Rookie tackle Kenyatta Walker gets a very fine test in Buccaneers practice for the list of speed rushers he'll face on Sundays this season
Rookies in the National Football League usually remark on how fast the game seems, compared to their college days, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers left tackle Kenyatta is just beginning his first NFL season.
In fact, Sunday's game against Green Bay was just the third of his career - too soon, one would think for him to completely adjust to the speed of the league. So why did it seem like it was moving in slow motion?
At one point, Walker felt like he had been on the field for an eternity, and it wasn't even halftime yet.
"I look up and I said, 'Shoot, I thought I was in a dream. What's going on?'" said Walker of a game in which he was admittedly struggling. "It's penalties, three or four penalties, a sack … All of that was in the first half, and I had to come back and play another whole half. I had to go back in the locker room, regroup and come out and play. But we won the game and I'll live to see another day."
Without singling out any specific players, Bucs Head Coach Tony Dungy admitted that the protection of his offensive line took a downturn against the Packers after two solid games against Dallas and Minnesota. As for Walker, who the Bucs traded up to get in the first round of last April's draft, Dungy was unconcerned with Sunday's bump in the road.
"That happens with young guys," he said. "It happens with a lot of rookie players. You're not going to have great games every time out. You want to have them more often than not, but we still have a lot of confidence in him and he's going to do a great job for us."
After giving up just three sacks in the first two games, Tampa Bay's front wall allowed QB Brad Johnson to go down five times against the Packers, including three sacks by speed-rushing phenom Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila (nine sacks through four games) as the Bucs seemed to have protection problems on the edge. In the second quarter, Walker also drew holding and face mask penalties, even if his memory of the number of flags seems twice as severe.
Walker may have been hard on himself after the game, but he is not dwelling on the outing, and his confidence has clearly not taken a hit. There's no time for that, really, with deluxe speed rushers Jevon Kearse and Kevin Carter of the Tennessee Titans on tap just a few days away.
"I'm not intimidated by anybody," said Walker, who used to face Kearse in practice when the two were fellow standouts at the University of Florida. "He's a good athlete, a good player. I play against a good player every day, I practice against good players."
Indeed, it seems almost unfair that the days between Kevin Carters and Vonnie Hollidays are spent working against sack-master Simeon Rice at the Bucs' headquarters. Walker could have expected nothing less, says Dungy, when he set his sights on left tackle in the NFL after playing right tackle at Florida.
"That kind of comes with that position," said Dungy. "When you play left tackle, you're playing against pretty good people all the time. He plays against good people here in practice. It will be noisy and loud and we've got to adjust to that. Every week's a new challenge. This guy, he's seen a little bit in college."
Walker had better days against Dallas and Minnesota and he'll have better days down the road – has to, really, for the Bucs to get where they want to go. Waiting to test his abilities are Detroit's Tracy Scroggins, St. Louis' Grant Wistrom, New Orleans' Joe Johnson, Baltimore's Michael McCrary, Philadelphia's Hugh Douglas and many others.
"There are a lot of them," said Walker, who says there's no guarantee the Titans will put Kearse on him very often anyway. "I'm looking forward to every game I play because it's a learning thing. Every game I play is a big game for me. The names don't matter. You've got the St. Louis game. You've got the three games at the end of the season that are going to be crucial. This is one of those games. I've got to go out there and play or I'll get embarrassed."
Said Dungy: "Every week for the tackles is a challenge. That's part of what they want at that position. They'll be ready."
If every game is a learning experience for Walker, then perhaps the lesson gained against Green Bay was that early-game troubles don't have to last 60 minutes. That seems to be part of what Walker is taking from the game after helping the Bucs gain 147 of their 253 yards in the second half, including the game-winning, 95-yard touchdown drive.
"It's four quarters," said Walker. "It's a full 12 rounds. Anything can happen any given Sunday. "
Walker's already seen one thing happen that he wasn't too fond of. He's looking to make sure it doesn't happen again, even with the tough assignment of two Pro Bowlers on the edge this coming Sunday.
"I don't want to help anybody's stats," he said. " I don't want to put anybody in the Pro Bowl this year."