Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Quincy Black was not thrown into a bad situation last season. He was seemingly pushed - and expected to land safely.
Black was asked to replace former Pro Bowl linebacker Cato June, who was released prior to 2009. Black went from learning defensive coordinator Jim Bates' system to relearning the Tampa 2 after Bates was relieved of his duties. Coaches admit they did not utilize Black's strengths enough in 2009.
Despite those obstacles, Black finished with 84 tackles (15 assisted) and 1.5 sacks during his first season as a starter.
"Sometimes I go back and look at the first preseason game I played in and I've come leaps and bounds as a football player and a man," Black said recently. "This league is very humbling and you've got to work for what you want. It makes you understand certain things you desire have to be put aside for a while.
"As a football player, I am infinitely better than I was as a rookie."
Part of Black's maturation can be attributed to being thrown into the fire.
Black, a third-round pick by Tampa Bay in 2007, played primarily on special teams before becoming a starter last season. Although he was able to learn from watching Derrick Brooks, Barrett Ruud and June, Black did not discover his potential until he was expected to make plays at linebacker.
"He came from a defense in college where he basically was a freelance player," Ruud said. "He didn't have to really read anything. Now it's definitely about assignment, picking up on tendencies, and that just comes from reps and being out there.
"The more you play, not only together, but individually, you're definitely going to feel more comfortable. I know for me, there was a huge difference from the first year I started and the second year I started. That's usually when guys make their biggest jump."
Black was not comfortable leaping into Tampa Bay's defense until coaches realized how to use him.
While Black played strongside linebacker, he often was asked to play far off the line of scrimmage. Once Tampa Bay realized Black (6-foot-2, 240 pounds) was better utilized closer to the ball, Bucs coach Raheem Morris changed his strategy.
"We went a little more under front because of a guy like Quincy Black," Morris said. "I don't know if we ever had a linebacker with Quincy Black's physique, rush ability, how big he is, how strong he is, how physical he is and also fast.
"We were able to take advantage of some of his strengths."
Black's greatest strength might be his realistic assessment of last season.
While Black was a solid contributor, Tampa Bay's 3-13 record overshadowed all personal achievements in his mind. Black takes no satisfaction in knowing he is No..1 on the Tampa Bay's depth chart, so he is working this offseason as though he were a player trying to make the roster.
Black is still trying to land safely.
"I just want to make this football team better," Black said. "That is one thing that hasn't changed about me since I was a rookie. When I first came in, I was looking to learn from the older guys and help this team win football games. At this point of my career, I want to win football games.
"If you aren't winning, it really doesn't matter what type of stats you have."