Friday, 4 a.m.
It's why we watch the Olympics.
It's the reason we flood to the racetracks.
It's the reason we watch the chase scenes in movies.
Speed. Raw and unharnessed speed.
It remains the most unbridled of skills. It doesn't matter which sport you watch, be it baseball or hockey or the NBA. Pure speed is what sets the stars apart from the every-day performer. If you can get from here to there faster than the next guy, eventually, it's going to show up. Usually in the end zone.
Strength is good. Size is good. But for my money, give me speed. Give me the Flash. Give me winged Mercury. Give me Quicksilver.
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With the exception of Joey Galloway, a one-trick pony who admittedly had a fairly nice trick, the Bucs have never been a particularly fast team, at least not in the skill positions. Their games were unbroken, as they say. Their fields were unshrunken. There were no skid marks at the line of scrimmage.
And now, thinks have changed. The Bucs have signed DeSean Jackson, a merchant of speed, and everyone looks better. Jameis Winston has never thrown a particularly good deep pass, but now he finally has a receiver who can get there. It's one thing to try to throw deep to, say, Adam Humphries, and it's another to do it to Jackson.
Mike Evans is better, because the opposition cannot double-cover him. Cameron Brate is better, because the safeties have to play deeper and the territory underneath will have fewer bodies. Whoever the running back is, and it might be Lars Tate before we're all done, won't have the safety in the box nearly as often. This is what a truly fast receiver can do; he can open the field up for everyone else. Also, he's going to make fans go to the concession stand less often, because Jackson can changethingslikethat.
Over their time, the Bucs have tried to find a short cut here or there when it came to wide receivers. They signed Alvin Harper, and he left passes on the ground and a finger in the training room. He was one of the most disappointing free agents in history.
They tried Bert Emanuel, and he didn't work out, either. Emanuel was one of those players who would throw his helmet after a win because he didn't get the ball enough. They traded for Keyshawn Johnson, who led the world in three-yard receptions. They signed Michael Clayton twice, and he was awful both times. They drafted Dexter Jackson, who never caught a pass. Overall, the sound of the Bucs' receivers was that of a burning fuse.
Jackson is different. He is more accomplished than Harper, than Emanuel, even than Johnson. He is more complete than Galloway. He is faster than Evans, more durable than Vincent Jackson. He's more special than Mark Carrier. Sure, he has to prove it. The Bucs are betting millions that he can.
Speed is amazing. The NFL is fast-on-fast, and sometimes, it's hard to remember that the worst cornerbacks were stars in college and in high school, and they would leave most of us looking silly. But when the right receiver blows past them, they look like fat men at a hot dog stand. There is nothing like a receiver with an extra gear.
Jackson is one of those receivers who makes you wonder if the field is long enough. And as a bonus, Humphries, Freddie Martin and Josh Huff will be competing for the roles they should be competing for.
Jackson also does this. He possibly alters the team's plan for the first-round. Beforehand, the team might have taken John Ross or, if he was there, Corey Davis. But now, even if Dalvin Cook isn't available, then the Bucs might take a safety. Maybe a tight end. Maybe an offensive lineman. The have just taken the handcuffs off of the franchise.
"DeSean is exactly the type of dynamic playmaker we have been targeting for our offense,” said Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter. “DeSean brings a veteran presence and a big-play mentality that fits in perfectly with our offensive philosophy. He is a tough-minded competitor who has the game-breaking speed and pass-catching ability that stretches the defense and creates matchup problems.”
Since 2008, Jackson’s 112 receptions of 25+ yards, 37 receptions of 50+ yards and 17.7 yards per reception average (min. 60 career catches) all lead the NFL. The 37 catches of 50+ yards are 14 more than any other player during that span, while his five 1,000-yard receiving seasons and 32 100-yard receiving games are each tied for the fifth-most. Additionally, his per catch averages in 2010 (22.5) and 2014 (20.9) rank second and fourth, respectively, among all single seasons over that nine-year period.
Showcasing his versatility, Jackson has also rushed 61 times for 380 yards (6.2 avg.) and three touchdowns and returned 134 punts for 1,289 yards and four touchdowns. In 2010, Jackson became the first player selected to the Pro Bowl at two different positions in the same year when he was chosen as a wide receiver and a return specialist.
Said general manager Jason Licht: “It is rare to find a player in free agency with the combination of speed and natural playmaking ability of a DeSean Jackson. DeSean is a smart, gifted athlete who has averaged more than 17 yards per reception throughout his nine-year career and brings the type of veteran experience and deep threat receiving ability that will have an immediate impact on our offense.”
True, most teams struggle to game plan for one receiver at a time. But there have been great tandems: Jerry Rice and John Taylor, Chris Carter and Randy Moss, Jerry Rice and Tim Brown. Lynn Swann and John Stallworth, Issaac Bruce and Torry Holt. Mark Duper and Mark Clayton.
Evans and Jackson?
Maybe. The team will have to hone its chemistry. Jackson will have to be Starsky to Evans' Hutch. Clayton once said of he and Duper "separately, we're nines as receivers. But together, we're a 20." In other words, the sum has to be even better than the individual receivers.
Oh, the Bucs weren't through after agreeing with Jackson. They signed defensive tackle Chris Baker, who should help control the run.
But the big addition here is Jackson, because he adds an element the rest of the Bucs lacked. Speed. He can get to parts of the field other receivers cannot.
He also gives the Bucs' an interesting receiving corps. Atlanta, with Julio Jones has one. Carolina, with Kelvin Benjamin and Greg Olson, is interesting. New Orleans, which traded Brandin Cooks, got slower Wednesday. And slow is a bad, bad thing in sports.
If the Bucs can land a running back (hint: Dalvin Cook would look good in red and pewter), then this team might finally have an offense that is scary good.
Catch you in the end zone, right?