Walker Embracing Role As Starting RT

August 8 - Kenyatta Walker, last year's number one pick, is excited about his switch back to his natural right tackle position. Although head coach Jon Gruden and offensive line coach Bill Muir won't say it's permanent yet, the fact that Walker has yet to take a snap on the left side over the last nine days of practice is quite telling.

It appears as if it's only a matter of time before Kenyatta Walker is named the starting right tackle for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Neither offensive line coach Bill Muir nor head coach Jon Gruden will confirm it yet, but Walker has never been the bashful type and has all but said his move to the right side of the line is permanent.

"I'm really psyched about it," Walker said of playing right tackle. "That's my side. It's my natural position."

Since the Bucs started practicing in pads on Wednesday, July 31, Walker has started exclusively at right tackle in place of Jerry Wunsch. Walker has embraced the switch from the left side where he struggled as a rookie last year, to the right side, which he played at the University of Florida.

"If you want to know how hard (it was) to switch (to left tackle), let me ask you, 'What hand do you write with?' You write with your right hand? Well try writing with your left," Walker said. "It feels natural for me to be on the right side.

"These days playing tackle -- you have to be athletic. There's no more (talk about) the left tackle is the best as opposed to the right tackle. You've got Willie Anderson who has been a really good, athletic right tackle for a while now (in Cincinnati). I'm an athletic tackle. I'm at my natural position. I feel comfortable there. It's time to go to work."

While Walker is clearly enjoying his time at right tackle, Muir isn't about to admit that the Bucs are done tinkering with the tackle position yet.

"No," Muir said. "There are only two people on that offensive line that aren't switching right now and that's Jeff Christy and Jerry Wunsch. Everybody else is switching.

"The whole thing comes back to what Coach Gruden has said all along. Basically, what we are trying to do is to increase the competition level. We've got a lot of veteran experience (at left tackle) and we're mixing and matching and see what kind of combination we come up with. Right now, nothing is in stone. Let's play some games and see what we come up with."

Newcomer Roman Oben has started on the left side with 18-year veteran left tackle Lomas Brown backing up Oben. Team sources speculated that Walker would eventually get some reps in pads at left tackle during training camp, but after nine days of practices, it appears Walker is finding a permanent home on the right side, despite his coaches being non-committal.

"I'm not going to say that he's through over there (at left tackle) at all," Gruden said. "He can play there. We'd stick him over there in a heartbeat if it was the best thing for this team to do at this time. Presently, we've got Roman Oben (at left tackle) who is getting better. The guy was hurt in the offseason. He's an 80-game starter at left tackle. We've got a guy over there who's started 800 games.

"We're going to have Kenyatta go back to square one, which is his natural position where he played at Florida. He's comfortable with the right-handed stance. His best friend is Cosey Coleman, so I said, 'Go over there, do what you do, and get it done.'

Gruden calls Coleman and Walker the "Soul Patrol" and envisions the young duo being a force on the right side of the line. Walker is a better pass protector and more athletic than Wunsch. And given the emphasis Gruden and Muir place on pass protection, Walker's switch to right tackle seems like it could be permanent.

"In the future, will he be a left tackle? I would say there's a good chance of that because he has the range and the athleticism," Gruden said. "Is he maturing and is he more comfortable over there as a right tackle, right now? Yes he is. We expect him to take it to another level every day. (Offensive line coach) Bill Muir and Kenyatta Walker are really coming together right now."

Walker had an uphill battle trying to play left tackle last season. He was a 20-year old starter, who happened to be making a position switch after coming out as a junior. A recipe for disaster? Perhaps, but Walker said he's a better player for going through the trials and tribulations at left tackle and going through awful games against Pittsburgh and Green Bay.

"The only good thing I can say about last year and the ups and downs was that I made it," Walker said. "I played 16 games and I went through the hell and I don't think you can get any lower. Last year was hell. But I stuck in there and took all the (expletive)."

"Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Green Bay. I've got a lot of teams I'm looking forward to playing this year. I think the Pittsburgh game is going to be a real, real special game for me. That was by far my worst game ever. You've heard about quicksand and sinking? That was my quicksand game. It's a learning process. I'm not ashamed of last year."

Though Walker is all smiles at right tackle these days, he said that he wasn't a failure at left tackle, and as Gruden said -- understands that he could eventually return to the left side some day.

"I could play left tackle, but I'm a natural at right," Walker said. "You want the best 67. I played right tackle all my life. When they watched film, they watched me playing right tackle."

When Muir was asked if Walker would be the starting right tackle this season, the wily old veteran line coach laughed.

"You guys already have the story," Muir said. "All you want is the date. You've got the headlines written and all that crap. I ain't fallin' into this trap. I've been around here 20 years.

"The head football coach makes all announcements relative to position changes and starting offense. I'm just a (expletive) offensive line coach."

Walker's past and future might be at left tackle, but his present appears to be on the right side.


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