TAMPA — Vincent Jackson is difficult to get close to, on or off the football field.
The 30-year-old wide receiver of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers held one of his rare media sessions Thursday, typically downplaying his own accomplishments in an offense that ranked No. 9 in the league last season, the best showing in franchise history.
In talking to Jackson’s teammates and coaches, a portrait emerges of a dedicated and talented player who approaches his job with a keen intellect.
Jackson, who joined the Bucs as a free agent in 2012 after seven seasons in San Diego, doesn’t brag about the four languages he speaks or the 4.1 grade-point average he accumulated at Widfield High in Colorado Springs, Colo.
“There’s always more room to grow,’’ said Jackson, who set career marks for receptions (72) and receiving yards (1,384) in his first season with Tampa Bay. “I have a lot of football left in me and I feel great. I think this offense allows me to be successful and for me, it’s just about contributing. It’s not about statistics for me ... and never has been.’’
By the sheer numbers, Jackson ranks as the No. 1 big-play threat in the league.
The three-time Pro Bowler led the NFL by averaging 19.2 yards per catch last season and his career average of 17.8 is tops among all active players with at least 250 receptions.
“I keep telling everybody he’s the best receiver in the NFL,’’ said teammate Mike Williams, who came within four yards of giving Josh Freeman a pair of 1,000-yard targets in 2012. “It’s not because I’m biased or because Vincent is on my team ... the guy can do it all.’’
Although Jackson topped the 1,000-yard mark three times within a four-year span, the Chargers allowed him to hit free agency and the Bucs pounced on March 13, 2012, signing him to a five-year deal that included $26 million in guaranteed money.
There were some whispers out of San Diego that Jackson wasn’t always a team player, but the Bucs named him one of their captains before his first game in pewter and coach Greg Schiano can’t stop talking about Jackson’s unselfish attitude.
“Incredible work ethic,’’ Schiano said when asked what he has learned about Jackson in the past 18 months. “Elite work ethic, both in the classroom and on the practice field. He’s also a very smart guy. I don’t mean just football smart, and you don’t get to know that without being around him for awhile. Great guy to have on our football team.’’
While some Bucs fans are disillusioned about the team’s poor preseason efforts, Jackson isn’t concerned. He caught one pass in Tampa Bay’s four exhibition games, then declared himself ready for Sunday’s opener against the Jets.
“We’re going to be very vanilla in the preseason, not show our hand as far as what we have in our bag of tricks,’’ Jackson said. “Now that the gloves are off, it’s no holding back.’’
With Darrelle Revis now on Tampa Bay’s sideline, Jackson figures to be shadowed at MetLife Stadium by Antonio Cromartie, a former Chargers teammate who is considered one of the NFL’s premier cover corners.
According to Williams, Cromartie had better be prepared for a long day.
“Vincent Jackson can go down and play tight end,’’ Williams said. “He can block like a tight end. He can run the routes of a slot receiver and he can definitely play on the outside and catch all the deep or short balls. I’ll say it again — there’s nothing No. 83 can’t do.’’