Jeff Demps hasn’t ruled out a return to track and field. Given a chance, the two-time Olympic silver medalist would jump at the opportunity to compete in the 2016 Summer Games.
For now, though, Demps has put his successful sprinting career on hold, and Bucs coach Lovie Smith couldn’t be happier.
Smith thinks the Bucs need speed at least as much as they need help at wide receiver, right guard and quarterback, and the mercurial Demps provides a degree the likes of which Smith has never had before.
“I’ve never had the fastest player in the NFL on my team before,” Smith said. “And he is definitely the fastest guy in the NFL, so we have to find a way to use that speed.”
The Bucs worked on some ways to take advantage of that speed last week during a three-day minicamp, when Demps received a heavy dose of reps at the running back spot.
In an offense that appears to be designed to quickly get the ball into the hands of its playmakers, Demps was a regular target whose role could expand if he can earn a helmet on game days.
Though Eric Page handled a majority of the punt and kick return duties during the camp, Demps is an option there, as well, said Smith, who believes Demps’ commitment to football is the key to his gridiron success.
“I wasn’t even on the job for a month when I called Jeff and told him I wanted to talk to him about where his commitment was,” Smith said. “And he let me know he is totally committed to being the best football player he can be.
“So, he’s committed. And he’s been here every day working, and I saw a lot of good things from him (during the minicamp). So, now it’s up to us to make sure we find ways to use him.”
The Bucs are coming off what many consider a lost season in 2013, but SLB Jonathan Casillas believes a lot of good came out of the 4-12 run under former coach Greg Schiano.
In particular, Casillas believes the players who remain from that team developed a mental toughness necessary to win consistently and win big in the NFL.
“I feel like the way we came back from that 0-8 start, where we finished 4-4, that was a true testament to the character inside the locker room,” said Casillas, who was part of New Orleans’ Super Bowl XLIV championship team. “That kind of character, you can’t replace that. I learned in New Orleans what it takes to win, to win a Super Bowl, what the locker room has to be like, and I feel like we have similar character in this locker room.’’
Casillas was a free agent who could have moved on to another team when the marketplace opened up this year, but he quickly chose to re-sign with the Bucs after Smith was hired as Schiano’s replacement.
“Once we got Lovie, well, his track record just speaks for itself,” Casillas said. “After we got him as our coach, well, I kind of begged to come back here, to be honest with you.’’
Who we are
They certainly aren’t there yet, but by the time the Bucs start playing the games on their 2014 schedule, Smith wants them to be considered one of the toughest and most feared teams in the league.
“If you’re not describing us as a tough football team, then we haven’t established what we want,” Smith said.
“When people come down to Raymond James Stadium, they need to be saying, ‘Man, we have Tampa this week.’ We have to get back to that.’’