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Tampa Bay Buccaneers Dexter Jackson yet to make a name in the NFL

Heading into the off-season, the Return Unit amongst other things (WIDE RECEIVER!) was the one aspect of the Buccaneers personnel the fan base sorely wanted an upgrade for. That upgrade (or so we thought) came in the form of Appalachian State product Dexter Jackson. He was taken in the 2nd Round of the NFL Draft. Many (including yours truly) expected the Bucs to draft California product Desean Jackson, in the 1st Round of the Draft. The Bucs opted for Kansas CB Aqib Talib in the 1st Round and lost out on Desean in the 2nd Round as the Eagles chose him several picks ahead of the Bucs.

We’re only three games into the 2008 season and folks are already questioning DJax’s value and whether the Bucs reached extensively on Draft Day to get the Div-IAA FCS speedster. These questions arose in the Pre-Season as well, but were put to rest when DJax returned an 83 yard punt for touchdown in the final Pre-Season game against the Houston Texans. I’ve been in DJax’s corner since day one, but it’s hard to argue with the critics thus far when you look at the numbers:

2008 Returning Statistics through Three games

Kickoff Return Statistics
Player Attemps Yardage Average Long
Dexter Jackson 8 185 23.1 33
Michael Clayton 3 69 23 29
Ike Hilliard -- -- -- --
Bowl Match-up: To be Announced
Punt Return Statistics
Player Attemps Yardage Average Long
Dexter Jackson 10 30 3 14
Michael Clayton -- -- -- --
Ike Hilliard 1 11 11 11
Bowl Match-up: To be Announced

2007 Returning Statistics through Three games

Kick Return Statistics
Player Attemps Yardage Average Long
Mark Jones 2 72 36 36
Michael Clayton 1 23 23 23
Earnest Graham 4 90 22.5 31
Bowl Match-up: To be Announced
Punt Return Statistics
Player Attemps Yardage Average Long
Mark Jones 4 60 15 35
Ike Hilliard 4 38 9.5 20
Joey Galloway 1 2 2 2
Bowl Match-up: To be Announced

The sample size is so small that one very good Punt Return of 30 yards or more would probably vault the Bucs return unit into at least the middle of the road per NFL standards. Plus there have only been five returns for touchdown in the entire NFL thus far through the season, so again it’s early. Although I’m not ready to give up on the kid, the coaching staff has already proved to have a short leash by subbing him for foot draggers in Ike Hilliard and Michael Clayton. Although slow, both receivers pick up yardage as they hit the seams without any regard for the contact that awaits them. To DJax’s credit he wasn’t a Kick Returner in college. He was a Wide Receiver and a Punt Returner; Wide Receiver first though and so there’s going to be a learning curve he has to overcome. Here’s Gruden on that learning curve and why he chose to sub in Clayton against the Bears:

"It's new to him," Gruden said. "Obviously, he didn't have the greatest footing, for whatever the reasons were. We have a guy standing there in Clayton who was really feeling it, and I like the way he played. (I said) 'Get back there and do this, man. Take one back.' He was decisive and physical in the hole and, if you're going to play the Chicago Bears, you better take it north and south and keep your feet. That's the reason we made the change." – from Stephen Holder of the St. Pete Times

Gruden on wanting more from the Return Unit:

"I want to see a lot more, to be honest with you. We've worked at it. We had some excitement in the preseason. We had a potential game-breaking play in New Orleans. We've been kind of quiet. But then again, we have to keep working. There's a lot of areas we'd like to pick up, and that's one of them." – from Stephen Holder of the St. Pete Times

Gruden alluded to not using Michael Clayton again in the return game this weekend as he wants him to focus on receiving so Dexter hasn’t lost complete confidence from his Coaching staff, but if the next three games mimic his first three games, the Rookie might find himself on the bench. I still can’t grasp why Gruden won’t try him out in the slot. He looked good in the limited chances he got in the Pre-Season. The worst he can do is drop balls ala Michael Clayton or fumble a reception ala Maurice Stovall. The best he could do is light the world on fire, why not attempt to see if he can achieve some type of middle of the road success in there?