TAMPA, Fla. – After spending much of his career establishing himself as one of the NFL's top deep threats, Tampa Bay receiver Vincent Jackson is proving there's a lot more to his game.
The ninth-year pro is entering his second season with the Buccaneers, who are taking advantage of his size, strength and speed to give opposing defenses fits all over the field.
The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Jackson had a career-best 72 receptions for 1,384 yards and eight touchdowns a year ago, averaging a league-leading 19.2 yards per catch and helping Tampa Bay set team records in several offensive categories, including passing yards, total yards and points scored.
And he did it by being willing to run routes in the middle of the field, as well as running past defenders on the outside.
"You look at me statistically and it's always yards per catch and being a deep threat and all of that stuff. I take pride in that, but I also take pride in the ability of being a bigger guy that can go inside and run intermediate routes, can match up on nickel backs and safeties and can get the middle crosses and stuff like that," Jackson said. "For me, it's just about ... making us as a team better."
The 30-year-old, three-time Pro Bowl selection spent the first seven seasons of his career in San Diego, where he had three 1,000-yard seasons and scored 37 touchdowns.
He signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent in March 2012, agreeing to a five-year, $55.55 million contract written in all 5's in honor of quarterback Josh Freeman, who wears jersey No. 5.
Freeman became the Bucs' first 4,000-yard passer last season, and Jackson's arrival also created opportunities others to shine, too.
Mike Williams had nine TD receptions while failing four yards shy of giving Tampa Bay's its first pair of 1,000-yard receivers in the same season. Last week, the Bucs rewarded him with a new six-year, $40.25 million contract.
"Vincent's a guy that people slap a label saying 'he's an outside', 'he's only a deep threat', but Vincent wants to be the all-around receiver," Freeman said. "He can do it all, you can put him in the slot, run trick plays with him and what he's made his name on, going deep and making the big plays."
Coach Greg Schiano is appreciative of Jackson's willingness to do the things the Bucs ask of him in offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan's system, calling the receiver a consummate pro.
"Vincent welcomed change with open arms, he looked at it as an opportunity to be a versatile receiver, and that's exactly what he's become," the second-year coach said.
"He'll line up anywhere, from next to the tackle all the way out to the No. 1 receiver, and everything between that and that makes it hard to be able to (cover). If the defense is trying to take him out of the game, certainly they can double him, but the more places he is, the more rules you need to double," Schiano added. "It's not just the two guys that are doubling him, it's everyone else in the coverage around that."
Freeman set club records for most passing yards (4,065) and touchdowns (27) in a season last year. Jackson expects the fifth-year quarterback — and the entire offense, for that matter — to be better in 2013.
"I think there's a lot more confidence and comfort in what everybody's doing out there," Jackson said. "Things are happening a little faster, we're able to implement some new things, some different nuances of our offense, so it's fun."