T Kenyatta Walker talked to Buc fans Monday night about the challenges of his rookie season
As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tennessee Titans prepared to do battle last week, there was one depth-chart matchup that jumped out at most observers.
The Buccaneers, you see, would be starting a rookie at offensive tackle. The Titans would counter with two of the most explosive pass-rushing defensive ends in the league.
Tampa Bay's Kenyatta Walker, in fact, would be manning the left tackle position, drawing one of the most critical assignments on the field. The Titans would counter with Jevon Kearse, nicknamed the 'Freak' for his unusual combination of speed, size and quickness, and Kevin Carter, only the NFL's sack leader over the past three seasons.
Assuming the Titans would flip-flop their left and right ends from time to time during the game, it was worth wondering which challenge Walker would handle better, the upfield burst of Kearse or the power rush of Carter. The Titans added a potentially terrible wrinkle to that question by, surprisingly, putting both Kearse and Carter on Walker's side several times during the game.
"On a couple of plays, I faced both of them on the same side," Walker confirmed during his Monday night appearance on Buccaneers.com's unique fan call-in show, the Pewter Power Hour. Walker sat down in the PPH studio for 30 minutes Monday night, less than a day after returning from Tennessee, and chatted directly with Buc fans who had used a toll-free number to call in to the show.
To listen to Walker's Pewter Power Hour appearance, please click here. You will also find previous Pewter Power Hour replays with the likes of Warren Sapp, Ronde Barber, John Lynch, Tony Dungy and Mike Alstott in the show's archive.
Walker explained that the Titans' unusual stacking of Kearse and Carter was another in a string of attempts to confuse the least experienced player on the field.
"It's like that with every team," he said. "They try to confuse me a little bit and try to get me with some things I'm not used to seeing. I'll probably get that the whole year, trying to confuse me and getting me to guess. They're trying to give me a look I wouldn't have prepared for during the week to get me to do something wrong."
Tampa Bay lost the game in overtime, 31-28, but the Bucs' pass protection was strong, allowing only one sack (by defensive tackle Josh Evans, not Kearse or Carter) and giving QB Brad Johnson time to throw for 287 yards and three touchdowns. Walker did his job well and earned another 60 minutes of valuable NFL experience. With each week, he comes closer to shedding that 'rookie' label.
"I'm not there yet," he admitted. "It's a slow process, but every game I get better. I am a rookie this year, and I'm just learning and trying to take it all in."
Walker, a first-round draft pick in April out of the University of Florida, is the first rookie the Bucs have inserted at left tackle on opening day since Paul Gruber in 1988. Walker has not only Gruber's strong reputation to follow up but a critical role in what many hope will be the Buccaneers' best season ever.
"There's pressure, but I'm confident," said Walker. "It's part of this business. It's what I left school for, a challenge. I get a challenge every day, every game here."
It is not every day, however, that Buccaneer fans get a chance to talk directly with Walker, as they did on Monday's Pewter Power Hour. The discussion covered such topics as Walker's transition from college to the pros, his thoughts on the development of the Bucs' offense and Tampa Bay's effort to avoid their usual early-season hole.
Among the other questions fielded by Walker were:
The protection for QB Brad Johnson at Tennessee appeared to be quite good, after a bit of a struggle the week before against Green Bay. Was the line pleased with it's work against the Titans?
Walker: "After the Green Bay game, we had to stop the bleeding. We didn't want to be one of those offensive lines that gives up five sacks a game. We just had to go out there and play ball.
We're trying to get better every game, trying to work on things and get to know each other better as a group. This offense is, hopefully, just now starting to click. Those are good signs."
Pittsburgh is up next. Have you had a chance to take a look at the Steelers yet?
Walker: "They're a hot team. They're 3-1. It's another big game. We need to come out and win a game at home. We've got to get a win. Like Coach Dungy said, we're an average team right now and we need to be playing like a Super Bowl team."
The Bucs struggled offensively for a good portion of Sunday's game in Tennessee, then rallied impressively in the fourth quarter. Can the team play the way it did at the end of the game all the time?
Walker: "With this team, Coach Dungy was saying, when we're relaxed, we don't really play that well. When the whole team has its back against the wall, that's when we play our best. I guess our backs are against the wall this Sunday, so we have to go out and play our best.
"One of the most important things he talked about – we have to come to play every Sunday. We can't afford to get comfortable."
The Pewter Power Hour is broadcast on Buccaneers.com every Monday evening. Check back with Buccaneers.com on Wednesday to find the guest and starting time for next week's show.