Jason Pierre-Paul, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' sack leader in 2018, practiced with the full team on Tuesday for the first time since suffering a neck injury in a car accident in May. Pierre-Paul is beginning the second week of a three-week window in which he is exempt from counting against the roster but can work out with the team in advance of possibly being activated from the reserve/non-football injury list.
If that activation happens by this Saturday, Pierre-Paul would be eligible to make his 2019 debut on Sunday against the Tennessee Titans. According to Head Coach Bruce Arians, his star pass-rusher "looked good," had a "heck of a practice" and did "everything" within that practice. So will the team choose to get Pierre-Paul back into game action as quickly as they possibly could?
Arians: "We'll see."
Pierre-Paul: "We'll see."
Arians did elaborate that the evidence of the next few days – not just how Pierre-Paul handles himself on the practice field but how well his body responds after each workout – will be a big factor in the final decision for this weekend.
"It’s how he feels, how he’ll feel tomorrow after this practice," said the coach. "A lot will depend on how he feels Thursday after Wednesday practice in pads, and we’ll just judge it from there."
Okay, there is no real reason for the Buccaneers to decide on Tuesday if Pierre-Paul will play on Sunday when there are still three more practices and a walk-through to go before the game in Nashville. And when that decision is made, there is no real reason for the Buccaneers to reveal it any earlier than they see fit, for strategic reasons. So the primary takeaway from Tuesday's "bonus practice" following last week's bye (during which he also got in a couple of workouts in pads along with some helpers from the practice squad), is that Pierre-Paul is feeling good and should soon be making an impact for the Buccaneers.
"It felt great," said Pierre-Paul of the work he put in on Tuesday. "It's been a long journey and there's still a lot going on but it's been great working with my teammates.
"All I can say is everything is good right now. I'm on the right track, I'm keeping fit. I've got a lot to do in a short amount of time."
Actually, Pierre-Paul already is making an impact on the team, according to Arians, and has been in recent weeks since he began attending practice again and pitching in from the sideline.
"That’s a huge thing because he has been one of the vocal leaders for a long time, and not having his presence – I can already feel the difference," said Arians. "Obviously, he’s feeling his way football-wise, but the rest of it – last week, going out to practice, coaching, doing all those things, giving young guys advice – it’s fantastic."
Pierre-Paul joined the Buccaneers in 2018 via a trade with the New York Giants, for whom he had played his first eight seasons and racked up 58.5 sacks. Tampa Bay, which hadn't had a player hit double digits in sacks in a season since Simeon Rice did so in 2005, wanted a boost for their edge rush and got it when Pierre-Paul broke that streak with 12.5 QB takedowns in his first year with the team. His presence also helped with the emergence of Carl Nassib, a September waiver claim from the Browns who put up a career-high 6.5 sacks of his own.
With new Head Coach Bruce Arians in charge in 2019 and Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles installing a new, aggressive defense, the Buccaneers wanted even more help on the edges and plucked Shaq Barrett away from Denver Broncos in free agency. Pierre-Paul's accident kept the team from fielding those three together but Barrett exploded onto the scene with 9.0 September sacks anyway.
Now the Buccaneers may soon have those defenders together for the first time, and Pierre-Paul's presence would almost certainly lead to more one-on-ones for Barrett and Nassib. After his huge September, Barrett has seen a lot more double-team blocking the last two games, in which he has been held without a sack.
"He's a good player," said Pierre-Paul of Barrett. "He's a good player and I can't wait to get out there with him. Like I said I've got a lot of work to do in a short time, but I'm looking forward to it."
The Buccaneers had targeted a mid-October return for Pierre-Paul and couldn't have brought him back any sooner after placing him on the NFI list to start the regular season. Now the only obstacle to him getting back on the field on Sundays is his roster-exempt status, which can be eliminated at any time. Pierre-Paul said he never doubted that he would be back in action at some point this season, but he's not making any assumptions yet as to when that will be.
"I have no expectations," he said. "The moment they release me to go out there, I'll be out there. For now, I'm good, I'll be at practice so we'll see."