Bucs return specialist Clifton Smith spoke to the media Wednesday for the first time since being placed on injured reserve due to a concussion he sustained vs. the Panthers earlier this month. If it were up to him, Smith would still be playing, but he said he understood the team's decision.
It isn't farfetched to believe most players on a 1-12 football team probably are looking forward to the end of the season.
But not Clifton Smith. He'd give just about anything to still be playing with his Tampa Bay Buccaneers teammates.
Smith, 24, was placed on injured reserve on Dec. 8 after sustained his second concussion of the 2009 regular season while covering the opening kickoff of Tampa Bay's 16-6 loss in Carolina.
The first concussion Smith sustained came when Tampa Bay hosted Carolina in October when Panthers defender Dante Wesley displayed unsportsmanlike conduct by recklessly drilling Smith well before he was able to field a punt.
The 5-foot-9, 190-pound Smith missed Tampa Bay's game in New England, but returned to action after the Bucs' bye week. But with Smith sustaining his second concussion of the season in Carolina, the Bucs, with the help of new NFL rules regarding concussions, thought it was best to place the player they call "Peanut" on injured reserve, ending his 2009 campaign.
"I'm feeling great. I'm perfectly fine. There's nothing wrong," Smith said Wednesday. "I feel like I can play, but they shut me down just to be cautious.
"They were scared because it was the second one, so they weren't sure how I was going to react to it. As the game moved along I knew what had happened and knew what was going on. They pretty much felt like the first one was more severe than this one. But if it were up to me I'd still be playing."
A former undrafted free agent, Smith has established himself as one of the league's top return men. He averaged 14.1 yards per punt return and 27.6 yards per kickoff return while scoring two touchdowns en route to making the Pro Bowl as a rookie in 2008.
Although he didn't find the end zone, Smith had received Pro Bowl consideration this year by averaging 29.1 yards per kickoff return and 10.1 yards per punt return.
The former Fresno State product has been replaced by Bucs rookie wide receiver Sammie Stroughter, who returned a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown earlier in the year, and veteran WR Yamon Figurs.
With Smith's '09 season cut short, his hopes of making the Pro Bowl for the second straight year are all but over.
"It's real disappointing just knowing that I have to take the crown off and hand it to somebody else without being able to put up a fight," said Smith.
Smith had no prior history of concussions before the one he sustained in October. Per the new rules set forth by the NFL regarding player concussions, Smith is scheduled to get a second opinion on his concussions from an independent doctor this week.
In the meantime, Smith is working out at One Buccaneer Place, relaxing and hoping to get in some time on the golf course.
While he wishes he still were able to play this season, Smith said he understood Tampa Bay's decision to place him on injured reserve. But had the Bucs given him a choice in the matter, Smith made it clear he'd still be playing football.
"Back in the day they'd tell you to put an ice pack on it and go back on the field," Smith said of concussions. "I'm kind of like that; an old school-type of player. I just take my lumps and go back in.
"I appreciate [the team] looking out for my health. It's just the competitor in me. I just want to get out there, have fun and play this game with my teammates."
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