TAMPA — With his long strides, towering frame and considerable speed, Vincent Jackson is seen as the perfect downfield target for quarterback Josh Freeman in the Bucs' big-play offense.
Clearly, that's a compliment. So why exactly is the receiver trying to shake what seems like a solid reputation?
Because, Jackson will tell you, that is hardly an accurate description of his wide-ranging skill set. He's much more than a home run hitter, thank you very much. Last season he proved he can play small ball, too.
Slants? Check. Digs? Check. A deep cross in front of the safety? Check. Any questions?
"You look at me statistically and it's always (about) yards per catch and me being a deep threat," Jackson, 6 feet 5, 230 pounds, said. "I take pride in that, but I also take pride in being a bigger guy who can go inside and run intermediate routes, can match up on nickelbacks and safeties and get the middle crosses and stuff like that.
"It's about how I can implement (things) in the offense to make us better. If I can take some heat off the other receivers or help us get the safety deep down the field and … let (running back Doug Martin) get out on a screen, that's the fun part of the game."
For the record, Jackson led the NFL in yards per catch in 2012 with a 19.2 average. So, yeah, he's a deep threat.
But in his first season after signing a five-year, $55 million deal, he displayed greater diversity in his game. Typecast during his seven seasons with the Chargers as a one-dimensional player, Jackson delivered a performance last season that provided extensive evidence to the contrary.
Bucs coach Greg Schiano wasn't sure to what extent Jackson would add to his repertoire, though he said Jackson sometimes lined up in the slot with San Diego. It was Jackson's willingness to do more that made the difference.
"I think Vincent is a consummate pro," Schiano said. "Now you have a change of systems (in Tampa Bay) that allows you to do some other things. If you have a veteran guy who is not a pro like Vincent, he doesn't want to change. Vincent welcomed change with open arms. He looked at it as an opportunity to be a more versatile receiver. That's exactly what he's become. He'll line up anywhere from next to the tackle all the way out to the No. 1 (outside) receiver and everything in between."
Why, you might ask, does this even matter? Because at this level of football, where every tendency is exhaustively dissected by opposing coaches, teams are looking to create even the slightest advantage. With offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan using Jackson in a variety of spots and roles, the Bucs can do just that.
"Defenses can't just say, 'Okay, Vincent's always going to be on the weakside. We can just double-team him all the time,' " Jackson said. "We're very diverse. We move people around, and we keep defenses on their heels. I think that's going to be a big advantage for us."
Jackson has seen his share of double-teams. But with his role becoming less predictable, teams double him at their peril.
"That makes it hard if a defense is trying to take him out of the game," Schiano said. "Certainly, they can double him. But the more places he is, the more (adjustments) you need to double him. It's not the two guys who are doubling him. It's everybody else fitting the coverage around him."
So go ahead and call Jackson whatever you wish. After posting career highs in catches (72) and yards (1,384) last season, evidence is mounting he's more than once thought.
"Vincent is a guy who people slap a label on," Freeman said. "But Vincent wants to be an all-around receiver. He can do it all."