The Tampa Bay Buccaneers may be looking to add a dynamic playmaker to the offensive side of the ball through the 2010 NFL Draft. The Bucs started their search last week scouting prospects at the East-West Shrine Game and continued their quest to find a player that will bring an explosive element to the offense this week at the Senior Bowl.
Tampa Bay didn't waste any time looking for that player as the team conducted an interview with Ole Miss running back Dexter McCluster shortly after arriving in Mobile on Sunday evening.
"I sat down with the general manager (Mark Dominik) and everything already," McCluster said. "I think it went pretty well."
McCluster, 21, is originally from the Tampa Bay area and played football at Largo High School. The senior running back is very familiar with the Bucs and his father is also a big fan. McCluster would like to play for his hometown team if that opportunity presents itself in April.
"Tampa, that's back home," said McCluster. "A lot of people can see me that watched me play and watched me grow up."
If McCluster had the opportunity to play for Tampa Bay, he would bring his rare playmaking ability with him to the Bucs' 23rd-ranked ground attack. McCluster said that if he had to choose one word to describe himself, it would be "playmaker," and the Ole Miss product is known for making big plays throughout his collegiate career. This was something missing from the Bucs offense last year as there were no plays over 50 yards.
"I think I can bring some explosiveness," said McCluster.
Another thing that McCluster brings to the table is his great character, which is something Dominik focuses on in the draft. As a senior, McCluster made the SEC All-Community team.
"I have great character and leadership skills," said McCluster. "I want to be a difference maker on and off the field. I think [the Buccaneers] would be a great fit for me, but I would be blessed to go anywhere."
The one thing about McCluster that has held him back in the eyes of scouts is his size. The Largo native is listed at 5-foot-8, 165 pounds and his small frame is a big concern for NFL teams. McCluster, however, feels that his great effort on the football field will make up for that.
"I might not be the biggest guy on the field, but my heart is as big as any stadium I play in," said McCluster. "I play with a lot of intensity and every time I touch the ball I want to make a play and make something happen."
The fast, little man with a big heart has drawn comparisons to a running back that Tampa Bay fans are very familiar with. That player is Warrick Dunn. Dunn also happened to be McCluster's favorite player growing up. It's uncommon for very small running backs to be successful in the NFL, but Dunn, who rushed for over 10,000 yards during his career, and San Diego's Darren Sproles have helped to silence the critics.
"It just shows that whatever size you are, if you're a football player and a playmaker, you can fit in the NFL," said McCluster. "A lot of people try to down me about my size, but it goes in one ear and out the other. At the end of the day, it's up to me and I know I can do it. That's where it ends."
McCluster has shown this same never-give-up attitude before. The Senior Bowl participant said that as a freshman he lost all of the feeling in his left arm for about 8-10 months after suffering a big hit during the opening kickoff against Vanderbilt.
"I couldn't pick [my arm] up and had no control over it," said McCluster. "It was kind of hard at times and I wanted to give up, but I never did. I just kept fighting and fighting. It came back and I'm back to 100 percent now."
Besides that one incident, durability has not been an issue for McCluster. Despite his size, he proved that he can handle running the ball up to 30 times a game after carrying the ball 34 times for 184 yards and two touchdowns against LSU. In other games against Arkansas and Auburn, he carried the ball over 20 times with great success. McCluster had his breakout game of the year against Tennessee when he rushed for 282 yards and four touchdowns on 25 touches.
On the year, the Ole Miss back carried the ball for 1,169 yards (6.5 avg.) and scored eight touchdowns on the ground. McCluster put up these impressive numbers after starting the year off as a wide receiver before being switched back to running back.
Because McCluster played a lot of time at wide receiver and has excelled at blocking in college, he has shown his versatility as a player, which will allow him to play in any style of offensive system in the NFL. As a receiver this season, McCluster caught 44 balls for 520 yards and three touchdowns. If Bucs offensive coordinator Greg Olson continues to run a West Coast-type of system next season, McCluster believes he will flourish in it.
"I would like to catch short passes and make something happen," said McCluster. "I wouldn't have a problem with running the ball, either. Like I said, it goes back to wanting to get to the NFL and having a passion and love for the game. Whereever I am I will make it work. All I need is a chance."
A chance it exactly what McCluster will receive on draft day, possibly as high as the second round. Whether that chance is with the Buccaneers or another team, McCluster plans to make a lasting impression of himself in the league both as a player and a person.
"I want to be remembered in the NFL as a difference maker," said McCluster. "Those are my words, difference maker. Somebody that if something needed to happen or if you needed a play, I was the guy to go to. I want that to be on and off the field. I know it's not all about football in some cases and you have to have that good character and that's what I pride myself on having."