After three games with less than stellar returns from the Bucs punt and kick return units, Tampa Bay appears to be remaining patient with its rookie return man Dexter Jackson. Jackson and Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden commented on the return responsibilities for this Sunday against the Green Bay Packers.
"There's a lot of speculation about that," Gruden said. "No, I'm not really thinking about that. We'll have some other guys that will contribute. Whether Dexter does it exclusively or not will be something we decide when the ball is kicked Sunday afternoon. He's a big part of our plans, and we have some other guys. You've seen Ike [Hilliard] back there. You've seen [Michael] Clayton back there. You might see somebody else. We're going to do it on a situational basis, and we'll have a plan for each return."
While Gruden was undeclarative, Jackson indicated that he would be the primary returner again this week.
"I'll be back there on punts and kicks this week," said Jackson. "As long as I produce I'll be back there, so I'm going to try and make the best of it. It is a lot different with the speed of the game. I'm trying to get used to the new schemes that we have, and just try to trust it and break some out."
During last Sunday's victory in Chicago, Jackson was replaced in the first quarter after two kick returns in favor of wide receiver Michael Clayton. Over the next three quarters and overtime, Clayton averaged 23 yards on three returns with a long of 29. Clayton had a long return close to midfield that was called back on a holding penalty. On Thursday, Clayton spoke to the media about returning kickoffs and mentoring Jackson as a kick returner.
"I did it a little bit last year," Clayton said. "Basically, I'm a fill-in guy. I practice it a little bit. I've always practiced it, so nothing has changed. If they need me, I'm ready to go and I know how to do it. It was just a situation that happened in the game.
"With our scheme and how we do things, you've just got to hit it. That's one thing that we're trying to stress to Dexter – things we need in the kicking game. I'm basically trying to set an example. He's obviously our guy and we want him to do it. He's a young guy who has to learn how to do it and if it takes a guy like me to get in there and show him how to hit it and for him to see how it's done, we'll do that. He's going to be great at it, though."
Jackson reacted to having one of his return duties removed during the game at Chicago.
"Coach Gruden felt like he wanted to try some other people out," said Jackson. "Basically, it adds fuel to my fire. We are all here to win, so he is going to put the best person out there to help us do it."
Through the first three games of the season, Jackson has averaged 23.1 yards per kick return with a long of 33 yards. On punt returns, Jackson, who returned a punt for a touchdown in the preseason finale in Houston, is averaging 3.0 yards a return with a long of 14 yards. Clayton put forward a vote of confidence for Jackson, and his potential as a returner.
"You can't be scared," Clayton said. "You just have to hit it up in there and see the hole and get all you can get. He's a young guy. Dexter's a young guy and he's going to learn how to do it. We're looking forward to him getting comfortable back there.
"He took a bad shot in the first game of the season. It might have [shell-shocked him]. This is the NFL and he's not the biggest guy out there. He does have a big heart. He'll learn how to do it. He hit a couple of good ones in New Orleans. We're just trying to build off that."
Jackson will get another shot to prove himself at the NFL level on Sunday. The Buccaneers are hoping that Jackson will help their offense by producing some short fields to work with after long returns. The Tampa Bay coaching staff is extending a lot patience and opportunity to Jackson. He is hoping to reward them.
"The first three weeks have been a learning lesson for me," said Jackson. "It is about watching tape and finding the big holes. They come down hard, but the way we block our schemes we can get our blocks and open up some alleyways for us."
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