TAMPA, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers star pass-rusher Jason Pierre-Paul joined teammates Tuesday for his first squad practice since suffering a broken neck this offseason in an auto accident.
During last week's bye, Pierre-Paul did one-on-one drills with offensive linemen at the facility before the rest of the team joined him this week. Wednesday he'll suit up against them in pads for the first time.
"[He did] everything. He had contact last week with pads on. ... He's a little rusty, but it was good," coach Bruce Arians said. "A lot will depend on how he feels Thursday after Wednesday's practice in pads. And we'll judge it from there."
"Everything is good right now. I'm on the right track. I'm keeping forward. I've got a lot to do in a short amount of time," said Pierre-Paul, speaking for the first time since his Ferrari spun out of control on a South Florida freeway and hit a median May 2. Police determined that rain was a factor.
"It felt great. It's been a long journey," Pierre-Paul said. "I've still got a lot going on, but it's been great being with my teammates. ... I feel good."
No determination has been made as to when he'll be able to play in a game, but his 21-day practice window, which applies to players coming off the active/non-football injury list, began last week. The team has until Nov. 6 to activate him.
"He's come back from some serious stuff," Arians said. "He's kind of a freak of nature as far as healing. He has a great belief in his faith and I think sometimes that helps healing."
Pierre-Paul said he never doubted that he'd be able to play again, despite the fact that few players have returned from neck fractures. He'd been given the option to undergo surgery this summer, which would have sidelined him longer, but he opted to wear a brace and rehabilitate.
"Nope. Not a lot of people have come back from blowing off a hand too, said Pierre-Paul, referring to a July 4 fireworks accident in 2015 that mangled his hand so much, it required the amputation of his right index finger. "But I had no doubts."
Arians said he can already feel Pierre-Paul's presence on the field.
"It's a huge, huge thing. He's been one of the vocal leaders for a long time," Arians said. "Not having his presence -- I can already feel a difference. Obviously he's feeling his way [around] football-wise, but the rest of it, last week, going out to practice, coaching, doing all those things, giving young guys advice -- [it's been] fantastic."
His presence can not only help guide 26-year-old Shaq Barrett, but take the pressure off of him. Barrett's currently tied for the league lead with 9.0 sacks through six games but has been rendered sackless the last two games as teams have doubled up on him, chipped him and deployed mass protection.
"It means a lot to have him back," said Barrett, who has been studying tape of Pierre-Paul since he got to Tampa. "His length, his strength, his speed -- everything -- he can do it all. It's not like he can just do one thing. He can fake you off the edge and come inside, still long-arm power you back, then like the little jab off the line to make the edge shorter -- that's real nice. He's got a lot of good moves."
Added defensive tackle Beau Allen: "He's a tough guy, man. He's been through some s--- in his career obviously. He plays with that kind of passion that you know can only come from being through the s--- that he's been through. [We're] excited to have him back."