Work, Patience Pay Off For Walker
The sack that cost the Bucs the services of quarterback Chris Simms on Sunday may have cost right tackle Todd Steussie his job. Steussie was the player Saints defensive end Will Smith went through and around on his way to knocking Simms out of the game with a shoulder injury. Steussie did not play again after surrendering that first-quarter sack.

Instead, the Bucs went with the much-beleaguered Kenyatta Walker. And while Walker surrendered a sack himself Sunday, his play for the most part fit the pattern that recently earned him the opportunity to return to the field part-time. ``I just think I'm maturing,'' Walker said after he helped the Bucs post a 20-17 victory against the Saints at the Superdome. ``I mean, coming in in the middle of the game is tough. But right now I've got to take my snaps when I can.''

Mainly as a result of his improved play in practice, Walker, the Bucs' first-round draft pick in 2001, participated in almost half the plays last week against the Broncos and the final three quarters Sunday against the Saints. ``I still have a long way to go,'' he said. ``I mean, that wasn't always pretty out there tonight. But I'm determined to be the tackle that this team drafted me to be.''

Walker's determination has been evident since last summer, when he spent a month working out twice a day on his own at the IMG facility in Bradenton. Since then, the Bucs say they have seen a different Walker. Jon Gruden said his performance in practice the last two weeks was the best it has ever been, and challenged Walker to carry that effort into games. ``I feel like I'm getting better but I'm not at all satisfied with how I'm playing,'' Walker said. ``I know I can be better and I'm going to work hard to get there, I can promise you that.''

Walker said one of the things that has made him better and more consistent this year is his attempt to copy the work ethic of some of the most notable players in the Bucs' locker room. ``I see how some of those guys on defense prepare - guys like Derrick Brooks and Ronde Barber and Shelton Quarles,'' Walker said. ``I'm trying to match their work ethic and be more like them.''

Brooks said he's taken time to talk with Walker in the past but has always hoped that his work ethic would do most of the talking. ``I come to work every day hoping I can show guys that working hard is what you have to do to get better,'' Brooks said, ``and now that he's working hard it's really starting to pay off for him.''

Roy Cummings The Tampa Tribune 11 October 2004