RB Clifton Smith currently ranks second in the NFL with a kickoff return average of 29.1 yards per runback
Clifton Smith was on the field for only one play against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. As it turns out, it was his last play of the 2009 season.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers placed Smith on injured reserve on Tuesday as a result of the concussion the second-year running back sustained on the game's opening kickoff. It was Smith's second concussion of the season, both occurring against the Panthers.
The Buccaneers promoted rookie running back Kareem Huggins from their practice squad to take Smith's spot on the 53-man roster.
Smith suffered his second concussion while tackling offensive tackle Geoff Schwartz, who had fielded a short kickoff to open Sunday's game and returned it up the middle of the field. Smith was briefly motionless but was eventually able to walk off the Bank of America field in Charlotte under his own power.
In a Week Six game against the Panthers at Raymond James Stadium, Smith was hit under his chin and driven backward by cornerback Dante Wesley, who had inexplicably chosen to launch himself at Smith's head while the Buccaneer return man was looking up to field a punt. Wesley was ejected from the game and suspended for one more contest by the NFL, and Smith left the game with a concussion that would keep him out of the following week's matchup against New England in London.
Smith becomes the 12th player on the Bucs' current injured reserve list, joining safeties Will Allen and Jermaine Phillips, punters Josh Bidwell and Dirk Johnson, cornerbacks E.J. Biggers and Torrie Cox, linebackers Angelo Crowell and Rod Wilson, tackle Xavier Fulton, quarterback Byron Leftwich and fullback Byron Storer. In addition, fullback B.J. Askew is on the reserve/non-football injury list due to injuries sustained in a car accident and DE Maurice Evans is on the practice-squad injured reserve list.
After becoming just the third undrafted rookie since 1970 to make the Pro Bowl in 2008, Smith was in the midst of another fine season before his misfortune in Charlotte. He ranks second in the NFL in kickoff return average (29.1) and 10th in the league in punt return average (10.1). He has also contributed six tackles in kick coverage on special teams and has two receptions for four yards and four carries for seven yards on offense.
Last season, Smith became the first player in Buccaneer history to record touchdowns on both punt and kickoff returns in his career, let alone in a single season. He averaged 27.6 yards per runback on 36 kickoffs and 14.1 yards per return on 23 punts. Smith set a new team record for longest kickoff return with his 97-yard score at Kansas City in Week Nine and became the first Buccaneer return man ever to be selected for the Pro Bowl.
Smith currently ranks first in franchise history with a career average of 12.1 yards per punt return, and second with a career mark of 28.3 yards per kickoff return. The only player to rank higher than Smith on that latter chart is teammate and 2009 rookie Sammie Stroughter, who has averaged 29.5 yards on 11 kickoff returns. Stroughter has filled in extremely well during Smith's two absences – even tying that long kickoff return record with his own 97-yard score against the Panthers in Week Six – and will obviously be relied on during the final four games of the season.
Huggins finished his excellent collegiate career at Hofstra in 2007 but did not sign with an NFL team last year, making him a rookie when he joined the Buccaneers this past spring. In 41 games at Hofstra, Huggins ran 428 times for 2,178 yards and 21 touchdowns and also returned 70 kickoffs at a pace of 22.8 yards apiece. The 5-9, 198-pound back had a strong preseason for the Buccaneers, rushing 19 times for 74 yards and catching three passes for 14 yards. He hails from Madison, NJ.