A Meeting Of The Minds Helps Walker

Sept. 13 - Beleaguered Buccaneers right tackle Kenyatta Walker had a "meeting of the minds" with head coach Jon Gruden and offensive line coach Bill Muir on Monday, which turned around his fortunes in Tampa Bay. Walker has demonstrated a good work ethic and a positive attitude in practice this week, and is one step closer to re-claiming the starting right tackle position.

Things are turning around for beleaguered right tackle Kenyatta Walker, and it all started on Monday with a "meeting of the minds" between he, offensive line coach Bill Muir and head coach Jon Gruden.

After his poor play in the preseason, culminating with a three penalty performance at Houston in the exhibition finale, which kicked him out of the starting lineup, Walker was declared inactive for last Sunday's season-opening loss to New Orleans and lashed out at the coaching staff with a profanity-laced tirade in the locker room.

After that happened, it was expected that Walker would put himself deeper into Gruden's dog house, but Monday's meeting turned everything around and there is an outside chance that he could re-take his starting duty at right tackle this week.

"We came in on Monday and had a meeting of the minds and we got it all out on the table," Walker said. "I feel good. My focus now is helping this team win ball games and doing whatever I can. There's a lot expected of me. I have to accept that. It's different me. I have to accept that. I have to accept that I am under a microscope and that my problems and everything going on with me -- everybody knows. It's alright. It's part of the business. It's part of the profession. It's seeing the nice and the horrible comments about you and moving on."

Walker confessed that at times he hasn't lived up to his billing as the Bucs' top draft pick from a year ago -- a player the Bucs surrendered their second-round draft pick for -- and because of that there has been more pressure on him.

"I have to accept a lot of things," Walker said. "I can't go around thinking that I'm just one of the guys. The position I'm in, and what I was brought in for, the potential or where I went -- it makes you different. When you say, 'we drafted this guy a year ago and he's sitting down, what is going on?' People have the right to wonder what is going on, and they should. That's just something that I have to accept."

Walker struggled with bouts of immaturity last year with everything ranging from using cell phones in team meetings, getting along with teammates, work ethic and learning how to bounce back from dreadful performances such as the ones against Pittsburgh and Green Bay. The question is, is he learning how to deal with the pressures of being "the guy" -- the team's 2001 first-round draft pick filled with expectations?

"That's a good question," Walker said. "I think I have to be 'the guy.' That's the last outburst -- I don't want to say bitching and crying -- from me. Being 'the guy,' it's a lot of responsibility. But I'm learning. There's a lot of responsibility of being 'the man,' being 'the guy' in Tampa. Being from Florida, and being how good -- at least I was -- at Florida. There's a lot of expectations. I just have to deal with that."

Walker said that Monday's meeting between he, Muir and Gruden was a relief, and that they basically told him to grow up, talk less and play more, and do it with the right attitude.

"It was a meeting of the minds," Walker said. "We all got on the same page and got a plan. If we're on the same page, it doesn't really matter what (the media says), as long as I know what is going on. I don't think I knew what was going on before.

"It went from yelling and screaming to an understanding. It was upsetting. It was a good meeting, a good talk and we got things off our chest."

Walker said that his tirades in the media are over and that he understands that the media's job is to take a snapshot of the moment, and might be when catching him up high or down low on the roller coaster that is a career in the National Football League.

"In this job, when you're not doing good (the media) hate you, when you are doing good you're the best thing ever. Last year I played well in the St. Louis game, and the New Orleans game. The Pittsburgh game was horrible."

The hardest thing for Walker to deal with wasn't his benching in favor of Cornell Green last week. It was accepting how far he had fallen on the depth chart and not dressing for a football game the first time in his life.

"I've never been on the sidelines. Never," Walker said. "When you look up (in the stands) and my mother and my little girl is up there, and my uncle, and they see me in my clothes -- that hurts. That took a lot for me to just go out there and watch a team that I sweat for -- and not to dress out.

"It put things in perspective. Even though it was as hard as it was."

Walker drew some criticism for his sideline behavior in the local papers on Monday morning, which had photos of him talking on his cell phone after the game instead of sharing the grief of a big loss with his teammates. Walker said that criticism was unwarranted and that those photos are misleading.

"It was the end of the game, and a guy that I grew up with plays on New Orleans -- Kenny Smith -- I was putting his number in the phone," Walker said. "That was my first time watching as a fan. I saw the defense play, I saw Brad (Johnson) getting hit, it was disappointing. I was in my street clothes. The game was over. I went over to my friend who I grew up with in Meridian, Mississippi -- Kenny Smith -- to get his number in my phone. I had to press talk to put his number in my phone.

Walker also said that some of his post-game comments were taken out of context.

"(The media) caught me at a good time after the game, Walker said. "I was pissed off. But when I said (the Bucs' problems) were bigger than me, I was saying we lost. I didn't like that I wasn't playing. Call it pride, but that was disappointing to me."

A lot has changed since Monday's talk. Walker has been splitting time with Green at right tackle in practice, and while he may or may not start at Baltimore on Sunday, he might be active, which would be the first step in Walker's comeback trail.

"I give the guy credit," Gruden said. "He's been scrutinized heavily and I've been his worst critic of all, and Bill Muir has probably been second. I think he understands the game we're asking him to play. We're asking him to come in and legitimize what he can be. I think he's working towards that. But it's not a matter of doing it well on Wednesdays. It's a matter of putting days together, weeks together and years together. That's why we selected him in the first round and that's what we expect him to be.

"The bottom line is very simple. The guy came out as an underclassman as a right tackle. He came in here as a rookie and played left tackle. We changed staff, we changed offenses and we changed his position. We're not ready yet to unveil Kenyatta Walker. That's all. It might be Sunday. Who knows? It takes time for players find their groove. I've never been accused of being the most likeable guy in the universe. But we're trying to do what we feel is in the best interest of not only our football team, but these guys individually. And that's the case with Kenyatta Walker."

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