Vincent Jackson brings bang to the Bucs

Meet the new Vincent Jackson, same as the old Vincent Jackson, just a little more of a sage and seemingly a lot happier in a place he’s very much wanted.

8/28/2012 - TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers needed a game-changer and a presence. They needed someone to make big plays and open the field for others.

To a young offense that required some maturity and depth, the Bucs also desired to add something more than ability to do. They desired someone to show how.

And so, to a team that made him feel needed, Jackson brought the lessons he learned over seven years in San Diego, from Keenan McCardell and James Lofton, from Charlie Joiner, Norv Turner and Philip Rivers.

Knowledge, repetition, work and rapport.

Not to discount the value of the first three, since Jackson has overtly embraced the role of mentor. But Jackson clearly identified the last one as being paramount.

Until he caught three passes for 49 yards in the opening series of this past Friday’s exhibition, Jackson had been on the receiving end of just one short connection with Tampa quarterback Josh Freeman this preseason. But even from the time his agents were negotiating a five-year, $55,555,555 contract, Jackson was working on making a connection with his new passer, who wears No. 5.

“It’s important your quarterback knows you believe in him,” Jackson said on Thursday following his new team’s morning practice.

Jackson, you may have heard, went as far recently as to say Freeman is “a quarterback I think should be mentioned among the top five in the league.''

When you actually compile a list, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees would seem to be unanimous inclusions. Then, you can throw in the Manning brothers, Ben Roethlisberger and a guy named Rivers who used to throw Jackson a lot of pretty passes. And when you consider Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford and perhaps a few others, it is difficult to see where Freeman fits even in the top 10.

Asked about Jackson’s compliment last week, Freeman said, “As a quarterback, it’s great to see a receiver have faith in you ... You need to look at it like he sees what I could be.”

But, no, Jackson later affirmed his assessment as a current condition.

“I just see Josh as having so much ability,” Jackson said. “I’m not even going to say potential. He has been playing at a high level. I love the way he carries himself ... I love his hunger. I love his humility. I truly believe with his tools … he can make every throw.”

After making all 272 of his career receptions in one offense and receiving all but three of those passes from one man, Jackson is engaged in building a foundation in Tampa, where a new coaching staff and a handful of new players have hopes high.

A team that had trouble gaining yards in large chunks or finding the end zone through the air considers Jackson as a cornerstone.

“We are going to use him everywhere,” Bucs receivers coach P.J. Fleck said. “We’re excited about what we can do with him. It’s almost like we have to control ourselves in the preseason.”

Jackson, whose 18-yard average was tops in the NFL among those who had more than 152 receptions from 2008 to ‘11, was targeted from the start, and Fleck fell in love with him upon their first meeting.

“We sat down for an hour,” Fleck said of their March meeting when Jackson first visited Tampa. “You could just tell he’s a detailed guy. He had his goals so well-thought out. He explained what he thought.”

Fleck also instituted a seating chart in the receivers room. Actually, it was a seating chart for one person.

Mike Williams, who followed up a sensational rookie season with an inconsistent and frustrating 2011, was to sit next to Jackson at all times.

“Playing with Vincent is like playing with a guy who knows everything,” Williams said. “I’ve never seen a guy take notes like that. He drops a ball, he goes and catches 15 more ... He’s going through everyone’s position. He knows what the offensive linemen are doing. He knows everyone’s hots, he knows everyone’s adjustments. He knows where Josh is looking first. It’s crazy.”

Said Jackson: “I try to keep him as close to me as possible.”

This capacity of Yoda receiver isn’t entirely new to Jackson. Especially in 2011, he plentifully shared his experience with the Chargers’ young receivers, like Vincent Brown. But Jackson also sometimes held himself apart from teammates. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. It was his nature.

Now, he seems to be embracing the role of elder statesman.

“I have a couple years on them,” he said of his fellow receivers. “I just try to share any knowledge I can.”

Said Fleck: “Vincent is a true professional. We have a bunch of young receivers. He sets the tone. That room will eventually become professional.”

Whether Jackson has the kind of numbers in Tampa that he did for the Chargers remains to be seen. He might find the going as rough away from San Diego as the Chargers find the going without him.

The Buccaneers in 2011 were among the least-vertical offenses in the NFL.

Where the Chargers completed 24 of his 72 passes that traveled more than 20 yards in the air, Freeman was 12-for-39 on such throws. Rivers’ 39 completions of at least 25 yards ranked fifth; Freeman’s 18 ranked tied for 23rd. The Buccaneers completed 37 passes that went for at least 20 yards in 2011; Jackson had 21 on his own.

When Tampa played the Tennessee Titans a week ago, the Bucs saw something new: a deep zone. The clear intention was to take Jackson away. Jackson went catchless, and Tampa gained just 81 yards in the game.

“We didn’t see that,” Williams said of previous seasons. “We’re kind of expecting it now.”

With a smile, Jackson said of the Titans rolling a safety his way: “It’s not new to me.”

Jackson crowed about the beauty of Tampa, how much he enjoys the home he and his wife bought a half-mile from the beach and how much he is enjoying the area and the team. But he volunteered, too, the “ties” he will always have in San Diego and how he maintains contact via text with Rivers.

“But again,” he was sure to add as a conclusion to a glowing soliloquy on his former QB, “I couldn’t be more excited about the quarterback I have now.”

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Neil S. Schwartz

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Jonathan Feinsod

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