RB Michael Pittman did his best to stay in shape during his suspension and looked sharp upon his return
Michael Pittman missed a lot of football over the last three weeks, sure, but he managed to keep up with the game day routine. That's up to and including the post-game shower.
At roughly the same time his Tampa Bay Buccaneer teammates were rinsing off the sweat of their three season-opening losses, Pittman was doing the same at home. He never would have guessed that watching a football game could be so taxing.
"I just got really anxious," said Pittman of the home-viewing process. "I promise you, every game I watched on TV I had to get up and take a shower. I mean, I was really at home sweating. I just wanted my teammates to do good, especially because I wasn't out there."
Game day may have been the most difficult part of those three weeks for Pittman, who just finished serving a suspension handed down by the NFL office, but he spent the balance of the time immersed in hard work. The 29-year-old running back was determined to come out of his layoff in as good a shape as he went in.
At times, that meant waiting for the local basketball park to clear out so he wouldn't frighten anybody running long striders in his helmet and shoulder pads.
Originally, his plan for the three weeks revolved around the IMG Academy in Bradenton, just south down the coast from St. Petersburg. However, he got in only one week of work at IMG thanks to Hurricane Ivan. Pittman wanted to be with his family during that storm, and he ended up doing the rest of his training at a local gym and the aforementioned park.
While the rest of his teammates were working together, Pittman felt a little out of place in his gear in the park.
"It was kind of embarrassing," he admitted, "but I had to do what I had to do."
Fortunately, he had no problem staying motivated. Those images from the TV on Sunday weren't encouraging, as the Bucs struggled on offense and fell to 0-3. Pittman, who felt as if his teammates were standing by him during his difficult time, wanted quite badly to be there for them.
"Just seeing my offense struggle and my teammates struggle was the worst thing that I had to endure the whole time," he said. "If I was just out there helping, just anything…because those first couple games we lost by just one play. I thought in my mind, maybe I could have made that one play to help us get over the edge. But I wasn't there, I wasn't involved."
Expect Pittman to be intricately involved this weekend against Denver. Head Coach Jon Gruden greeted the returning runner with open arms and a little whisper to get ready upon Pittman's return Monday. With Charlie Garner shelved for the season by a knee injury, Pittman steps right into a void on an offense that can't afford another non-contributing spot.
"He looked good today and we need him," said Gruden after Wednesday's practice. "He's one of the top 10 or 11 all-purpose guys in the NFC the last two years. Catching the ball, he's a 75-catch guy. He's a great (blitz) pick-up guy. He can run the ball. His versatility is something we need, obviously, with Garner down."
Despite his belief that he could have made a critical difference in the first couple games, Pittman is not expecting to be anything more than a team player now that he's returned, another piece in the puzzle.
"I'm not coming in trying to be a savior," he said. "We've got 52 other good players on this team. I'm just going to try to help and provide what I can bring to this team. I can catch out of the backfield, I can run…whenever Coach Gruden calls my number I'm just going to do what I have to do."
That's how Pittman approached his suspension, too – he did what he had to do. Now that it's over, so is that chapter in his life, he said.
"Last year, mentally, I was really frustrated," he said. "I just didn't know what was going to happen with my career, my future, my family, anything. But now I know what's going to happen. Everything's over with. I can just really concentrate on football and do what I've got to do."
That might be the best part. Pittman may have spent three hours each Sunday watching the game and showering up, but otherwise he was playing handyman. That's good for about, oh, three weeks.
"I've been anxious to get back," he said. "My wife, when I was at home for three weeks, had me do all the honey-do's. I was at home hanging up blinds and touching up paint. I'm just glad to be back. It was fun at home for awhile but it's better out here right now. I'm happy to be here with my teammates."