He's a big hitter. That's what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers kept telling their fans after drafting Sabby Pisticelli in the second round of April's draft.
The former Oregon State safety had a reputation, Jon Gruden said, of big hits in timely situations, reminiscent of a former Buccaneers safety — John Lynch. Even better, Piscitelli, who grew up in Boca Raton, Fla., used Lynch as a role model for his football career.
Whoa, there. That's a mighty big leap for a rookie safety to make. Going from relative unknown to the gold standard for the position in Buccaneers history.
So, naturally, Piscitelli went to the source to learn the ins and outs of safety in Tampa Bay's defense — Lynch.
Well, not actually Lynch, but his body of work in Tampa Bay.
"Anytime you emulate a guy like John Lynch, you have to love that guy," defensive backs coach Raheem Morris said. "(Lynch) has played at such a high level for such a long time. He's (Piscitelli) just learning and he still gets to learn from John Lynch because we have plenty of tapes from those years. He's learning from him and he's not even here."
Piscitelli watched a lot of safeties growing up, but Lynch's devastating hits on the back line of the Cover 2 defense made him a favorite.
But he's not having any part of any comparisons to the current Denver Bronco.
"I hope I can get my own reputation and my own style of game," Piscitelli said. "You can't compare anyone to John Lynch. He's one of the best safeties ever. That's out of the question. I try to play the game physical. He was one of my favorite players growing up and hopefully I can have some of the kinds of hits he had."
There are already hints that Piscitelli can bring a wallop. A few days after the pads came on at training camp, he had the chance to unload a big one on tight end Alex Smith. But the 6-foot-3, 224-pound Piscitelli dialed it down — it is training camp, after all. But Piscitelli still managed to hit Smith hard enough to take his feet off the ground and send him flying.
Gruden is impressed, especially after a workout on Aug. 2, when Piscitelli worked on the second team with fellow draft pick Tanard Jackson.
"Piscitelli had an unbelievable morning session yesterday, from a coverage standpoint," Gruden said the day afterward. "I really like what they're doing a lot. I'm very pleased with their progress, and at the same time, you never really get a true evaluation until the games start. But they're really on the rise."
Morris sees a player growing fast. Piscitelli doesn't keep his mouth shut like some rookies, Morris said, explaining that Piscitelli is "communicating, even if he's communicating the wrong thing sometimes." His coverage skills are improving. He's growing more comfortable working at either safety position, an impressive development for a player that worked at strong safety his entire collegiate career.
Piscitelli may be ready to contribute early this regular season, and Morris needs him ready. Safeties in the NFL, Morris said, don't seem to last 16 games.
But for all of Piscitelli's progress, there's still one unknown — how will Piscitelli hit in a live NFL game?
Morris can't wait to find out when Piscitelli plays — hopefully — on Saturday against Jacksonville. The rookie sat out the New England game with a minor injury.
"He's got the ability to get real big in his pads, you know?" Morris said. "He looks like a big man walking around in helmet and shorts, but when he puts the pads on, he looks even bigger. So I can't wait to get him out there and see how big he can play behind those pads. That's the whole question."
Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association and has won national awards for his Buccaneers coverage from the PFWA, the National Newspaper Association and the Associated Press Sports Editors.