New safety Sean Jones may eventually challenge for Tampa Bay Buccaneers starting spot

TAMPA — Back when the Bucs were exploring signing then-free agent safety Sean Jones, defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake cued up footage of the potential addition.

Just the first few clips of Jones in action against the Giants was enough to make a compelling case to sign him.

"The first few clips I saw was him blowing down (Brandon) Jacobs," Lake said, referring to New York's massive 264-pound running back. "I mean, blowing him down — by himself. We've played the Giants here before and our whole team was dragging behind that guy."

You might not have a second chance to make a first impression, but in this case, there was no need.

Jones, who started nine games for the Eagles last season, was signed to a two-year contract in March to, at a minimum, improve the depth at his position or possibly unseat Sabby Piscitelli as the starting strong safety.

In fact, the very areas where Piscitelli, 26, struggled last season — making sure tackles and finding the football — are areas in which Jones, 28, excels. He is regarded as physical (6-1, 220 pounds) and menacing, a good tackler willing to mix things up near the line of scrimmage. And Jones is known for being around the football; his 16 interceptions in the past four seasons are tied for fourth among safeties during that time frame.

"He's a Tampa 2 player," Lake said. "What I mean by that is he's a ball hawk, and he's a physical guy. He fits the part."

"Tampa is a great fit for me," Jones said.

No one on the coaching staff plans to hand him a starting job. But the process of earning it is under way. Jones was one of the players the coaches were most interested in observing as the team began official offseason practices this week.

Jones shared practice reps with Piscitelli but figures he's going to play a pivotal role no matter who wins the job. Jones says he hopes to win the job after starting for 53 of his past 59 games. Last season in Philadelphia, he came off the bench behind Macho Harris for the first six games, then became the starter. Jones was considered stouter against the run while Harris was quicker in the open field.

"Right now, they have us rotating with the (starters)," said Jones, a 2004 second-round pick of the Browns who moved on to the Eagles last season. "It's a good competition. But if I worry about myself and just go out there and do what I can do, it's going to (mean) great things for me.

"It's still a team effort, so everybody's going to play no matter who is the starter. Everybody is going to get their shot to help this team get a win."

The Bucs are talking about employing a rotation at safety, presumably using Jones, Piscitelli and Tanard Jackson to keep players fresh. It's a tactic the team used when coach Raheem Morris was the defensive backs coach.

The competition will heat up once Jones learns the Tampa Bay defense. He is still acclimating to the terminology but has some familiarity with the scheme, which resembles the one he played in with the Browns.

"We ran a lot of this kind of defense in Cleveland in my first five years," he said. "It's pretty much the same thing. There's a lot of parallels. I'm very comfortable with it."

Said Morris: "He has his Rosetta Stone out right now translating into our language. It's working for him. As soon as he finishes that (learning) process, we might see a pretty good player."

Watching Jones with the entire defense for the first time, Morris gave an early assessment.

"You see why Sean was one of those guys who (ranks high) in interceptions because of his ball awareness, ball skills and eye control," he said. "He does so many of those things well."

It's early, and coaches remain coy when talking about Jones. But Lake has his initial impressions stuck in his head.

After watching Jones on video, what were Lake's first thoughts?

"I want that type of player on my team."

Stephen F. Holder can be reached at sholder@sptimes.com.

New safety Sean Jones may eventually challenge for Tampa Bay Buccaneers starting spot 05/19/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 19, 2010 9:41pm]

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