Vernon Gholston comes into this interview wearing a coat of many colors, an impressive black-and-white leather affair graced with multiple colorful patches. Several of the patches contain the unmistakable Old English "D" that many would associate with the baseball Tigers.
"Actually, it's for the city of Detroit," Gholston says. "It's a classic. Next to the Yankees sign, it's probably right up there."
The former Ohio State linebacker knows loyalty. Since the end of the season he has returned to Detroit to visit his family and friends. And he made a trip to the Phoenix area "to cheer my guys on" in the Buckeyes' 24-21 loss to Texas in the Fiesta Bowl.
But other than those jaunts, Gholston has voluntarily been stuck at home base, the Atlantic Health Training Center. We know the quarterbacks are here, having already begun their six-month competition for the starting job. A few other veterans are rehabbing lingering problems from the season or working ahead of next month's start on the off-season strength and conditioning program. Gholston is one of the latter.
"I'm just getting an early jump on things," he said. "I'm just trying to get back into things, getting the body woken back up. We were down there today for a pretty good workout, about an hour and a half, with a light little run. I think Monday we're going to kick it up a notch."
Monday was yesterday and Gholston has already begun working with strength coach Sal Alosi and his staff to put himself in the best possible position to hit the ground running in the new regime of head coach Rex Ryan and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. Possibly, the Ryan reign has Vernon geeked up just a bit.
"From day one they came in talking about being an attacking team, an attacking defense," he said. "I'm right in line with that. That's what I like to do. Hopefully, that'll be the case.
"I'm always excited to play football. Obviously, after a rookie year, you're excited to get back and know what's going on. Obviously with a new staff in place, it kind of still is a rookie year, but more so for everybody in a sense. It's a fresh start, a new system to learn. But I think we have good days ahead of us."
Gholston's true rookie year didn't go as swimmingly as anyone wanted. The sixth pick of the 2008 draft got fewer than 100 defensive snaps, making five tackles and no sacks. His only play even at the line of scrimmage was a shared tackle of RB Fred Jackson at Buffalo in Game 8. His biggest contributions came on special teams, where he made 12 tackles in kick coverage.
But Gholston, while not ecstatic with that production, doesn't seem shaken by the season and demonstrates a calm confidence that his sophomore NFL season will be more impactful.
"I feel great about everything," he said of the microscope that many fans and reporters put him under. "Obviously, more than others, I place a high expectation on myself. I think when you do that, others' views, whatever they have to say, is not that important because you expect more from yourself.
"I never have regrets about anything, so everything's a learning process. You take what you can from every situation and you build on it. I think you can even get more from not being on the field sometimes, just as far as preparation, things like that. I think it was good for me. Coming back the second year, you're really anxious to get on the field."
But what will VG come back as? Is there a different role in his future than as a sometimes-pass-rushing, sometimes-run-stuffing, sometimes-dropping-into-coverage 3-4 outside linebacker? Well, Ryan and Pettine have already provided some snapshots of their scheme and the different ways players will be used in it. Gholston said he's sneaked some peaks at some recent Baltimore Ravens defensive footage.
"Even just being a fan of football, you're watching that defense in previous years, obviously it's always been one of the top in the league. You look at the players they have, just the way they go about it.. That's something you kind of thrive off of. Now with Rex bringing his defensive system here, you've really got to watch closer."
Gholston's paying attention. He's said one of the most important things he picked up as a rookie, from linebackers coach Jim Herrmann, was that "It's just football." And he gives the impression that he's got that simple statement down, he's got his feet under him, and he's ready to move forward, in more ways than one.
"With the first year," he said, "you come in and you're not really clued in on everything. There's new stuff to learn, new places to be, a new position. So once you've got a chance to get all that under you're belt, understand what you're doing, it kind of puts you back to just playing football again."