By Charles Robinson, Yahoo Sports
August 10, 2006
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – The Tampa Bay Buccaneers figured they were doing David Boston a favor. Earlier this offseason, when he stepped out to run a 40-yard dash in gusting conditions, the team arranged the finish line downwind.
Boston waved it off.
"He said, 'No, I want to run into it,' " recalled Bucs general manager Bruce Allen, shaking his head. "Now, I love every contrarian in the world, so I said, 'I love this guy already.' That sold me."
That was before Boston – standing on two surgically repaired patella tendons – did something next to inconceivable … particularly for a guy standing on a pair of surgically repaired knees. At around 220 pounds and 80-percent health, he crossed the finish line into the wind and left Tampa Bay coaches blinking at their stopwatches. Running into estimated 15-mph gusts, Boston clocked a time of 4.52 seconds. Adjusted for the conditions, it was roughly a 4.4 flat.
Whether he can do it consistently on a football field is another question.
Boston hasn't played the bulk of a season since 2003, when he caught 70 passes for the San Diego Chargers. And the real consensus is that he hasn't actually registered anything near his potential since his 1,598-yard season with the Arizona Cardinals in 2001 – which also may be the last time anyone can confidently say Boston was in the 230-pound range.
Amazingly, Boston is getting back into that realm. After sporting a bodybuilder's physique and carrying 260 pounds in San Diego (and drawing suspicions that he was using performance-enhancing drugs), Boston arrived in Tampa this offseason looking more like a football player again. His weight might be some point of debate (he looks like he's in the high 220s or low 230s, not the 219 that has been reported in some places), but he's clearly regained the quickness and explosion that made him so potent in Arizona. Quietly, what he's done with the Buccaneers might be the best kept training camp secret up to this point.
The resurgence and body transformation has been a surprise, particularly when so little was expected after Boston seemed to hit rock bottom during his two years with the Dolphins. He played only five games in Miami due to injuries and was suspended by the NFL for the final four games of 2005 for testing positive for a banned substance. With the two repaired tendons, and the feeling that Boston would never be able to regain the lithe form that made him dominant in Arizona, there were whispers late last season that his career was over at 27.
Then Boston convinced the Buccaneers that he'd gotten his priorities straight.
"You know, he's still a young man," Allen said. "He has finally focused his life in the right direction, and right now, he's proving that football is important to him. I've been on the other side of the field when he had his 'A' game with the Cardinals. Right now, he's on his 'A' game, and that's very good news for us."
"This is important to him, making this comeback," Gruden said. "I'll tell you what, when he is on, he is on, man. He is a great football player. If we can get him to come in here and do some of the things he has done out there [in practice], we will definitely try to push the rock."
As it stands, Boston is fighting for the third wide receiver slot with Ike Hilliard, but the Bucs seem to be itching to get him on the field with Michael Clayton and Joey Galloway – a trio that could present serious matchup problems because of the diversity of strength and speed. Boston has arguably been the most impressive wideout in camp, consistently making plays deep against both single and double coverage.
"It's unreal, isn't it?" marveled quarterback Chris Simms. "His work ethic is crazy. That's why he looks the way he does and can do those things as an athlete. It's exciting. He's a guy that will stretch defenses for us."
The Bucs have been keeping Boston on a strict workout schedule, mindful of giving him practices off while trying to get his legs back to 100 percent. In some respects, they have been taking the same slow approach that allowed them to breathe life back into Galloway, who was largely written off before 2005 saw him post his first 16-game season in three years and first thousand-yard performance in seven years.
Thus far, Boston's knees have reacted well to the burden, but the Buccaneers will likely be holding their breath every time he steps on the field. Catching only four regular-season passes in two years has left some rust. And playing in only 27 regular-season games in the last five years has left plenty of doubt.
"I'm a long ways away," Boston said. "My route-running's got to improve. There are a lot of things I've got to do to improve and get back to that status. … I want to prove that I can still play. That's just one of those things that's obvious, and it's driving me to go out there and compete.
"I will run through a brick wall until I win. I'm just glad my body can go out there – I can go out there and compete again."
Updated on Friday, Aug 11, 2006 2:57 am, EDT