Darrelle Revis is a three-time All-Pro and generally regarded as the best cornerback in the NFL, yet Tampa Bay's $96 million man was nervous before his first training camp practice with his new team.
The seventh-year pro took the field Thursday for the first time since tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee with the New York Jets last September and since the big offseason trade that brought him to the Buccaneers for the 13th overall pick in this year's draft.
Although he was limited to mostly defensive and position drill work, Revis considered the day a significant step forward in his recovery.
"I didn't sleep too good (Wednesday) night. I think it was just being anxious for the first day of practice, getting back out there not really knowing what the outcome is going to be," the four-time Pro Bowl selection said.
"I felt fine," Revis said after the workout. "I think the biggest thing is just trying to dust the cobwebs off. It was awesome to be out there with my teammates, to be out there with the coaches and just do what I love doing — playing football."
Coach Greg Schiano reiterated the Bucs, who've made improving the worst pass defense in the league their top priority, will not rush the 27-year-old's return.
The team hasn't ruled out the possibility of Revis playing some during the preseason, however the main objective is have him ready for the Sept. 8 regular season opener against the cornerback's old team.
"I think we're all on the same page here," Revis said, adding that Schiano, trainer Todd Toriscelli and general manager Mark Dominik all will be involved in the decision process. "I think the biggest thing is they might have to hold me back because I'm a competitor, so anxious to get out there and be with my teammates, play and compete."
Schiano, beginning his second season with the Bucs, is pleased by what he's seen so far.
"We're going to take it day by day. I'm going to watch the video, talk with Todd, talk with Darrelle, and Mark and I will talk, then (determine) the next step. Each night we'll figure it out," the coach said. "So much of it will be input from Darrelle. How does he feel? This guy knows what he needs to do to get ready to play. I think communication is more important than anything."
Tampa Bay finished last in the league in pass defense a year ago, coming within 38 yards of setting a record for most passing yards allowed in a season.
With 16-year veteran Ronde Barber on the verge of retirement, Schiano and Dominik launched their effort to overhaul a porous secondary by signing All-Pro safety Dashon Goldson to a five-year, $41.5 million contract in free agency. Then they traded for Revis, who was unhappy with his contract in New York, and gave him a six-year, $98 million deal.
"Our expectations are very high," Revis said. "This is a new beginning for this team."
A fresh start Revis wasn't sure he'd get while he was sprawled on the ground when he was injured 10 months ago.
"When I was laying on the field, I didn't know what it was. ... I could have blown my whole knee out. At that time I started thinking. I played six years and it could be gone that fast," he said. "When the doctor said it was the ACL, I started crying because I knew I had a second chance. It's humbling that you get a second chance."
Revis has heard from or run into people from all walks of life who also have had torn ACLs. He's talked with skiiers, snowboarders, even janitors.
"When you tear your ACL, you come into the ACL family," he said laughing. "You hear a lot of stories. They all tell you the same thing."
If he's learned anything from the conversations, it's that he has to be patient.
"We've got a good game plan. As I progress and get better, I'll be in full tilt. I don't know when that time will be. It's day to day, and we've got to follow the game plan," Revis said.
"It's really all on the player at the end of the day, when you've got to make a call," he added. "And I'm feeling good. But even though I'm saying I feel good, it's still a ease in-type of process that we have to go through. I'm fine with that."
Schiano spoke of mileposts between now and the season opener.
"Going up against another guy would be a big one. Right now it's all independent movements against air. Then you get into a team setting, then you get into a padded team setting. You get into a live setting, then if you do play him in a preseason game, that probably would be the biggest milepost other than opening day," Schiano said.
"Step by step. I don't know what's exactly going to happen. None of us do," the coach added. "But he looked good today."