FOXBOROUGH — Funny how a change in laundry can change the dynamic between a player and one of his longtime rivals.
For six years, Darrelle Revis was one of the Patriots’ top nemeses when he anchored the Jets secondary from 2007-12. Revis won a few of the battles — he intercepted Tom Brady in 2007 and 2009 and was part of a big playoff win in 2010 — and also lost his fair share, losing 7 of 10 regular-season contests to New England.
He has also been one of the few active players willing to take on Bill Belichick, who reportedly used an off-color remark to describe the Jets defense after a Patriots win in November 2011. Revis called out Belichick in May 2012 for being “disrespectful” and “ignorant,” and chastised the coach for making the rivalry personal.
But Revis’s reception in Foxborough Tuesday was downright warm and neighborly — at least compared with previous instances — now that he’s just No. 24 in pewter and black, working his way back from ACL surgery with the Buccaneers following an offseason trade.
Revis is in the NFC now, and being coached by Greg Schiano, one of Belichick’s closest friends. Revis will be welcomed into the Patriots world at Gillette Stadium all week, no matter what was said in the past.
Belichick wasn’t exactly in the mood to wax about Revis’s abilities as a player, but still offered brief praise when prompted.
“He’s one of the top corners in the league,” he said. “Does everything well.”
Revis seems to have mellowed out on his hatred of the Patriots. Perhaps he’s just trying not to start any trouble, or maybe he has softened a bit with age. At 28 and entering his seventh season, he was jokingly nicknamed “Grandpa” by his new teammates.
But when asked if practicing in Foxborough got his juices flowing, Revis answered, “No, it actually don’t.
“The New York Jets-Patriots, that’s a crazy rivalry, it really is. It’s almost like a hatred. But now I’m a Buccaneer, and this is something new for me, being in training camp with another team. So I’m just taking it in stride.”
Revis had nice words to say about Tom Brady, saying, “It’s between him and Peyton Manning,” as the best quarterbacks in the game. And he even got a nice hello from Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who spoke with Revis on the sideline during practice.
Revis, who tore his ACL in Week 3 last year, wore his pads and participated in the individual portions of practice, but sat out of team drills, as he has all of camp.
“It was funny, because Mr. Kraft came up to me and said some encouraging words, some good words,” Revis said. “So it just shows how much respect you have with another team, when you’re not on that side of the [rivalry].”
Revis also got a bit of support from Tim Tebow, who was Revis’s teammate last year in New York.
“He’s a great guy,” said Tebow. “I hope he comes back as strong and fast and can be the player that he was, and I believe that he will.
“Just being around him for a little while, I understand his work ethic and how much he loves this game, how much he puts in it. And it was a pleasure for me to be around him a little while in New York, and I know he’ll be a great player again.”
When it comes to dealing with Revis, the Patriots know what it’s like to be an NFL wide receiver — they can’t seem to shake him, even after he left the division.
Here he is living among them this week, using their weight room and eating in their cafeteria.
“I’m asking people when we first got out here, ‘Where do we go? What do I do? I don’t know what’s going on,’ ” joked Revis. “It’s kind of weird watching one-on-ones and seeing Tom throw at our DBs.
“So it’s just something I’m taking in stride. Wish I could be out here at practice. That would give me some tips.”
The Patriots play the Bucs only once every four years in the regular season, but sure enough, Revis and his new mates will be back in Foxborough for Week 3, in addition to Friday’s preseason game at Gillette.
Revis definitely won’t play Friday, but there’s little reason to doubt that he’ll be in the lineup come Week 3. The biggest question Tuesday was whether Revis should play in the next three weeks, or if he can play in Week 1 without any work in the exhibition season.
If anyone can do it, of course, it’s Revis — a four-time Pro Bowler and the 2009 AFC Defensive Player of the Year who has 19 career interceptions.
But Schiano isn’t about to put his star cornerback in harm’s way, either. The Bucs gave Revis a $96 million contract after trading a first-round pick to the Jets, their opponent on Sept. 8.
“The reality is, he’s a veteran guy who knows what he can do,” Schiano said. “Hopefully he’ll be ready opening game, but again, I keep saying, if he isn’t, he isn’t.
“This is a long-term thing. This is a guy we plan on having a Buc for a lot of years, and make sure that we do everything we can to make sure he’s ready when he steps on that field.”
Interesting choice of words by Schiano to call Revis a “long-term thing.” Revis’s contract, though eye-popping, isn’t necessarily built that way. It has a very clear pay-as-you-go structure: six years, $16 million salary each season, with no signing bonus and $0 guaranteed. Revis has to earn his money each year, and the Bucs can cut him before any season with no financial penalty.
Realistically, Revis is going to earn at least $32 million; unless he has a freak disaster, the Bucs aren’t going to cut him after one year. But the contract certainly gives Revis motivation to stay on top of his game.
“Trust me, I’ll be fine,” he said. “I’m back to my old self. I’m getting there. It’s just the confidence and trying to get that knee drive and breaking on balls.”
Confidence is something Revis never lacked. But he said he doesn’t need constant affirmation that he’s the best cornerback in the NFL. Seahawks brash-talking cornerback Richard Sherman metaphorically slapped Revis on Twitter last season and laid claim to the “best cornerback in the league” title, but Revis knows he has to get back from ACL surgery first before he can reclaim his belt.
“You always want to be the best,” he said. “The Richard Sherman-type stuff, the Champ Baileys, that’s going to be talked throughout the whole season.
“I just know how to play ball, and I know how to play it at a high level.”Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin.