S Sabby Piscitelli has performed well in his second training camp and could force the Bucs' coaching staff to get him on the field
For the past three weeks at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex, dozens of young players have taken the field, day after day, in a constant battle to make a lasting impression. Training camp can be an anxious process for any NFL hopeful, as he knows that one big play or one missed opportunity can change the course of his professional career.
But if Sabby Piscitelli feels any of that pressure, it sure doesn't show.
Piscitelli is one camper who seems to take everything in stride, one day at a time. He likes to get intense and have a little fun on the practice field, but he never seems overwhelmed. Piscitelli is a second-year player with all of three regular-season games on his NFL resume, but he has the calm approach of an established veteran.
This despite the fact that Piscitelli has essentially been given the rookie treatment in this, his second NFL camp. Because a broken foot robbed him of most of his real rookie campaign, the former Oregon State star remains an intriguing prospect still in need of development.
"He's young, physical and big and just a different looking body than we have seen around here or anybody else has seen for that matter," said Piscitelli's position coach, Raheem Morris. "He's a rookie too and we're looking forward to working with him. We're not letting him get past rookie status yet."
In terms of talent, Piscitelli has been compared by Morris to the Bucs' reigning first-round pick, cornerback Aqib Talib. And his veteran teammates, who got a glimpse of Piscitelli's talents last summer but spent most of last season moving on without him, are excited about what they've seen from this bonus "rookie."
"Oh man he's ready to go," said starting strong safety Jermaine Phillips, the man directly ahead of Piscitelli on the depth chart. "I see him growing a lot from last year to this year. I mean he really knows what he's doing. He's comfortable and he's confident in what he's doing. He's going to give us another safety back there who can step up in there and not miss a beat. So I look for us to be fresh back there at all times. He's going to be a great player in this league."
Piscitelli had already emerged as a strong special teams player, with four kick-coverage tackles in three games, before he broke his foot against St. Louis last September. The resulting lay-up was hard on him, but he attacked his rehab full-force, got himself back to 100 percent by the start of the Bucs' 2008 offseason program and reported to training camp more determined than ever.
And yet, there's that even demeanor on the practice field. As a student of the game, Piscitelli refuses to let his emotions get the best of him. As much as he would like to crack the starting lineup as soon as yesterday, he knows he has to start by taking whatever job the team gives him and excelling at it.
"I'll play wherever the Buccaneers want me to play," he said. "I am a safety and I want to play safety, but of course a part of the team is special teams. A third of the game is special teams, and you have to be a great player on all sides of the ball. I pride myself on doing that. That said, I want to play safety as well as special teams. I don't limit myself to anything, I want to play both and hopefully shut people down."
Piscitelli's immediate path to a role in the backfield would seem to be blocked by Phillips and second-year man Tanard Jackson, both of whom had very good seasons in 2007. However, that's short-changing the creativity of the Bucs' coaching staff. Head Coach Jon Gruden recently threw out the idea of a three-safety package, and Morris said he wants to have three safeties ready to go even if there are only going to be two on the field at once.
"I always tell people you want to play three safeties at all times," said Morris. "If you can do that and limit some of the reps off of Tanard Jackson and Jermaine Phillips then you get better reps off of those guys when they are out on the field. If that's fifteen from each and you can give Sabby thirty then, well, you never know what you will get."
In other words, there's no reason for Piscitelli to count himself out just yet. As training camp grinds through the dog days of August, he must maintain his focus.
"It's not over yet," said Morris of the fight for playing time. "They're still battling it out and we keep it hot in our room. We keep the controversy going so you guys will be buzzing."
Piscitelli even tries to get his teammates buzzing on the practice field. He's always looking to make an impact play or a big hit, like the one that leveled Miami wide receiver David Kircus in the Bucs' preseason opener on Saturday. Piscitelli may be cool and calm when the helmet is off – especially for a young man being treated like a rookie – but he's an entirely different animal when the chin strap is fastened. Perhaps the combination of those two sides of Sabby Piscitelli will help him reach his goal of becoming an impact player in the NFL sooner than expected.
"I'm kind of an exciting guy," Piscitelli stated. "I'm an upbeat guy who likes to come out and make a big play and get a little rowdy. I want to bring that spirit out onto the field and hopefully I can do that."