When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made the shocking decision to release Pro Bowl defensive end Simeon Rice on the eve of training camp last July, it was done because of a failed physical and Rice’s unwillingness to take a pay cut. The Bucs felt good about their depth at defensive end not only due to the arrival of first-round draft pick Gaines Adams, but also because of Patrick Chukwurah. The former Denver Bronco became the first player Tampa Bay signed in free agency on March 2.
Chukwurah dazzled with his pass rushing ability in the mini-camps and flashed his speed off the corner in training camp. But a knee injury, a torn MCL, he suffered against Miami in the third preseason game of the year caused him to miss the last preseason and the first three regular season games of the 2007 season. Then after making his debut in Week 4 at Carolina, Chukwurah played in three games before sustaining a shoulder injury against Tennessee that caused him to miss the next four games.
“This was one of the years where I really couldn’t control what happened to me injury-wise,” Chukwurah said. “I’ve just got to keep on ticking. I’ve got to get better. As far as rehab and strength-wise and flexibility-wise.
“You didn’t get a chance to see [the real me]. The only thing you got to see was at training camp pretty much – and preseason games. You all haven’t seen nothing I can do yet. A lot of it has to do with opportunity. I guess it just wasn’t my time. Hopefully my time comes real soon.”
Chukwurah was also banged up late in the season, missing the San Francisco game before getting some snaps against Carolina in the season finale. As he was leaving One Buccaneer Place on Monday, he was asked by the media which injury he sustained was the most difficult to deal with.
“I think it was my shoulder,” Chukwurah said. “That’s what set me back. I still had a lot of chances to do some things after I came back from my knee injury. I missed what, three regular season games? We still had a long way to go as far as the season. Then I came in and played three games and got my shoulder hurt, which knocked me back. At that point, people were looking at me like they couldn’t count on me because they didn’t know if I was going to stay healthy. That was kind of frustrating because you don’t ask to get hurt. You never ask to get hurt and you never do anything purposefully to ask to get yourself hurt. That’s the nature of the business. You can do one of two things. You can deal with it or you don’t. I chose to deal with it and move on. Hopefully, next year will be a better year for me.”
Chukwurah’s injury-filled 2007 season ended with 16 tackles, one sack and one fumble recovery on defense, but he did play relatively well on special teams, recording 10 tackles. In a year when Tampa Bay’s front office hit on almost every free agent signing from quarterback Jeff Garcia to defensive end Greg White, Chukwurah must be labled as the biggest free agent disappointment.
After generating just two sacks in the last two games, including its 24-14 loss to the New York Giants, Tampa Bay is expected to once again upgrade its pass rush. Adams and White combined for 15 sacks, including the playoffs, and are keepers, but the team may be willing to part ways with older players such as Kevin Carter and Greg Spires, and may wish to upgrade over a player like Chukwurah.
Despite an affordable salary cap value of $760,064 in 2008, Chukwurah’s return to the team is not a lock. However, he did make it clear that he liked being part of defensive line coach Larry Coyer’s heavy D-line rotation in addition to being part of a tight knit locker room.
“The team here and the camaraderie here is just outstanding. I’ve always been fortunate and blessed to be on teams that had good chemistry. It was kind of iffy when I first got here. They didn’t seem real … but that changed real quick. Man, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
“[The rotation] is definitely a plus. A lot of people don’t do it that way. The fact that we do a lot of rotation here, you always are going to have some chance at some point in time. I like that.”
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Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com