Cornerback Juran Bolden always dreamed of playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
That dream became a reality Tuesday when Bolden, who is a Tampa native and graduate of Hillsborough High School, took part in Tampa Bay’s first of 14 organized team activities.
“This is my ultimate dream to play here at home whether it was a year or two years or whether I finished my career here, said Bolden, who has notched 98 tackles and seven interceptions during his nine-year career. “I just always wanted to make sure I came back. I remember growing up and watching Doug Williams in the stands at the old Big Sombrero. I’ve always wanted to play here.”
The last time Bolden played in Raymond James Stadium was a memorable experience. When his former team, the Atlanta Falcons, played Tampa Bay in 2003, Bolden scored his first NFL touchdown by picking off quarterback Brad Johnson and returning it 41 yards for a score en route to helping the Falcons beat the Bucs, 30-28.
“That was exciting,” said Bolden. “That was my first career touchdown in the NFL, and it was in front of the hometown. Now I can get one in a Buc uniform.”
Bolden, who struggled to follow the Bucs through several losing as a kid growing up in Tampa, said he was signed to help right the ship in Tampa, where the Bucs have produced back-to-back losing seasons.
“I used to sit there and cry when the Bucs lost, and that was a lot when I was a kid,” said Bolden. “I was watching Doug (Williams) do his thing the other day and told him that he hurt me a couple of times back when I was little.
“They had a bad season last year – far from their expectations. I’m just here to bring more physicalness out here in the secondary and a little more toughness and a little more size.”
Bolden, 30, is a nine-year veteran who started his career in Atlanta back in 1996 and bounced around the league with stops in Carolina (1998), Kansas City (1999-2001), Atlanta again (2002-03) and Jacksonville (2004).
After being released by Jacksonville in a salary cap maneuver in March, the 6-foot-2, 207-pound Bolden had other teams interested in signing him, but he opted to sign with the Bucs, who lost the bidding war for Bolden to the Jags a year earlier. In fact, Bolden accepted a one-year deal worth league minimum, which was much less than he could have received by signing with another team.
“I’m not going to say my career is coming to an end, but I’ve been around the block a couple of times,” said Bolden. “I’m getting older now and my opportunity may get cut short next year, so I always wanted to come home and play here. I had to turn down some bread, but I get to come home and play in a system, the ‘Tampa 2,’ which everyone loves to play in.”
Bolden joins a Bucs secondary that finished the 2004 season tied for first overall in pass defense last season, allowing just 161.2 yards passing per contest. With Pro Bowl CB Ronde Barber and CB Brian Kelly, who led the defense in passes defensed last season with 22, returning this season, Bolden appears to be competing with Torrie Cox for the nickel cornerback spot. However, Bolden said he plans on pushing Barber and Kelly for a starting job in 2005.
“I’m not going to sell myself short — I’m fighting for whatever job they’re going to give me,” said Bolden. “Obviously Ronde and Brian are established, so if I don’t earn the starting job, I deserve the nickel job. They know they have a competitor after their jobs and I just want to do the best job I can do.”
Although he played exclusively at right and left corner on Tuesday, Bolden said he could even play some safety this season.
“I’m looking to play wherever I fit,” said Bolden. “I know I can play corner and I know I can play safety. Whatever is going to make this defense a better defense and whatever is going to make me a better player — that’s what I’m going to play.”
Tampa Bay’s attempt to address its need for a nickel cornerback hasn’t panned out as of late. Both Terrell Buckley and Mario Edwards failed to solidify that position as free-agent additions. As a result, both players were released, including Edwards, who was let go on Mar. 1.
The odds appear to be somewhat stacked against Bolden, who doesn’t have much playing experience in the Cover 2 defensive scheme. However, Bolden said the “Tampa 2” compliments his skills as a cornerback.
“I don’t know Mario or Terrell on a personal level, but I think my personality will make me a good fit here,” said Bolden. “I’m big and aggressive, and as a Cover 2 team, I can get after receivers. I just like to make plays. I believe this defense fits me, and as I get into it and learn more about it, I’ll let my athletic ability show.”
Bolden apparently got to demonstrate just how excited he was to be playing in his hometown and how physical a corner he can be during Tuesday’s workout.
“I was out here having fun today and I almost got a little too aggressive and slung somebody to the ground,” said Bolden.
Bolden stands out on the football field, especially when he’s standing next to his fellow cornerbacks, who are typically around 5-foot-9. If he can stay healthy, which was a problem for him last season, Kiffin thinks the sky is the limit for Bolden.
“He looks like he might have come right out of that (NCAA Basketball) championship game last night,” said Kiffin. “We’re excited about him. He’s bounced around a bit and that type of thing, but he’s very enthused about being here. Juran has to step up now and stay healthy because he has some talent.”
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