TAMPA — He makes his living studying receivers the way astronomers look at stars. He calculates their speed, how they stem routes, get in and out of breaks, searching for any subtle clue to gain an advantage.
But Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber admits his data on Vincent Jackson wasn't trustworthy.
"I don't know what I thought about him before he got here, but it was certainly completely wrong," Barber, 37, said of the ex-Charger signed as a free agent during the offseason. "I knew he was a great player. He's big. He's fast, competitive. But he is as talented a receiver as I've been around.
"His manner of going about his job is unparalleled for me. I haven't seen many players, especially receivers, spend as much time and dig into his playbook and just be a natural leader."
Bucs coach Greg Schiano, after arriving from Rutgers in February, relied on video to evaluate Jackson. The 6-foot-5, 230-pounder had eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards in his past three full seasons. (He played only five games in 2010 due to a contract dispute and suspension.) Jackson also gains 17.5 yards per catch.
"When Mark (Dominik) and Dennis (Hickey) flooded me with tape, it didn't take long to see the production," Schiano said of the Bucs general manager and director of player personnel, respectively. "Just look at the stat line. But what you don't know is what a great worker he is, a true professional he is. He's really fun to coach."
Almost immediately after Jackson signed a five-year, $55.5 million contract (the No. 5s a nod to quarterback Josh Freeman), he impressed teammates and coaches with his work ethic.
Jackson did bring personal baggage. He served a three-game suspension in 2010 for a second drunken driving arrest, and the contract dispute painted him as a prickly personality.
But Jackson immediately bought into the no-nonsense, disciplined program being force-fed by Schiano.
"I go out here, and I work just like everybody else," Jackson said. "For me to come out here and have that enthusiasm, I'm trying to get the young guys to … chase me around. It's exciting, and I think that energy is only going to continue to breed throughout our team throughout the summer."
Tampa Bay's receivers were young and rudderless last season, the second each for Mike Williams, Arrelious Benn and Preston Parker. The oldest receiver, Micheal Spurlock, 29, rarely played. Turns out, the Bucs acquired a pretty good leader as well.
"He just came in and assumed that role," Barber said. "He certainly carries a presence about him."
Rick Stroud can be reached at [email protected] and heard from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-620.