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Bucs may start Walker at RT vs. Saints

ROGER MILLS
Published October 7, 2004

TAMPA - The Bucs coaching staff made one huge move Wednesday by naming Chris Simms the starting quarterback in place of Brad Johnson.

And another similar move could be on the horizon.

Right tackle Kenyatta Walker, 25, a former starter who lost his place to free agent Todd Steussie, has been playing well and could get the nod Sunday in New Orleans.

Coach Jon Gruden wouldn't say that Walker will replace Steussie in the starting lineup, but said the fourth year player is turning heads.

"Yes he is (pushing Steussie for the starting position)," Gruden said. "That was probably the best seven or eight or 10 days that he's had since I've been here. That's the bar that he has to get over. He's got to maintain that, and if he does, you'll all get to meet Kenyatta Walker and what kind of football player he really can be."

The 14th overall selection in the 2001 draft, the former Gator has had a rocky ride with the Bucs. He started all 16 games as a rookie at left tackle but struggled. In 2002, the Bucs moved him to right tackle where he started 13 regular season games and all three games in the playoff run.

But Walker's woes began surfacing last season and he was benched when the Bucs signed Steussie, 33, to a reported six-year, $20-million contract in the offseason, that came with about $4-million in a signing bonus.

Walker has improved steadily and saw significant snaps in the loss to Denver.

"Right now, I'm just practicing hard, trying to play ball; play the ball I know I can and stay focused," Walker said. "This is a long year. It's even longer now because of the record. This is a team full of character and a lot of leaders. I just want to be a contributor.

"My goals right now are practicing hard and helping this team. Being consistent. I've played good games before, but I haven't played a whole season (well) before. That's my goal, to be consistent."

EVERYONE ON THE LOOKOUT: The benching of Johnson may or may not signal a youth movement with the team, but teammates certainly took notice.

"Brad's our leader but there are 10 other guys on offense who have to be held responsible for this," tight end Ken Dilger said. "I think we should all be blamed for our quarterback getting demoted. I feel responsible and the other guys should too. Yet, it is what it is and we have to move on and do whatever we can to get a win this week. It's not about letting Chris help us but about us helping him."

Throughout the locker room, players admitted that they have to accept the change and believe in Simms.

"We don't know how far along Chris is in his development," safety Dwight Smith said. "We don't know if he's ready to take us to 12-0 with him starting, or if he's ready to take it to 6-6. We'll never know, we'll have to wait and see. We know the defense is behind him, the whole team is behind him."

Added linebacker Derrick Brooks: "It's the nature of the business and you respect that. But we have enough issues on the defense. We don't have time to worry about offense. We just get ourselves going and the offense will do fine."

Gruden said he expects the team to respond appropriately.

"The players that are here, I think they understand that the number one objective is going to be to win," Gruden said. "We're not going to play head games or mind games. No one has any disrespect for (Johnson). None. I think they all understand it."

RECEIVING RICE: Defensive end Simeon Rice is well known for his after-practice workouts and he was at it again Wednesday. Only this time Rice teased the crowd of media present when he caught a couple of passes, including a long bomb, from Simms.

Gruden joked that considering Rice's ability and the team's offensive funk, anything is a possibility.

"He's another lightning rod that can ignite us," Gruden said. "You've got to light the match on some of these guys. Tight end, whatever it may be. Somewhere eligible. I don't think he wants to play on the line."

INJURY UPDATE: Receivers Joey Galloway (groin tear) and Frank Murphy (Achilles' tear) are out. Defensive tackle Anthony McFarland (groin) is probable.

ROSTER MOVE: The Bucs signed receiver Derrick Lewis and placed Murphy on the injured reserve list. Lewis played three games for the Saints in 2003, with one catch for 7 yards. The 6-foot-2, 185-pounder was released on Sept. 5.

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