5 Breakthrough Bucs

July 4 - They have survived their rookie season or their first season as a starter. Pewter Report identifies five Buccaneers who are either second- or third-year players who seem ready for a breakthrough season.

Copyright 2002 Pewter Report/PewterReport.com
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Pewter Report has compiled a list of young Buccaneers players who seem poised to have a breakthrough season. This list was limited to those players who are in their second year in the league or entering their second year as a key contributor in terms of playing time.

1. CB DWIGHT SMITH - 2nd year
Smith has dazzled in practice for the past two offseasons. Now he's ready for a breakout year. Last year he saw spot duty on defense as the dime defender due to the presence of Brian Kelly, Ronde Barber and Donnie Abraham. Smith did play a strong role on special teams and led the club in special teams tackles.

Now with Abraham gone, the aggressive, ballhawking safety will make some noise in the nickel packages and even push Kelly for his starting position at the left cornerback spot. Don't be surprised to see Smith lead the team in interceptions this year.

2. G COSEY COLEMAN - 3nd year
Coleman was hampered during his rookie season in 2000 by a political decision to play Frank Middleton exclusively at the right guard position for almost every snap. The team had to give Middleton, who was a free agent in 2001, every opportunity to prove that he deserved to remain with the team (he didn't). The cost of doing that was robbing Coleman of a couple of series and spot situations where he could have been inserted and gotten his feet wet. Instead, last year, his second season in the NFL, was essentially his rookie season. Coleman fared well last year in his first year as a starter.

Going against Anthony McFarland and Warren Sapp every day should accelerate his learning curve. Todd Washington is vying for the starting center or guard positions and will push Coleman to improve and become more consistent.

3. LT KENYATTA WALKER - 2nd year
Walker had some hard knocks during his rookie season with terrible games against Green Bay and Pittsburgh where he was a turnstile for defenders in their pursuit of the quarterback. Walker also had a few bouts of of immaturity and opened his mouth to the press a little too much. But to Walker's credit, he grew up on and off the field over the second half of the season and finished the season strong with command performances against St. Louis and Baltimore in two of the Bucs' biggest wins last season.

Walker needs to pick up where he left off last season and he has appeared to have a better understanding of the left tackle position this spring as opposed to last spring. The addition of offensive line coach Bill Muir and tackle Roman Oben should push Walker to greatness, hopefully this season. Walker's work ethic has improved, but he could still hit the weight room a little harder to become a stronger, more agile player.

4. FS JOHN HOWELL - 2nd year
Howell got his first taste of action on defense against Pittsburgh when he started for the injured Dexter Jackson at free safety. Howell showed his intelligence and toughness by recording a game-high 13 tackles, including a touchdown-saving tackle. However, his inexperience cost the Bucs a touchdown on a halfback option pass from Jerome Bettis to tight end Jerame Tuman.

Howell doesn't have the athletic ability, speed or hands that Jackson does, and odds are that he won't win the starting free safety spot this year. But his increased knowledge of the Bucs system and hard-hitting ability will prompt Monte Kiffin to use him more often to spell Jackson in certain situations. Look for Howell to step up and play an increased role on special teams to make up for the loss of top special teamers Jeff Gooch and Rabih Abdullah.

5. WR FRANK MURPHY - 3nd year
Murphy has to be considered one of the favorites to win the kickoff return duties, and he could factor into the mix as a punt returner as well. Murphy will likely square off against Aaron Stecker, Karl Williams, Byron Hanspard and rookies Aaron Lockett and Travis Stephens for the Bucs' return duties. Murphy led the team with 445 yards on 20 kickoffs last year (22.3 average), and is the second-fastest player on the team behind Lockett.

Given his raw ability at the wide receiver position and the increased competition at that spot with the additions of Keenan McCardell, Joe Jurevicius and Marquise Walker, Murphy probably won't get a whole lot of playing time on offense this year. But he was a good situational receiver last season, catching eight passes for 71 yards and one touchdown, which was as many as Keyshawn Johnson had in 2001.

HONORABLE MENTION - FB JAMEEL COOK - 2nd year
Cook had an outstanding rookie year as the lead blocker for Mike Alstott in the team's Rhino backfield. He also showed that he had the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, hauling in 17 catches for 89 yards. Cook is currently the backup fullback to Alstott and appears to be a good fit in Jon Gruden's new offense.


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All PewterReport.com photos are courtesy of Pewter Report director of photography Cliff Welch unless noted otherwise.


Copyright 2002 Pewter Report/PewterReport.com

This story is intended to be read only by PewterReport.com Club Insiders only and TheInsiders.com. Sharing of the Club content with non-subscribers of this service can result in cancellation of your subscription to the service and/or further actions by the publishers.

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