"If you panic as a defensive back, you need to pick another position." -- Darrelle Revis, Jan. 7, 2015
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Darrelle Revis does not need to pick another position.
He might not exhibit the speed of Patrick Peterson or the length of Richard Sherman, but, according to New England Patriots teammate Matthew Slater, his technique is "second to none" and his knack for tranquilly recovering when it appears a receiver has beaten him to the ball has astounded teammates and opponents.
Coaches need to lean on key players in critical situations. What separates Revis is his unwavering belief that his superb preparation and precise technique will bail him out of almost any situation on the field. As Alfred E. Neuman so famously uttered, "What -- me worry?"
That approach has earned Revis six invitations to the Pro Bowl and four All-Pro first-team selections, including one this season with New England.
Safety Jim Leonhard, who played alongside Revis with the New York Jets from 2009 through 2011, witnessed his uncommon poise on a daily basis.
"There's absolutely no panic in his game, even if he's a step behind," Leonhard explained. "He's going to make you finish the play.
"So many other DBs, when they get beat, start grabbing. But Darrelle is so confident in his ability to play the ball that even when he's beat he still has that inner calm that he's going to make the play. I've never seen anybody else like that."
Revis joined the Patriots as a free agent last summer and helped transform the secondary into perhaps the team's best since the championship squads from earlier this century. Revis & Co. will try to pen their own championship chapter starting Saturday, when they face the Baltimore Ravens in a divisional playoff showdown at Gillette Stadium.
"From the first day, our top receivers had him in compromising positions as they were running their routes, but it didn't matter," Slater said. "He used his technique to get himself back in position.
"So many other guys in that spot would panic, make things worse by clutching or tripping, drawing a flag, but he just doesn't do that."
Patriots receiver Brian Tyms, the resident "burner" among New England's receiving corps, said he has erroneously surmised he had a step on Revis in practice on multiple occasions.
"Sometimes I think, 'Ah, I've finally got him' and then somehow -- I just don't know how he does it -- I don't," Tyms said. "He's really not that fast. That isn't it.
"He's like Tom [Brady]. They've been doing it forever. They've game planned for it all. They study your tendencies and they exploit them. When you get brilliant players like that, who can slow the game down, they don't need 4.3 speed to beat you."
There's another component of Revis' game that is subtle, yet invaluable: his exceptional peripheral vision.
Revis was only 7 years old when he realized he was able to sense people standing alongside and behind him. It made for great fun when he wanted to suddenly turn and pounce on startled friends.
"I don't know where it came from," Revis shrugged. "A God-given talent, I guess."
Aliquippa (Pa.) High School football coach Mike Zmijanac identified the unique skill when he entrusted Revis with a kickoff return in a high school playoff game. As Revis sprinted up the left sideline, Zmijanac recounted, "There were two guys in front of him about 19 yards away and they had him bracketed."
Revis juked, blew past them both and then shook off one more tackle downfield before rocketing into the end zone. The play was so remarkable, Zmijanac went back to study the film to see how he did it.
What he discovered was that Revis wasn't even focused on the two defenders who thought they had him cornered.
"Darrelle was all but ignoring them," Zmijanac said. "He was zeroed in on the guy 5 yards beyond them. He had the vision to recognize that's where the obstacle was. It was very obvious on film."
Want your own video evidence? Look up the 2006 Pittsburgh-West Virginia game in which Revis produced a 73-yard punt return for a touchdown for the Panthers. Initially, it looked as though he would be tackled inside the 30-yard line as three tacklers converged on him, but Revis shifted at exactly the correct moment and, aided by a crushing block by teammate Derek Kinder, motored down the right sideline. More defenders converged on him at the West Virginia 20-yard line, including a player charging hard from the left side. It appeared for a split second that Revis did not see him, but as the player moved to grab him, Revis deftly spun, turned and cruised into the end zone untouched.
His vision is a useful tool, but Revis acknowledges his real strength lies in his technique, which is a direct result of his assiduous preparation. He is a perfectionist who logs hours in the film room, then more hours on the field trying to replicate what he has learned.
"It's interesting," Leonhard said. "I've seen him do this so many times. We're in formation, the ball is snapped and he's running the route before the receiver does. I'd watch him sometimes and think, 'He's guessing,' but he's never wrong."
Revis capitalizes on nuances of his opponent: Some receivers lean ever so slightly in one direction when their number is called; others crouch a little lower when they are preparing to run a route underneath and some show their hand by assuming one stance for a run play and a slight variation for a pass play.
Revis also studies the tendencies of the quarterback and examines film to see if the QB's eyes give anything away at the line of scrimmage.
"It's a chess game out there," Revis explained. "You've got to bait the receiver sometimes. You've got to bait the quarterback. The best thing is to try to work on those things behind closed doors."
His commitment to preparation pairs well with the vicious competitiveness with which Revis attacks each practice. Revis was delighted to discover a kindred spirit in Brady in that regard. Both expect the defense to learn coverages and maintain composure. They also demand the offense to run routes accurately and effectively.
"When I was with the Jets, we'd have a big game coming up and the [national] broadcasters were watching our practice on Fridays," Leonhard said. "We'd run a play and if Darrelle didn't feel like the receiver gave him the look a certain way that he wanted it, he'd be in that receiver's face. He would demand he got it right, and if he didn't, they'd come to blows sometimes.
"It was critical in his mind to get it right during the week so when we got out there in a game he wasn't seeing a route for the first time live."
The most entertaining afternoons, Leonhard said, were when Braylon Edwards or Santonio Holmes would burn Revis for the occasional big gain.
"If they got him early in practice, it was going to be a long day for them," Leonhard said, "because he was set on beating them up the rest of practice."
Revis has displayed the same intensity in New England. He does not like to have a pass completed against him, whether it's a crossing route, deep ball or a short-yardage gain. If it does happen, his teammates assert, the chances for a repeat reception diminish significantly.
"I feel for some of the receivers we've played this season," Tyms said. "They will have been in a slot formation and get a rub off on him and catch a 2-yard pass and get excited and get in his face.
"We're watching it and everybody on our sidelines is saying, 'Yep, he won't be seeing the ball again.'"
Zmijanac has been coaching at the Quip for 42 seasons. He's witnessed the families of the hardscrabble town 29 miles from Pittsburgh struggle as the steel mills closed and the jobs dried up. He's attended too many funerals of former Aliquippa players who didn't make it past 25. Revis' resolve, he believes, helped him rise above.
Revis was fortunate to be surrounded by a family who bonded together to make sure he succeeded. He had to answer to his mother as well as his grandmother, Aileen Gilbert, a tough-love matriarch who once operated a jackhammer at the steel mills.
His uncle, Sean Gilbert, who also played in the NFL, stressed toughness and physicality, but also respect for the game.
Perhaps that's why Revis rarely talks smack to the mouthy receivers who want a piece of him. He might occasionally wag a finger or chuckle quietly when he breaks up a pass, but for the most part, he lets his game do the talking.
He was a team player in high school who did whatever his coaches asked. In the state championship game in his senior season, he scored five touchdowns: one on a kickoff return, another on a blocked field goal, and three rushing touchdowns, including a 64-yard run. He also threw a 60-yard pass to the 1-yard line.
Even so, at the end of the season when the district stat leaders appeared on the back pages of the sports section, Revis' name was nowhere to be found.
"He didn't lead in anything except for wins," Zmijanac said.
The coach appreciated his player's demeanor, his work ethic and his toughness. He was never late to anything -- except once.
"Darrelle was always the first guy on the field," Zmijanac said. "So one day when he wasn't at practice, the kids are looking at me. I told them, 'Call the hospitals.'"
Thirty minutes into the workout, a breathless -- and teary -- Revis hustled onto the field. He was late, he explained, because he had driven to Cleveland with some friends to pick up a suit for the homecoming dance that weekend.
"I asked him, 'What, they don't have suits in Pittsburgh?'" Zmijanac said. "Then I told him to put on his helmet and start practicing."
"He should have been mad," Revis said. "He had a right to be."
The only blemish on an otherwise stellar season with the Patriots was when Revis was sent home from the team's workout because he arrived a few minutes late.
"I don't really care about that because it's in the past," Revis said. "Me and Bill talked and it was over with."
His tardiness is old news. Revis has proved to be an irreplaceable cog in the Patriots' wheel, on par with Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski. He has been in playoff games before, but he's never been to the Super Bowl, and, he admitted, it's one of the reasons he chose New England.
"Yeah, that was one of the decisions," Revis confirmed. "To come and play with this organization. They win year in and year out. They're on top every year."
Revis has not been perfect. Players like Randy Moss, Ted Ginn and Mike Wallace have caught long balls against him. But, as Leonhard says, "the list is pretty short." Revis Island is often a quiet, tranquil, deserted piece of real estate.
Revis will implement intimidation, according to Leonhard, to take receivers out of their rhythm. He is not above glaring into the huddle of an opponent or straddling the ball to make his point.
"Anytime a receiver who was in one-on-one coverage with Darrelle looked over, the first thing they'd see is him staring them down," Leonhard said. "If they took a step, he'd take one with them, even before the ball was snapped. The message was, 'I got you, no matter where you go, all day long.'
"Some receivers weren't into that. By the end of the game, they weren't looking at him out of the huddle. They wanted no part of him."
"You have to," Revis said. "I'm sure stuff plays back in Tom's head about a game in 2004. It's just, 'Repeat it.' You see it and you say, 'Oh, I know this' or 'I know that formation, I know what they're going to run.'"
There was a time when some teams felt there should be a premium on speed when it came to defensive backs. The Oakland Raiders traded up in the 2011 draft to take cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke with the 81st pick because he ran a 4.28 40-yard dash.
Van Dyke played just 25 total games in three seasons for three different teams before spending 2014 in the Arena Football League.
There's more to the position than speed. Revis isn't the biggest, the strongest or the fastest, but, as Leonhard points out, "He's as fast as he needs to be. He's as strong as he needs to be. He can mix and match based on the situation."
There's a real possibility that Darrelle Revis will be one-and-done in New England. Cornerbacks who don't panic make big money in the NFL, and he can be a free agent in 2015.
"I'm not thinking about that right now," Revis said.
He isn't alone. It has been more than 10 years since Brady and the Patriots won a Super Bowl, and they believe Revis can help them get another ring.
They can worry about how to pay their unflappable All-Pro technician later.