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Commentary | Jeff Demps impressive in Patriots workout with Tampa Bay Bucs

TAMPA

Jeff Demps would like to make it clear: First and foremost, he is a football player.

He didn't have to clarify why he was wearing New England Patriots gear at One Buc Place this week.

When Bill Belichick makes you an offer that's laced with $210,000 in guaranteed money, it's impossible to refuse.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers wanted Demps, but will have to settle for him using its practice facility this week as the Bucs and Patriots work together prior to Friday's preseason game.

The Bucs reportedly were willing to match New England's offer, the second-most money given to an undrafted free agent this year.

Unfortunately, this franchise isn't ready yet to compete with a high-caliber team that is after the same player.

Demps had not touched a football since last January's Gator Bowl with Florida until last week, when he signed with New England. But it's not a concern when you have been clocked at 9.96 seconds in the 100 meters and 6.52 in the 60.

He seemed a little gun shy when asked why he chose the Patriots over the Bucs, but common sense did the work for him.

If Patriots head coach

Belichick can turn a diminutive, rather slow-footed Wes Welker (5-foot-9, 185 pounds) into one of the NFL's leading receivers, imagine what he could do with a speedster like Demps.

Belichick -- who has five Super Bowl rings, including three as a head coach -- has five former Gators on his roster, including linebacker Brandon Spikes, who helped recruit Demps.

The coach is a master at rejuvenating reclamation projects. Demps is far from that but everything helps.

"Once I talked to the Patriots, I got the feeling that's where I wanted to be," Demps said. "The guys there acted like I was already part of the team. Spikes played a good role. They took me in like they did when I first came to Florida. It came down to them and the Bucs."

Despite Demps' 5-7, 183-pound stature, Belichick and Bucs head coach Greg Schiano see him as a lightning bolt who can electrify a stadium.

Demps says he is not quite ready yet, but he was impressive in his first contact Wednesday.

"I threw him in on the one-on-ones going against the blitzes, and he was courageous," Patriots running backs coach Ivan Fears said. "I don't know about him needing to put on weight. Being heavier might take away from his speed. He is not a weak guy. He was under our system with Charlie Weis at Florida so he has some familiarity with what we do. I am going to let his production do the talking."

Demps has rare speed even for an NFL return guy, the kind that could put him in some special company if he can maximize his potential. He won a silver medal running in the preliminary rounds for the USA 4x100-meter relay team that placed second.

Only two Olympic gold medal winners are in the NFL Hall of Fame: iconic Jim Thorpe and Dallas Cowboys Bob Hayes, who was drafted in 1964 after winning the 100 meters at the Olympics in then-record time.

"What I learned from the Olympics that might help me here is to be a technician in everything you do. You are a professional now and you've got to make sure everything is perfect," Demps said. "The toughest part now is getting into football shape and learning the plays. But I made that transition every year at Florida going from the track team to football."

The Bucs might have lost out on Demps because Belichick's reputation dwarfs Schiano, but that could change.

Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy doesn't scare easily, but admitted he was in awe of Belichick and impressed with Pats quarterback Tom Brady.

"I don't get nervous around a lot of people, but when coach Belichick was walking through the hall and I was going to the locker room and I turned the other way. He has a certain presence about him," McCoy said. "He is a little bit intimidating. He controls that team real well. They were intense, and we have to be able to handle ourselves against a team like that."

The veteran, who has been battling injuries since he was the Bucs' first draft choice in 2010, says the team is not far behind the Patriots because of Schiano.

"We have all the pieces to be on the same level as New England," McCoy said. "When you watch a team like the Patriots, it opens your eyes to a lot of things you didn't know. Tom Brady: His focus is different. Once he crossed those white lines, he went into a trance and once he was not on the field anymore he came out of it. He is never satisfied.

"But we were focused on us and what we had to get done. With us being so young we have to learn to come out and do what it is we do."

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