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News » New sensation trying to GET A GRIP


New sensation trying to GET A GRIP


New sensation trying to GET A GRIP
Clifton Smith has brought unprecedented game-changing ability as well as a habit of fumbling to the Buccaneers kick return game, a risk-reward ratio that the team can tolerate for now, given the results so far.


The rookie running back and return specialist has played only four NFL games, but he is already in the Tampa Bay history books as the first player to return both a kickoff and a punt for a touchdown for the Buccaneers.

The former practice squad player signed as an undrafted free agent from Fresno State last spring is also tied for the NFL lead in kickoff returns, with a 30.3 yard average per return and is one of only nine players to have returned a kickoff for a touchdown this season.

"I can't ever let that (punt and kickoff distinction) soak in. Because the way that I've been putting the ball down is something that's more heavy than anything on my mind now," Smith said. "You can be here one day and be gone tomorrow."

Smith pulled off both returns for touchdowns within a three-game stretch and both returns sparked victories in road games that have helped catapult the Buccaneers to an 8-3 record, good enough for first place in the NFC South.

He returned a punt 70 yards for a touchdown in last week's 38-20 win over the Lions in Detroit, only his fourth game after being promoted from the practice squad.

He had returned a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown that sparked a comeback from a 24-3 deficit in the 30-27 overtime victory over the Chiefs in Kansas City. It was the longest in team history and only the second Tampa Bay kick return for a touchdown.

It has been quite a start for a player who was overlooked by 30 other NFL teams.

He said the Buccaneers and the San Francisco 49ers were the only teams who showed interest. The 49ers didn't call, though, until the day that Smith had landed in Tampa to sign with the Buccaneers.

"The return game was almost laughed at here for years; we weren't able to take a kick back (for a touchdown)," Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden said, mindful that the team went nearly 32 seasons and more than 1,800 kickoff returns before Michael Spurlock took one for a touchdown last season. "This guy (Smith) comes out of nowhere, and he's taken a punt and a kickoff back. Ball security is still big. We want to take better care of the ball. What a talented guy. He has breakaway speed. He's really made a big impact here in a couple of big wins."

But Smith has also fumbled three times, losing two of them, in the last three games.

"A return is not as important as ball security. Because I carry the hopes and the dreams of the whole team," Smith said. "Every third quarter I've played in so far, I've laid the ball on the ground. Knowing that I'm letting my teammates down, it's not a great feeling."

Smith appreciates Gruden's support.

"It's a big confidence-builder, but deep in my heart I know that I have a problem that I need to fix as far as ball security goes," Smith said. "Because I can't let them lose confidence in me as a player."

He fumbled a punt against the Lions, but teammate Ike Hilliard recovered the ball.

The latest fumble came the day after Smith had received a personal pep talk from former New York Giants running back Tiki Barber, through teammate Ronde Barber, Tiki's twin, on Saturday night.

"Ronde gave him a call and let me talk to him. He's given me great points," Smith said. "He had the same problem that I'm going through right now. He had the mentality that I'd rather lose an arm than the ball, and that's the biggest thing I have to think about right now."

Smith has been doing extra ball-security drills after practice this week.

His other two fumbles came as a running back, and both of them derailed potential scoring drives, against the Chiefs and the Vikings.

"He's got to keep working on it," special teams coach Rich Bisaccia said. "It's practice; it's attention to detail. Wrist above his elbow, high and tight, all those things. He's got a lot of respect from the men in the room, he respects them in the way in which he practices. He's just got to do a better job of hanging onto it."

Smith has 11 punt returns for 199 yards, an 18.1 yard average per return. He has 16 kickoff returns for 484 yards, a 30.3 yard average.

"About a quarter of (a return) is improv(isation). You have to at least make two people miss, the center and the punter," Smith said. "But the rest of the way, it's all your teammates doing all the work for you."

BUCS NOTES

TE Alex Smith (ankle) and S Jermaine Phillips (forearm) were limited in practice Thursday, but Gruden thinks Phillips will be return against the Saints.

QB Brian Griese (elbow) was limited, and WR Ike Hilliard (shoulder) fully participated.

Saints RB Reggie Bush (knee) told reporters in New Orleans that he would play Sunday.

Smith said that Tiger Woods may be at the Saints game Sunday. He had attended a previous Buccaneers game this season.



Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: November 29, 2008

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Chris Crocker Name: Chris Crocker
#20
Position: S
Age: 28
Experience: 6 years
College: Marshall
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