St. Petersburg Times Online: Sports

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

Walker back on line after a wakeup call

By ROGER MILLS and BRIAN LANDMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 16, 2002


BALTIMORE -- Tuesday, on his day off, Bucs right tackle Kenyatta Walker arrived at One Buc Place ready to go to work, eager to put his troubles of the past few weeks behind him.

BALTIMORE -- Tuesday, on his day off, Bucs right tackle Kenyatta Walker arrived at One Buc Place ready to go to work, eager to put his troubles of the past few weeks behind him.

Sunday, he did.

Benched Sept. 8 for poor performance, Walker returned to the starting lineup and played well.

"It's about getting out there and playing and seeing things," Walker said. "You can learn only so much on the practice field, there's nothing like live bullets on game day.

"I set the standards high for me and I played a good game and now they're going to expect me to play every game like that. That's reasonable. And if I played horrible I need to be benched. That's part of it."

Walker, the team's first-round draft pick last year and projected left tackle, was moved to right tackle at the end of the preseason. Poor play and penalties knocked Walker from the starting lineup after the final preseason game in Houston.

Inactive in the opener in favor of Cornell Green, who never had played in an NFL game, Walker responded the way the Bucs wanted him to. He worked out on his off day and showed the type of attitude and consistency coach Jon Gruden and offensive line coach Bill Muir have been asking for.

"I'll be in there every Tuesday," said Walker, who did not draw a penalty Sunday. "Now, it'll be late this Tuesday but I'll be there. I need to see what's going on first. That's something that I had to learn. I can't wait for Wednesdays. I need to see things on Tuesday. If I have to be there for as long as I'm here, then I'll do it."

Gruden said he started Walker based on his efforts during practice last week.

"We do everything here by performance and we will continue to do that," Gruden said. "We let Kenyatta and Cornell know that we're going to split the reps on the practice field and we'll give you a plus or minus. ... You either do it good or you don't, and the guy with the most pluses will be the starting right tackle. Kenyatta took advantage of the opportunity.

"I think he's closing in on the type of player we want him to be. He's still got a long way to go and he'll admit that. But his professionalism, his detail, his consistency were factors and that's why he got a start."

COLEMAN RETURNS: Walker wasn't the only offensive line starter to return. Right guard Cosey Coleman, who missed the preseason and the opener with a left knee injury that required surgery, was back and didn't miss a beat.

"It felt pretty good," Coleman said of his first action since the injury on Aug.12. "Today was kind of a test for me. I got a couple days of practice last week and a couple more this week. But you can only get so much done and so much figured out in practice. So today was my first time with live bullets and it felt pretty good."

The return of Coleman and Walker likely gave the offensive line a shot in the arm. While the running game wasn't dominant, quarterback Brad Johnson was sacked once and generally had time to make his throws.

"It was a good start for both of us," Coleman said. "We still have a long way to go. It's definitely not a finished product as an offensive line or as an offense period. But (Sunday) was a good start."

PITTMAN UPDATE: Running back Michael Pittman was carted off the field late in the third quarter after cramping but should practice Wednesday.

"I just have to start eating a lot more fat foods, I'm too lean," Pittman said. "I drink a lot of water and it wasn't that humid out there, so I don't know what caused the cramps."

Pittman never returned, but he finished with six catches for 58 yards, prompting Gruden to poke fun at him. "He was carried away on a vehicle of some kind and came back in five or six minutes with no cramps," Gruden said, smiling. "So, there's an investigation going on now as to what kind of cramps these actually were."

PAYING THEIR RESPECTS: After the game, Pittman wore a Baltimore Colts No. 19 jersey to honor Johnny Unitas, the Hall of Fame quarterback who died Wednesday.

"I only saw him play on ESPN Classic, but he paved the way for guys like me," Pittman said. "He made the game great so I wanted to show my appreciation."

Ravens quarterback Chris Redman wore black shoes as a tribute to Unitas. The NFL turned down a request last week by Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning to wear Unitas' patented black hightops during Sunday's game against the Dolphins.

"I really didn't ask," Redman said. "I just went out and did it. It wasn't a media thing. It was a personal thing."

Unitas, a Baltimore legend, was honored in an emotional ceremony before the game. Among those attending were sons Jon Jr. and Kenneth and daughter Janice DiNittis.

INJURY REPORT: Defensive end Simeon Rice sprained his left shoulder during the second quarter and played the rest of the game in pain. Rice, scheduled for further evaluation today, left the locker room clearly troubled by the shoulder.

"I got it in the second quarter and it limited me," Rice said. "I could feel it and it got worse as the game went on. ... I am concerned."

Tight end Ken Dilger has a bruised right elbow and safety David Gibson sprained his left ankle. Both will be evaluated during the next two days.

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.