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A new leader has emerged for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this offseason -- and he wasn't even on the 53-man roster until December.
Such is the rise of linebacker Tyrone McKenzie from practice-squad member to Bucs workout organizer during the NFL lockout, The Tampa Tribune reported Tuesday.
"Tyrone is a different kind of dude," said quarterback Josh Freeman, another driving force behind the Bucs' workouts at the University of South Florida. "From the day we picked him up, he's always had that confidence, the sort of qualities leaders possess. He came in humbled, worked as hard as he could, and this offseason has been a great opportunity for him to step up and show his leadership skills."
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McKenzie organized defensive workouts for the Bucs, including scripting drills with help from safety Sean Jones for the team's three-day minicamp last week.
McKenzie's path to such influence is anything but conventional.
He missed the 2009 season because of a knee injury sustained after the New England Patriots selected the former South Florida player in the third round of that April's draft. He spent the first half of the 2010 season on the Patriots' practice squad before asking for, and receiving, his release. The Bucs scooped him up Nov. 9 and placed him on their practice squad. He was promoted to the active roster Dec. 14.
"I reached out to Josh a few months ago when we were (working out) at USF, and I told him I thought it would be a great idea if we contacted the guys that are NFLPA reps -- Maurice Stovall, Davin Joseph -- and get the emails for all the guys on the team and have a little minicamp," McKenzie said. "I saw what Freeman was doing and I thought this would be a great time for me to step up and show my leadership as well."
McKenzie went to great lengths -- literally -- to gain a better grasp of the Bucs' playbook. He reached out to fellow linebacker Barrett Ruud, but Ruud's schedule wouldn't allow him to return to Florida. So McKenzie flew to Nebraska to meet with the veteran.
"I flew up to Nebraska and met with Barrett and he was nice enough to sit down with me," McKenzie said. "We went over the defense. I had a good grasp of it with (linebackers) coach (Joe) Baker during the season. It was good to sit down with somebody and talk about football.
"I flew up to Omaha and he drove from Lincoln to Omaha to see me. Me and him met in the lobby and went over tape. That shows the type of classy guy Barrett is and leadership he has."
McKenzie said he simply saw an opportunity and seized it.
"How I was raised playing Pop Warner, anybody can be a leader," McKenzie said. "I can be a leader, Josh (Freeman), to the last guy on the roster. As a young team, I feel like it's a great opportunity for me to step up and just try to help this team win."