In New York, Jerald Sowell developed into a do-it-all fullback, running, catching passes and blocking for future Hall of Famer Curtis Martin
What kind of fullback did the Tampa Bay Buccaneers get on April 25 when they signed long-time New York Jet Jerald Sowell?
By the prevailing scouting report, and about a month of new evidence on the Bucs' back lawn, they got one who is equally adept at opening holes and catching passes, not to mention a short-yardage runner and a quick study in the meeting rooms.
So an all-around fullback, yes…but also, perhaps, a philosopher fullback? A forger of aphorisms as well as running lanes? Listen as he weighs in on the switch from his New York home of nearly a decade to Florida's West Coast, and Tampa Bay's West Coast-ish offense:
"When change is necessary, not to change can be destructive."
Well said. Succinct and sublime. In fact, we'll take that, Jerald, and raise you this thought from American poet Kathleen Norris: "Disconnecting from change does not recapture the past. It loses the future."
In other words, the bold move may prove to be the right one here. Sowell's career developed very nicely in New York, from his early days as an undrafted free agent to special teams star to starting-lineup stalwart and main caddy for future Hall of Famer Curtis Martin. Still, it might take this first move since the end of his rookie training camp to take Sowell to the next logical goal: a Super Bowl championship.
That's his hope, anyway, and the belief on which he acted. Perhaps he will enjoy one of Head Coach Jon Gruden's favorite philosophical nuggets: "We have to live in our hopes and not in our fears."
"It feels good to make this move," said Sowell. "Sometimes you can get set in your ways with the same team. I think it's a great move for me to come down here. The organization has faith in me and they know what I can do. I just hope I can help them win a championship."
Sowell didn't get a ring in New York, but it's not as if he or the nine teams he was on were lacking in talent or competitiveness. There were certainly Super Bowl-caliber squads during his time with the Jets, including a 1998 team that went 12-4 and made it to the AFC Championship Game, or the 2002 crew that memorably walloped Indianapolis in the playoffs, 41-0. During that time, Sowell separately became the Jets' all-time leader in special teams tackles and paced all NFL running backs over a three-year period (2003-05) with 147 receptions. He also proved valuable to Martin, who often followed Sowell's blocking en route to a seemingly endless string of 1,000-yard seasons.
So it's fair to say that Sowell knows what a good offense and a playoff-level team looks like. He likes what he sees on the Bucs' practice field.
"I'm used to going to the playoffs with the Jets," he said. "[The Bucs] won a championship not too long ago and they've been in the playoffs a lot. I think we're on the right track right now. We have great chemistry out here and I think we have a great chance to win a championship this year."
The Bucs' current chemistry is born partially of continuity, something the franchise is re-establishing after several years of forced turnover. Of the team's 22 primary starters from 2005, 21 are back this year, healthy heading into training camp and looking to hold onto their spots. That includes the starter at Sowell's position, where Mike Alstott has similarly built a decade-long legacy. After a resurgent 2005, Alstott was re-signed for an 11th season earlier this offseason and should once again be an important part of the offense.
That doesn't mean Sowell will be riding the pine; indeed, the Bucs wouldn't have targeted him so specifically in free agency if they were merely looking for a fallback. Sowell believes there will be plenty of opportunities for him in Coach Gruden's attack, and he's almost certain to be right if his blocking is as good as advertised.
"I fit in really well," Sowell asserted. "I think I'm still a multi-dimensional fullback. I can run routes, I can catch, I can block and I can run. I think that's what you need in a fullback in a West Coast offense. I expect to be used a lot. That's what Coach Gruden does – he knows how to use the talents of the guys around him. I'm looking forward to it."
Sowell hasn't had a chance to lower his shoulder and knock a defender out of the way just yet. There are strict rules about contact in the types of practices the Bucs are allowed to conduct this time of the year. But he's absorbed the playbook well – a background with former Jets offensive coordinator and current Bucs Quarterbacks Coach Paul Hackett hasn't hurt – and has looked spry on the practice field.
"I tell you what, coming in here he's done a great job of getting comfortable with the offense," said Bucs Running Backs Coach Art Valero. "There is some familiarity, but it's not total familiarity with where he came from. A lot of things are called differently. But he's a very veteran player and he's a very smart player. He's picked things up very well. It's going to be interesting to see how it goes when we put on the pads and can actually play tackle football."
Sowell, too, is looking forward to more intense practices, and to getting an unfettered look at second-year back Cadillac Williams, the new beneficiary of Sowell's lead blocks. Switching teams, colors, conferences and offenses hasn't changed one basic fact for the former Jet: He'll be lining up in front of a premier back.
Or, if we can be allowed one more add-on to Sowell's philosophical quote, we choose the most common one, coined by French journalist Alphonse Karr: "The more things change, the more they remain the same."
"He's a great back," said Sowell of Williams. "I think he's very similar to Curtis Martin. Very similar. He has the potential to be one of the best backs in the league, and that's saying a lot after playing with Curtis all these years.
"We have a lot of good backs out here. We have a great group of running backs. Our whole corps is great and I'm just happy that I can be a part of it."