Jones Leads Contingent Of Young Contributors
The Tampa Tribune, published 8 December 2003

The root of the success Thomas Jones had against the Saints on Sunday dates back at least a week or two, if not more. ``I've done some good things the last couple of weeks, so I think I earned the chance to be a little more involved,'' Jones said. ``To be honest with you, I was just happy to get the opportunity.''

If he keeps performing as he did Sunday in the Bucs' 14-7 victory, Jones will get plenty of opportunities. Given a chance to prove he can be the Bucs' featured ball carrier, Jones ran 20 times for 89 yards and caught two passes for 14 yards. ``We wanted to come out and run the ball with Thomas and see what he could do for us, and we stuck to that,'' Bucs coach Jon Gruden said. ``He made some big plays.''

Jones wasn't the only young Buc making big plays Sunday. Wide receiver Charles Lee caught five passes for 52 yards and ran an end around for 8 more. Safety David Gibson blocked a punt to set up the Bucs' game-winning touchdown. And Ronyell Whitaker, promoted from the practiced squad Tuesday after Tim Wansley was placed on injured reserve, responded well as the Bucs' third cornerback.

The Saints tried to take advantage of Whitaker's inexperience by throwing at him repeatedly. Though he was beaten on a few plays, Whitaker quickly adjusted and made some game-saving plays down the stretch. ``Their guys couldn't wait to line up against him,'' Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said of Whitaker. ``But he came up big for us. He made a couple of big plays.''

The biggest came in the end zone, on a Saints first-and-goal from the Bucs' 6 in the fourth quarter. Whitaker got his hands up in time to break up a fade pass to Joe Horn. One play later, Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks fumbled while being sacked and the Bucs recovered, ending New Orleans' final major threat. ``Coaches put you in a situation to cover an All-Pro player, and you have to step up,'' Whitaker said. ``I was expecting to cover Joe a lot. All of my teammates said I had to step up and that you can't look like a rookie. You got to just look at it as if it's you against him, and I never doubted my skills. I looked at him like he was a rookie, too, and I'm just glad we got out of here with the win.''