Later this offseason, players on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2020 roster will be receiving rings to commemorate their shared status as Super Bowl LV champions. It will be the seventh such bauble for Tom Brady but for most of his teammates it will be their first.
For many, most notably Lavonte David, it ends a long wait. But for Ke'Shawn Vaughn and about a half-dozen rookies on that 2020 roster it is an incredible prize at the end of their very first NFL seasons. Few players are so fortunate, and Vaughn understands that, but now he's looking for a different kind of Super Bowl experience.
"The expectations are already set," he said after the Buccaneers' first real practice of 2021 on Tuesday. "I know what it takes to get there and I know what needs to be done to get there. And then, for me, it's playing in a Super Bowl. That's my next step. I won one; now I want to play in one and win one. So that's the next step."
Vaughn, you see, was one of seven Tampa Bay players named inactive for Super Bowl LV. He had appeared in 10 regular-season games and the first of four playoff contests but the numbers didn't work in his favor and with Leonard Fournette stringing together dominant postseason performances the Bucs didn't really have a lot of backfield reps to go around.
That was part of a season-long transition for the 2020 third-round pick out of Vanderbilt as he only found sporadic playing time on a team he said was "full of future Hall-of-Famers." Entering the NFL with a team led by Brady has its perks, such as that aforementioned ring, but it also means rookies have to be at the top of their games to be on the field. The situation isn't much different for Vaughn heading into 2021, but he feels more prepared to grab some playing time in a backfield that still includes Fournette and Ronald Jones.
"I came into it with Tom Brady, who's expecting you to be ready right now," said Vaughn. "His expectations for me were high. Mentally, it was a lot, but I figured it out and kind of slowed the game down, and now I'm ready.
"Everybody out here is good, so it's got to be details that set you apart. Everybody's so good [but] everybody doesn't know the important details of the game, and that was something I was learning last year. Small details matter. It doesn't matter about scoring 60-yard touchdowns; what matters is helping the team get a first down to keep the drive going."
One specific area that the Buccaneers' coaching staff wants Vaughn to focus on as he prepares for 2021 is catching passes, and not just the easy ones that are right on target. That's an interesting focus because Vaughn's most significant play in his rookie season, the game-winning touchdown catch against the Chargers in Week Four, was an impressive catch of a ball well away from his body. That play was an indication he has the ability to be a good pass-catching back if he can do that consistently.
"We talked about that a little bit today – catching the ball off-balance," said Head Coach Bruce Arians after Tuesday's OTA practice. "Twisting, turning, working on his hips, getting a little more flexible so he can catch some balls behind him, because he's got really good hands. Just little things like that. He's got great vision. We've always loved him as a runner so it's just a matter of continuing to improve as a pass receiver."
As Vaughn noted, this can be a matter of details.
"What I was working on this offseason was kind of getting used to catching the ball," he said. "That was kind of my biggest thing, not getting used to it but being more comfortable with it. Learning the playbook and then understanding the details that my teammates are looking for when I'm running these routes and when I've got the ball."
Last year, Vaughn was part of a four-man backfield with Fournette, Jones and LeSean McCoy. McCoy has moved on but the Bucs replaced him with another veteran, former Bengal Giovani Bernard, and it's possible that Vaughn and Bernard will be competing for reps in the fall. Bernard is already a proven pass-catcher in the NFL, with 342 catches over eight seasons in Cincinnati. That track record may lead the Bucs' coaching staff to trust the veteran in third-down situations, but Vaughn is trying to earn that same trust.
"I believe it's just when I'm out here at practice kind of showing them I can do everything – catch the ball, run the ball, block," he said. "Whatever needs to be done, I can do it. That just comes along with gaining trust from them. Once I gain their trust, everything else will fall into place."