The Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed 16 rookie free agents after the 2012 NFL Draft, then brought in another 44 unsigned players to participate in this weekend's mini-camp on tryout contracts. From among that combined group of 60 young men, Head Coach Greg Schiano expected to keep roughly 22-29 for the training camp roster. On Sunday morning, as that rookie camp was wrapping up, Schiano said the list would probably not be finalized until Monday.
Jordan Jefferson knows he'll be sticking around, however.
After practice on Saturday afternoon, Schiano stopped the former LSU quarterback and informed him that he had the opportunity to remain a Buccaneer, should he want it. Jefferson definitely wanted it. In fact, he turned down several other options following the draft because he specifically liked the situation in Tampa.
"It's definitely a great opportunity," said Jefferson. "It's definitely a blessing and it's God's work to put me in this type of situation. I'm glad that I will continue on being a Buc and I will make full fortune of this situation. I had a few (other teams) on board, but my main interest was coming to Tampa Bay and getting with Coach Schiano. I know a few players that are already on this squad, so I felt it would be a good system to be in and a great group of quarterbacks to learn from.
"My main key was learning from Josh Freeman and Dan Orlovsky and Brett Ratliff. Those three guys really keyed me in to coming to Tampa Bay because I felt that those veteran guys would be able to put me in a situation where I could learn a lot from them. My interest was in being with a group of quarterbacks where I could develop myself and be the best quarterback I can be."
Jefferson's goals were two-fold as the weekend began: To show his potential as an NFL-caliber passer to Buccaneer coaches and to follow every instruction made by Schiano's staff. Clearly, he succeeded in both, as Schiano said he was looking for players who could understand a plan and stick to it. Jefferson's dedication over the weekend resulted in steady advancement from Friday through Sunday.
"He's an athletic guy who has a strong arm and we wanted to gauge his development as a quarterback," said Schiano. "I thought he made consistent improvement all week. Each practice he got better. There's a lot of upside there. So I think we would like to have a chance to work with him, and go from there."
While Jefferson was mildly disappointed to be passed over in the draft after a collegiate career in which he won 24 of the 32 games he started, he still believed that God had a plan for him. That plan, he says, directed him to One Buccaneer Place, even though he still had to prove himself upon arrival. He did so by consistently focusing on whatever task was at hand.
"I just wanted to take the opportunity to be in front of the coaches and show the upside I have as a quarterback," said Jefferson. "I didn't know how this situation was going to turn out, and I had to take it day-by-day, practice-by-practice, play-by-play, second-by-second. I had to look at it in that fashion and just go out and give it 110% at all times. That's what I did and I'm blessed to have this opportunity."
Scouts agree that Jefferson has the arm strength to play in the NFL, and his overall athleticism is an asset in extending plays and gaining yardage with his feet. He has mechanical improvements to make, however, and he knows he has to work hard if he's going to unlock the potential that the Buccaneers see in him.
"I just want to prove that I'm a very talented player. I played at LSU for a large amount of games and had a very strong winning percentage there," he said. "At the same time, I'm not where I want to be, and I just want to show that I'm a competitor and I can be the pro-style quarterback that Tampa Bay wants me to be. But I have to do a lot before I can get to that situation. I have to learn from the starter, from the second-string and from the third-string. That's what I'll be doing with my time here. I want to prove that I can be an NFL quarterback.
"I have a strong arm and I'm a very athletic quarterback. I'm not saying that I'm where I want to be, but I have a lot of work to do, as far as fundamentals and techniques and going through my progressions. I have to do a lot of work there before I can really say that I'm the type of quarterback I want to be. I want to put in all the work and all the effort and all the time it takes for me to put myself in that perfect position. I have a lot to do, a lot of work that needs to be done before I get to where I need to. I'm just fortunate to have this opportunity."
Presumably, the players the Buccaneers sign on Monday will be headed to training camp in July. However, as Schiano also pointed out on Sunday, the roster remains a fluid property throughout the offseason. All a newcomer can be promised on Monday is that he will remain a Buccaneer for at least a while longer, with a further opportunity to prove himself. It's clear that Jefferson believes he can do just that, because he didn't take the chance over the weekend to talk to new teammate Mark Barron, the Alabama safety, about last year's national championship game between the Tigers and the Crimson Tide. Jefferson thinks there is no plenty of time for that topic to come up.
"I'm quite sure that we're going to talk about it very soon, since I'll be sticking around for a lot longer," he said with a laugh. "I'm quite sure it will come up, but it's fun and games. It's about being a competitor. That's the type of player he is and the type of player I am. We're going to be competitive no matter what we do."