Here is an article on Walker from the Bucs website that was posted Thursday...the day before the trade.
One to Build On
Jun. 12 -
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 2002 season – which, as you may recall, culminated in a victory in Super Bowl XXXVII – might accurately be described many ways. Thrilling. Emotional. Exhausting. Disappointing. Destined, even.
Back up... Disappointing?
Believe it or not, that particular adjective, which seems more like the antonym on an IQ test’s list of related words, actually does belong on this list. In terms of team accomplishments, the league’s 31 other clubs would probably object, but there were certainly some individual Buc players who were disappointed in their own seasons in 2002. That was especially true for 2002 third-round draft pick Marquise Walker, who had envisioned being more than a front-row spectator in the Bucs’ championship run.
After a brilliant career as a receiver at the University of Michigan, where he earned first team All-America honors as a senior and walked off with a list of school records, Walker was the Buccaneers’ first draft pick under new Head Coach Jon Gruden. On an offense that was being largely rebuilt, he seemed to be in position to make an instant impact during his rookie season. Instead, he is still waiting to make his Buccaneer debut
Walker’s rookie journey was marred by pitfalls. It started with a somewhat unremarkable training camp and preseason, then continued into a regular season in which he was inactive for each of the first four games. Torn thumb ligaments from a September practice followed, and Walker spent the balance of the season on the injured reserve list.
“The season was a disappointment, but at the same time I had to learn from it and take my mental reps,” said Walker. “It was really disappointing going to the Super Bowl and not playing in it. I just have to come back this year and fight.”
Of course, Walker will still have a Super Bowl championship ring slipped onto his finger this Saturday, and there is the promise of many more spoils ahead. At 6-2 and 219 pounds, he has the size that Gruden clearly prefers for his receivers, and he believes he is a good fit for the Bucs’ version of what is generically referred to as the West Coast offense
“I’m glad I came into this system,” said Walker. “There’s a lot of opportunity to get the ball and learn different things. In this offense, you move all around the field and you’re not just in one spot, so I think it’s a great opportunity for me. Now I just need to take advantage of it.”
Walker also has deceptive quickness for his size and is comparable in stature and style to the Bucs’ most productive receivers of 2002: Keyshawn Johnson
(6-4, 212), Joe Jurevicius (6-5, 230) and Keenan McCardell (6-1, 191). This year, Walker is trying to emulate that trio’s performance on the field.
The first step in a more fulfilling journey in 2003 for the second-year receiver is to learn from those veterans on the practice field. How do they come in and out of breaks, for instance? How do they deal with the double team? How do they beat the press at the line of scrimmage? How do they react to the play call in the huddle?
“I think it’s an advantage for me, having those three to learn from,” said Walker. “They’ve been in the league so long that they can tell me all of the stuff they went through and help me avoid some of the same mistakes. I just try and take a little thing from each of them and add it to my game.”
Walker is also trying to soak up the gathered experience of his position coach, Richard Mann, who has been tutoring wideouts in the NFL for over two decades. Walker knows that Mann has taught the same lessons to Wayne Chrebet, Mark Clayton, Andre Rison, Al Toon, Ozzie Newsome, Michael Westbrook and many others during his 33-year coaching career.
“He helps me a lot,” said the Syracuse, New York native. “He’s been in the league a long time and he’s coached a lot of good and great receivers. He’s just trying to pass everything down to me and I’m taking advantage of that.”
Walker also believes his unsatisfying rookie campaign was actually a positive in the long run. It may not have been his chosen path to a productive NFL career, but Walker is grateful for the season that he spent on the sidelines, especially when he considers the complexities and nuances of Coach Gruden’s offensive system.
“I think it helped me a lot,” said Walker. “There were a lot of details to this offense I didn’t know coming in my first year, and now I know. Even with that, I’m still learning more every day.”
Still, Walker understands that in the cutthroat business world of the NFL such training rarely lasts longer than one season.
He has been here before. As a highly-touted freshman at Ann Arbor, Walker caught only four passes for 31 yards, but he came on with 37 receptions for 396 yards as a sophomore before exploding for a combined 135 receptions for 1,842 and 15 touchdowns in his last two years.
“Each level I’ve been to, I’ve improved every year,” said the former high school All-American. “I feel I got better this year even though I didn’t really play last year. I know more things and I took a lot of mental reps last year and I thinks it’s carrying over to when I get out on the field.
“This year, you’ll hear something from me.”
Walker’s confidence is tempered with a realistic view of the Bucs’ receiver situation. It would be difficult for any young player to unseat Johnson, McCardell or Jurevicius for serious playing time, but Walker is willing to accept any role that comes his way. Whether it’s returning punts or playing on the kick-block team, as he did very successfully in college, he simply wants to find a way onto the gridiron this fall.
“I just want to get on the field,” said Walker. “Get on the field and help a lot on special teams and whenever they need me at receiver. I just want to make the best of it.”
And there’s still time for that. The Bucs buried 27 years of disappointment in 2002 but did so with minimal contributions from a slim group of rookies. Somewhere down the line, the team will be looking for more of an impact from its younger players, including its third-round pick from 2002. Walker, who was surprisingly still available at the 86th pick last spring, wants to prove he was well worth that selection, and he wants to do it soon.
Said Walker: “I want people to say, ‘He was a steal for Tampa Bay.’”