Sunday, December 17, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs receiver Vincent Jackson simply does his job

V

TAMPA

incent Jackson was an Army brat and learned to become a one-man battalion, keeping to himself as he moved with his family across the nation and around the world before settling in Colorado Springs, Colo., just shy of his teens. • It's the same approach the 6-foot-5, 230-pound receiver has taken in his first season with the Bucs: gifted on the field and personable enough off it to command respect. • "I was used to moving around, having to be the new kid in school," said Jackson, whose father was a medic and retired after 21 years as a staff sergeant.

"So coming here, I knew to just keep quiet, do your job, go about your business the right way and you'll earn your respect through your actions.

"I wasn't coming in here to be rah-rah and look-at-me. I earn my respect by doing my work. That's the way I was raised. You don't have to be noticed all the time. I don't need all the attention on me. For me, it's about team first."

However, as one of the NFL's elite receivers, Jackson draws plenty of attention from defenders. And today, he knows there will be an increased focus as the Bucs meet the Chargers, for whom he spent the past seven seasons.

Since signing a five-year, $55.55 million contract with the Bucs as a free agent in March, Jackson hasn't looked back. At 29, he also has never played better.

Voted a captain after only a few months with his new team, Jackson has helped change the fortunes of the Bucs. They have improved to 4-4 by winning three of their past four a season after losing 10 straight to finish 4-12. He has a league-high and career-best 22.9 yards per catch, 31 for 710 yards and six touchdowns.

It's the kind of production the Chargers are missing. A season after finishing sixth in total offense (393.1 yards per game) and sixth in passing (276.1), they are 26th (323.2) and 22nd (217.3), respectively.

While general manager A.J. Smith was busy locking up core players such as quarterback Philip Rivers and tight end Antonio Gates, Jackson produced 1,000-yard seasons in three of his final four seasons in San Diego.

The exception came in 2010. During the uncapped season, Jackson held out for more money but was forced to play the final five games at a reduced tender. San Diego prevented him from leaving afterward by designating him its franchise player.

"Looking at the schedule earlier in the year, I thought there might be (extra emotion playing the Chargers)," said Jackson, who was San Diego's second-pick in 2005 out of Northern Colorado. "I was curious about how I was going to feel. But it really hasn't changed.

"I've approached this week the same way, looking at them on film. I'm not really seeing faces as far as guys I used to play with. I'm really seeing numbers and trying to break them down as far as what their defensive tendencies have been because they've got a lot of new faces over there."

Perhaps nobody knows what the Chargers lost more than coach Norv Turner, who is back on the hot seat after a 4-4 start.

"I appreciate Vincent more than most; obviously, the big plays he's able to make," he said. "Big plays turn into points, and there's a lot of things that go along other than points. It opens up the field for a lot of other guys when you have a player like Vincent."

Jackson's presence has spearheaded the surge of the Bucs offense. Receiver Mike Williams, who has benefited from coverage rotating toward Jackson, has returned to his rookie form with five touchdowns and 17.4 yards per catch (fifth in the league).

Josh Freeman is white hot, having thrown 11 touchdowns and one interception over his past four games. And with teams increasingly playing two-deep safeties to stop Jackson, rookie Doug Martin has emerged as the league's third-leading rusher and setting club records with 251 yards rushing and four rushing touchdowns last week at Oakland.

"I love this game. I have so much fun out there," Jackson said. "And obviously, guys kind of feed off the things that I do. I try to be a professional at all times; make sure if I can bring some guys up around me, get the Mike Williamses and get the Tiquan Underwoods and break down some extra film with them.

"When I get Josh for a moment by himself, talk to him about some coverages and some tendencies and things I think work; just sharing knowledge. We call it being farmers. You can't grow good corn if your neighbors don't grow good corn. I want everybody around me to be successful."

While Jackson still has plenty of friends on the Chargers, he insists he won't pay attention to the faces inside the helmets.

"The most important thing for me is what we do as a team," he said. "I have nothing personal going on with those guys. I'm a Tampa Bay Buccaneer now. That's been my focus, and it's about us getting a win. That's the only thing that matters to me."

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