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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Shaq Barrett: "I'm Close to 100%"

Buccaneers sack master Shaquil Barrett is running at full speed in training camp, nine months after his Achilles tendon tear, and he's enjoying the work that helps him cope with the tragic loss of his daughter in April


Shaquil Barrett, outside linebacker for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the NFL's third-leading sack artist from 2019-21, tore an Achilles tendon on October 27 of last year, ending his 2022 season at the midway point. Almost exactly nine months later, the Buccaneers conducted the first practice of their 2023 training camp. Barrett was on the field, in action, running full speed.

Most notably, Barrett avoided starting camp with the active/PUP designation, something teams utilize in order to retain the option of using the reserve/PUP list at the start of the regular season. That was an indication that the Buccaneers were not worried about Barrett's Week One availability, but Head Coach Todd Bowles admits he didn't know if his star edge rusher was going to be moving like his pre-injury self when camp kicked off.

"It feels great, it looks great," said Bowles of having Barrett back in action early in camp. "I didn't have any expectations coming in; I didn't know when he was going to be ready. The fact that he got cleared, the fact that he's out here running around and chasing people at full bore is a big plus for us. It's a welcome sight."

Barrett says he and the Bucs' medical staff had a plan in place that they thought would lead to this exact outcome, and he's very pleased with the results. He had only missed three games in his first three seasons in Tampa, two due to COVID, and just three more in four seasons with the Denver Broncos. He did not enjoy being removed from the daily flow of his team.

"It feels good," said Barrett of his return. "It feels like a long time coming. We took it at a perfect pace to get me ready for camp. I just missed it so much and I'm just so happy to be out here to start getting back into practice flow, game flow, and just to start working with my team. I missed it a lot and I'm happy to be a part of the team again."

Barrett, a massive hit for Tampa Bay in free agency in 2019, racked up 41.5 sacks from 2019-21 (postseason included), trailing only Pittsburgh's T.J. Watt and the Rams' Aaron Donald in that category. Considering that Watt and Donald are two of the last three NFL Defensive Players of the Year, that's good company to keep. Barrett played on the Bucs' franchise tag in 2020 after leading the NFL in 2019 with 19.5 sacks, then got a new long-term deal from the team in 2021. He hit double digits in sacks again in 2021 and had 3.0 more in his abbreviated 2022 campaign. The Bucs need that dynamic edge rushing talent on their front line, and Barrett is feeling like he's completely recovered.

"All of the running and the change of direction stuff I've been doing with the trainers helped me get a level of confidence in myself," he said. "So, it's just a matter of getting out here and going against an offensive tackle and getting some pressure against me while I'm trying to turn the corner. Once I was able to do that, feel that and maintain that – I didn't feel anything [wrong], it felt normal. I'm ready to go, I feel like. I'm as close to 100 percent as you can possibly be a couple days into camp."

The work Barrett put in to get back to where he is now, and the long hot hours of training camp have been a blessing in disguise in two ways, unfortunately both in regard to an unimaginable tragedy. On April 30, Arrayah Barrett, the youngest of four children for Shaquil and his wife, Jordanna, drowned in the family pool at the age of two. Looking back, Barrett is grateful for the extra time he got to spend with Arrayah due to his injury last fall. And now that football season is approaching again, he appreciates that his job takes his mind off his heartbreak for at least a little while each day.

"Like this morning it was hitting me hard," said Barrett on Monday after the Bucs' fifth training camp practice. "Getting ready for practice helped me get my mind off of it a little bit just focusing on something else. I've got a lot of time in the day when I'm just in my head thinking about stuff and thinking about her. So having to actually think about what I'm doing right in the moment helps me out a lot and helps the family out a lot when we're doing stuff and trying to stay busy.

"t's a daily battle, a tough battle. I felt it heavier today than I did the last couple of days. It just comes in waves. We just talk to each other, talk through it with each other and just lean on each other to get ourselves through, and lean on the Lord, as well. It doesn't get any easier. It's just me being busy and keeping my mind off of it for a little bit. It's just tough – it's always going to be tough."

The members of the Barrett family have voids in their heart that can never be filled, not even with the very welcome news of a fifth child on the way, due in February. They will always miss Arrayah, who loved stars and brought "brightness, wholeness and completeness" to her parents' lives and was cute even when she was being naughty. To help other families avoid this sort of tragedy, Jordanna and Shaq are starting the Arrayah Hope Foundation that will help provide swimming lessons for children and AI cameras in homes with pools. They are going to start in Tampa, then plan to expand it to Colorado and beyond.

"As big as we can make it, we're going to make it, but we're going to start off locally first," he said.

View pictures from Tampa Bay Buccaneers Training Camp practice on 7/31/23.

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