TAMPA — Jason Pierre-Paul no longer takes playing in the NFL for granted. He said Tuesday that was his message when he addressed his teammates after practice last week in Nashville.
The former USF defensive end's career nearly ended after a horrific fireworks accident on the Fourth of July in 2015.
"I told them, man, I gave them a little brief of my story,'' Pierre-Paul said. "I told them don't ever take anything for granted. We get up in the morning, I don't know what anybody does here, but I get up in the morning and pray and go about my business. And at the end of the day, I know once I get to work, it's nothing but excitement. You're with a group of guys you really don't know, but you're working to be family.
"I try to bring that excitement. I try to bring who I am as a person. I laugh a lot. You all see me smiling. That's what I bring to the team and to the table.''
Coach Dirk Koetter has said how impressed he has been by the type of leader Pierre-Paul is with all he has accomplished at 29. JPP — in his ninth season after playing eight with the Giants, winning a Super Bowl and being a two-time Pro Bowler — said he wants to help change the culture of the Bucs.
"They brought us all in for a reason,'' he said. "This is not the 2017 Bucs. It's 2018, and we plan on doing something special. It's been what, 11 years since they made it to the playoffs? I don't know how that feels. We're trying to establish something great.''
Tough linebacker battle
Among the most competitive positions on the team for a roster spot is linebacker. Kwon Alexander, Lavonte David and Adarius Taylor appear to be locks. Kendell Beckwith is recovering from a broken ankle, and the Bucs hope he's ready by the start of the season. If not, he would go on the nonfootball injury list for six weeks. Devante Bond is a key special teams player. That leaves players such as Riley Bullough, Cameron Lynch and rookie Jack Cichy fighting for one of the last spots.
"One of the biggest questions is going to be how many are we going to keep?'' Koetter said. "And then what is the health status of Kendell Beckwith going into the season? So that's going to weigh into the whole linebacker scenario, and what I would say is linebacker is a lot like wide receiver. We have really good competition, basically from four through seven. It's a lot like wide receiver. All of those guys are doing some good things. They all show up at different times. When you're a backup at either wide receiver or linebacker, special teams is going to factor in as well."
Special teams play likely will determine the final spot and right now, Lynch would have an edge.
"Cam Lynch is a proven special teams player, but he's also a little bit more of a vet,'' Koetter said. "That's always tricky. Young guys versus vets. Upside versus where they're at right now. That's something that (GM) Jason (Licht) constantly has to weigh, and that's why these last two weeks are still really important."
It has been a tough training camp for DB Vernon Hargreaves, who returned to practice for the first time since being injured in the first preseason game at Miami.
The former Wharton High and Florida standout worked mostly in the slot as Carlton Davis played right cornerback when the team went to five defensive backs.
"He looked really good,'' Koetter said of the team's No. 11 pick overall in the 2016 draft. "We had several guys back (Tuesday). When you're practicing like this, you've got guys going out, guys coming in. Hopefully, you got more coming in than you do going out.
"But Vernon looked quick, he looked fast, he had a sack out there in the team period, so it was good to have him back.''