S David Gibson needed trainer Keith Abrams' attention after a finger injury, but he was sidelined for only a few minutes
When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' get to full-team drills during their current summer workouts, there are 22 players involved in each snap. With 80 Bucs attending practice, that means there are 68 players reduced to spectators on each play. There are, of course, numerous position drills that involve every player, but the simple odds of being in for any one particular full-team play are barely better than one in four.
Rookie safety David Gibson has beaten the odds, however. Gibson, the Bucs' sixth-round choice in last April's draft, is seeing significant action during team drills, primarily as the second-team strong safety but occasionally on the first and third squads as well. Gibson's increased role is due, unfortunately, to injuries to other players, but that matter is out of his control. What is in his control is what he does with the extra face time.
"There are a couple of guys that are beat up," said Gibson. "Shevin (Smith)'s not playing right now, and early in the first mini-camp Dexter (Jackson) played some corner, too. So there have been a lot of opportunities for me to get my reps, and I'm grateful for that. Every opportunity I have to get out there, I get to prove something to the coaches, show them what I've got."
Smith, the primary Buc backup to strong safety John Lynch last year, is in attendance but has yet to join team drills due to the arthroscopic surgery performed on his knee approximately a month ago. Smith is close to returning to action, according to Buccaneer Head Coach Tony Dungy. Jackson is being considered as a backup cornerback/nickel back option by the coaching staff, though he has also practiced extensively at safety.
While that has meant extra classroom work for Jackson and more sideline time for Smith than he would like, it has translated into an opportunity for Gibson, the aggressive former linebacker with a style that has been compared to John Lynch's. "It's actually been good for him," said Dungy of the banged-up roll call at safety. "Shevin Smith has been out with an injury, Dexter Jackson's working a little bit at corner, Ashley Cooper's been out, so David's gotten a lot of work. The more work you get this time of year, the more benefits you get."
Gibson's not yet sure if he has turned the opening into an eye-opening experience for the coaching staff. "It's too soon to tell," he said. "All I have to do is take it day to day and work as hard as I can. I'm sure it will all pay off in the end.
"It's a lot of learning, because it's the first time that I'm dealing with a lot of these things that we're putting in, defensively. They're still evaluating, as far as effort. The big thing here is effort…you have to compete every play."
In that last point, Gibson has obviously learned quickly, because it was a sentiment echoed by Dungy just minutes later. "That's what you want to see, effort level," said Dungy. "And you want to see how guys are picking things up and what adjustments they are able to make. The guys that can do that and maintain their effort, usually they're going to do pretty well when you get into the season."
As for the Lynch comparison, Gibson's jersey number (46) is almost identical to Lynch's 47, but it's too soon to draw a likeness between the rookie and any of his veteran teammates – Lynch, Damien Robinson, Smith, etc.
"People have made the comparison to John Lynch before I came in here, but other than that, I'm me," said Gibson. "I'm my own player. I could take a little part of every player, maybe, and say, 'There's a little bit of me there', but as far as one single player, I'd say no."
Of course, both Gibson and Lynch are aggressive safeties from the West Coast, and some of Lynch's NFL experience could be relevant for the newcomer. Drafted in the third round in 1993, Lynch started only 10 games during his first three league seasons before emerging as a full-time starter and eventual Pro Bowl player in 1996. In the meantime, Lynch kept his value up by standing out on special teams. Gibson could earn a roster spot with the same sort of prowess.
"I think he'll do well on (special teams)," said Dungy. "He was a linebacker that converted to safety, so he's got a definite toughness about him, and he has the ability to also move and run in the open field. I would think he'll do very well."
On Wednesday, Gibson was filling a variety of roles during the team's punt return and punt coverage drills before heading to the sideline with a painful finger injury. Gibson had caught the ring finger of his right hand in a teammates' helmet and may have temporarily dislocated the digit, causing immediate swelling. However, a little attention from Assistant Trainer Keith Abrams, a little tape to hold the injured finger in place, and Gibson was back in action for the next drill. This is not the time to stand by on the sideline, not for the eager rookie.
"It's a learning time, an important time," said Dungy. "You try to get the information to guys and let them get some experience – especially the young guys. They can make a lot of improvements this time of year and David certainly has done that as he has gotten more comfortable with what we do."