T Kenyatta Walker started all 16 games at right tackle in 2005, helping the Bucs establish a new level of offensive line continuity
Last season, for the first time in franchise history, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers started the same five men on their offensive line in all 16 games.
Now that streak could continue into 2006, thanks to Friday's re-signing of veteran offensive tackle Kenyatta Walker. Walker had become an unrestricted free agent on March 11 but, like most of the 2005 Bucs who had an opportunity to test the open market, he has chosen to remain with the team he helped put into the playoffs.
As is team policy, terms of the deal were not released.
A first-round draft pick in 2001, Walker has played his entire five-year career in Tampa, starting 77 of a possible 85 games in that span, including playoffs. After playing left tackle as a rookie, he has been the Bucs' starter at right tackle for most of the past four seasons.
Last year, Walker started every game at that spot, and he teamed with left tackle Anthony Davis, left guard Dan Buenning, center John Wade and right guard Sean Mahan to form an unbroken line throughout the season. Those five started each game together and helped the Bucs' rushing attack improve from 29th in the NFL in 2004 to 14th in 2005.
Those five will also all be back in 2006. Building some continuity on the field is a priority for the Buccaneers as they look to form a championship core.
"Kenyatta started every game last year and helped us make the playoffs," said Head Coach Jon Gruden. "We made great strides on offense last season and it was our goal to keep everyone on board so that we could continue that improvement."
In fact, the Buccaneers have clearly placed a priority on bringing back as many of the contributors to last year's division title-winning effort as possible. With Walker's return on Friday, the Bucs will now be able to head into 2006 with 21 of the 22 players they started in January's playoff game against Washington. Only safety Dexter Jackson, who signed as an unrestricted free agent with Cincinnati, will not be back from that group, and Jackson split the free safety job with Will Allen last year.
That continuity is the result of a concerted effort by the Buccaneers over the last two weeks to re-sign their own free agents. Of the 11 men from the 2005 team who became unrestricted free agents on March 11, seven have inked new deals with Tampa Bay. That trend started on the first day of free agency when DT Chris Hovan, fullback Mike Alstott and kicker Matt Bryant all signed in rapid-fire fashion, and continued through new deals for cornerback Torrie Cox, wide receiver Ike Hilliard, tight end Dave Moore and now Walker. Before the new league year started, the Bucs also re-signed quarterback Chris Simms and cornerback Juran Bolden, who were due to become free agents.
With Jackson in Cincinnati and fullback Jameel Cook signing in Houston, the only players remaining from that original list are tackle Todd Steussie and tight end Will Heller (Cox and Heller became, in effect, unrestricted free agents when they were not tendered offers as restricted free agents).
Walker has started at least 11 games in each of his five seasons as a Buccaneer. In 2002, he played in and started 13 games as the Bucs won the NFC South and a postseason berth. Then, en route to a Super Bowl victory, he and his linemates turned in a fabulous performance, allowing only one sack in the three playoff games.