre-Paul has a very simple answer to the very complicated question that Barkley presents.
"Tackle. That's it." Pierre-Paul said.
Defensive Coordinator Mark Duffner did say on Wednesday that he thinks tackling, consistency and limiting explosive plays have been places that the Bucs' defense took a step forward in on Sunday, which is helpful when facing a player like Barkley. He also provided a little bit more detail as to exactly what will be key for the Bucs in defending him. Mainly, Duffner said being disciplined in run fits and not giving Barkley a lot of space with be crucial because he can hurt you that way.
Shutting Barkley down will be heavily on Pierre-Paul and the rest of the front-seven. He'll have no shortage of motivation or support when he rolls into New York on Sunday. It may be more than he needs because either way, he's ready to go.
"I got a lot of people supporting me there," Pierre-Paul said. Other than that, I'm going to be ok. I don't need a lot of support but at the end of the day I know it's going to be crazy out there. I'm just going to go out there and give it my all, that's what I do every Sunday, give it my all and see what happens."
And when asked what he's looking forward to most?
"Playing the game and getting the W. That's what I'm looking the most forward to."