© St. Petersburg Times, published September 9, 2002
TAMPA -- Sunday's overtime loss to New Orleans was frustrating for the players on the field, but more so for second-year tackle Kenyatta Walker.
The former first-round pick already learned he had slipped out of the starting lineup, replaced by unheralded Cornell Green, who had never played an NFL game. But when Sunday's rosters was announced, Walker was among eight listed as inactive, meaning he would not dress for the game.
After watching as his linemates struggled to protect Brad Johnson from a relentless pass rush, Walker vented his frustrations.
"You know what, I don't want to make this no biggie -- we lost the game tonight and apparently it doesn't really matter what I think because, s---, I didn't even dress out," Walker said. "It's disappointing when they feed you a lot of bulls--- and then stab you in the back."
Walker, who did not gather with teammates during several offensive meetings on the sideline, walked off the field alone after the game, sunglasses on and talking on a cellular phone. Coach Jon Gruden did not address Walker's demotion in his postgame news conference.
PROMISING START: The disappointing finish obscured some promising individual offensive performances in the debut of Gruden's Gulf Shore offense. The Bucs struggled in the first half with four first downs, but had 19 for the game.
Among the bright spots was free-agent receiver Joe Jurevicius, who caught four passes for 37 yards in the second half, including an 11-yard touchdown from Johnson with 2:41 left.
"Brad made a great throw, put the ball where it needs to be," said Jurevicius, who reached high and batted the ball to himself for his sixth NFL touchdown. "That's a play where I have to get open no matter what, and I happened to get a step on them."
Other players who stood out in their debut were tailback Michael Pittman, who rushed for 50 yards and caught five passes for 31 yards, and receiver Keenan McCardell, with a team-high six receptions for 63 yards.
Fullback Mike Alstott did not touch the ball in the first half, but caught four passes for 48 yards and rushed six times for 11 yards after halftime.
"We did some good things today, but we've got to play better," Alstott said. "I feel comfortable in whatever role I'm in. I had some opportunities to make some big plays in the passing game today, and I did. We're in a new offense, and things aren't always going to go our way, but we have to keep our heads up."
BRIGHT SPOT: Tailback Aaron Stecker shined on kickoff returns, averaging 29.5 yards on four returns and putting the Bucs in good field position. The average drive started on their 35-yard line, and in 15 possessions, Tampa Bay's field position was no worse than its 24, until the last drive of overtime, when Tampa Bay started on its 6.
"The bottom line is: Did it help the team win?" said Stecker, who did not touch the ball offensively. "I had a couple of good ones, but it's a team thing. Those returns are null and void. The important thing is we didn't win."
PINNED DEEP: Cornerback Corey Ivy, who played one game last season, made his mark on special teams, pinning two Tom Tupa punts on the New Orleans 2-yard line.
Ivy dived into the end zone to save the first punt and pin the Saints deep in the final minute of the first half. It helped put the Bucs in position for a last-second field goal, but that attempt was blocked by St. Petersburg's Darren Howard.
The second play showcased Ivy's speed, as he got in position to catch Tupa's 42-yard punt on the 2-yard line. The gain in position helped set up the Bucs' second touchdown drive.
"I want to capitalize on any opportunity that comes to me," said Ivy, who made two special teams tackles and played in the dime defensive package. "When my number is called, I want to make a play to help our team score or set up the offense."
BUCS BITS: Martin Gramatica's 52-yard field goal in the first half was his longest since 2000, in which he connected on five field goals of 50 yards or more. He could have lined up for a 56-yard attempt -- 1 yard longer than his career best -- on the first drive of overtime, but Gruden opted to punt from the New Orleans 39. ... Walker was the most notable of the Bucs' eight pregame inactives. Others who did not dress were fullback Darian Barnes and receiver Reggie Barlow, both added to the roster last week, along with injured linemen Cosey Coleman and Buck Gurley, No. 3 quarterback Shaun King and rookie cornerback Tim Wansley. Receiver Marquise Walker, the Bucs' top draft pick this year, was declared inactive. ... The Bucs allowed New Orleans to convert 10 of 20 third downs. The most allowed by last year's defense was nine, and in last year's opener, the Cowboys went 1-for-10 on third downs against the Bucs.
-- GREG AUMAN, ROGER MILLS