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A-Train Rolls On; Walker Released

FB Mike Alstott will return for a 12th season with the Buccaneers after reaching agreement on a new contract on Thursday…Also the team has released veteran T Kenyatta Walker


FB Mike Alstott, whose tackle-breaking style has long thrilled Buc fans, will power forward for another season

Pictures went up on the walls of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' new facility this past week, huge, glossy images recalling Super Bowl XXXVII and other key moments in franchise history. More than a few of those pictures feature Mike Alstott captured in a typical pose of smash-mouth football.

Well, save a few spots in those hallways and meeting rooms. Alstott isn't done creating memories on the gridiron.

The Buccaneers' six-time Pro Bowl fullback is coming back for another season after agreeing to a new contract on Thursday. Alstott will be adding a 12th year to a career that has spawned countless lasting images not only for the Bucs' walls but for the minds of just about every Tampa Bay fan since 1996.

In addition, the Buccaneers announced the release of tackle Kenyatta Walker, who played six years for the team. Walker started 75 games over those six seasons, primarily at right tackle, and was a starter for the Super Bowl champs in 2002. His 2006 season ended after three games due to a knee injury.

For Alstott to make it an even dozen seasons in a Buc uniform – the only one he has worn in the NFL – he and the team had to work out a new deal for the second straight offseason. Last year, Alstott reached agreement with the team on the first day of free agency; in both cases, the move ended weeks of speculation that he was leaning toward retirement. For his part, Alstott never indicated that he was going to retire, either this year or last. When the 2006 season came to an end with a home game against Seattle on December 31, he merely said he was going to take the next couple months to contemplate his decision.

The final verdict will surely please Buccaneer fans, who have made Alstott one of the most popular figures in franchise history. Over the last two seasons, he has thrilled those fans with the sort of play he was capable of before a serious 2003 neck injury interrupted his career. Alstott missed most of that season and was obviously slowed in 2004, but over the past two seasons he has scored 10 touchdowns, caught 46 passes and blocked for other backs as well as he ever has.

Last year, Alstott finished third on the team with 171 rushing yards on 60 carries, scoring three touchdowns. He added 21 receptions for 85 yards and supplied blocking that helped tailbacks Cadillac Williams and Michael Pittman rush for 1,043 yards.

"I'm excited to be returning for another year and to be playing in front of Buccaneer fans again," said Alstott. "I want to help this team win in 2007 and I'm ready to begin preparing for the season."

Alstott's return also means the Bucs' offense will still feature the second-leading rusher, third-leading receiver and third-leading scorer in the franchise record books. Alstott's 5,088 career rushing yards trail only the 5,957 posted by James Wilder from 1981-89, and his 305 receptions are third to Wilder's 430 and Mark Carrier's 321. While Alstott's 432 points still trail kicker Martin Gramatica's 591 and kicker Michael Husted's 502, his 71 touchdowns are far and away the most in team history.

The Buccaneers selected Alstott early in the second round of the 1996 draft, with the 35th pick overall. He set a then-team-rookie record with 65 receptions in '96, then settled into a very effective 'Thunder and Lightning' role in the backfield, sharing the running duties with Warrick Dunn. From 1997-2002, Alstott averaged 692 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground per season. He also was voted into the Pro Bowl following each of those campaigns, giving him the most all-star appearances by an offensive player in Buccaneer history.

Alstott had a career-high 949 rushing yards in 1999 and a career-best 11 combined touchdowns in 2001. In the Buccaneers' 2002 Super Bowl campaign, he contributed 548 rushing yards, 35 receptions and seven touchdowns, then added 100 rushing yards and four TDs in the playoffs. In his career, Alstott has scored a touchdown in 58 regular-season games, and the Buccaneers are a remarkable 44-14 in those contests.

Before the deal was struck, Alstott was due to become an unrestricted free agent on Friday, when the NFL's free agency period begins. He is now locked in, but in contrast Walker is now free to test the market after spending his first six seasons with the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay made Walker the 14th overall pick in the 2001 draft and he started all 16 games at left tackle in his rookie campaign.

In 2002, Walker moved to the right side of the line, where he would remain for most of the next four seasons. He did play three contests at left tackle in 2003 due to injuries to other players, but he returned to start 13 games at right tackle in 2004. In 2005, he was part of a five-man O-line that became the first one in team history to start all 16 games of one season together.

After succumbing to an ongoing knee ailment early in 2006, Walker was replaced at right tackle by rookie Jeremy Trueblood, a second-round pick last April. The Buccaneers believe Trueblood can become a fixture at that spot as the team continues to improve its offensive line.

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