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Bucs' Dexter Jackson is special-teams player of future

LAKE BUENA VISTA — When the Bucs drafted Dexter Jackson in April, he immediately filled a couple of conspicuous needs.

They lacked offensive speed and sought an infusion of athleticism. Jackson possesses plenty of both.

But you might be surprised to learn that the Bucs don't see him as a potential solution to what some say was their biggest offseason challenge: addressing a lack of dynamic receivers.

That isn't the reason Jackson is here, the Bucs say. No one expects him to fill 36-year-old Joey Galloway's shoes when his run comes to an end.

Instead, the Bucs hope Jackson becomes a special-teams player extraordinaire who throws a wrinkle at defenses in his spare time. But can a second-round pick who fields punts and kickoffs without having a marked impact on the passing game be considered a success?

"If he's doing his job as a returner, that's what he was brought here to do," receivers coach Richard Mann said. "So, whatever else we get, that stuff is gravy. I think with the juice that he's got, when (coach Jon) Gruden goes back to his little laboratory, he'll come up with some creative ways to get him the ball."

Jackson, who turns 22 Tuesday, has been told as much by coaches and is satisfied with his projected role.

"I have to make sure I know everything (in the playbook)," he said. "But for me, it's a little different because I know that Coach Gruden is going to spot-play me. I think there may be some trick plays, some decoy routes, that kind of stuff."

But through the first nine days of camp, Jackson hasn't been able to show much. He aggravated a hamstring injury sustained in May's rookie minicamp and hasn't been able to participate in full-speed drills. That's limited his development at a critical time.

"He's not 100 percent," Gruden said. "All I can say is that he goes inside (in walk-throughs) and gets a lot of reps. But it is going to take some time before he can really let it loose."

Once he does, Jackson will be busy. He still will be required to be up to speed with the other receivers. Getting there will require work, something Jackson readily admits.

At Appalachian State, he ranked third in receptions in 2007 with 30, although his yards-per-catch was an astounding 22.9. Coaches also say he is limited by his slight build. Jackson is listed at 5 feet 9 and 182 pounds.

"In college, I wasn't really taught to read coverages," Jackson said. "So, I have to learn when I see a cornerback pressed up on me, is he going to bail or just press me? Are they going to be in man, or what?

"That's the biggest thing for me, because after that, your athletic ability takes over."

That's the part coaches are excited about.

"If he's got a crease," Mann said, "well, did you see the Michigan tape?"

That would be a reference to one of college football's most shocking upsets, in which Jackson's team beat the then-fifth-ranked Wolverines 34-32 last year. Jackson had one of the game's highlights, a 68-yard touchdown reception.

The Bucs will settle for Jackson injecting life into the return game. He'll likely be the primary punt returner and will battle Micheal Spurlock and others for the kickoff-return opportunities.

Once he has all that down, coaches will talk about him taking the next step.

"He can help us in the kicking game," Gruden said. "But I think as time goes by, if he continues to do what he's doing, we'll find some interesting things for him to do."

Stephen F. Holder can be reached at sholder@sptimes.com.

Bucs' Dexter Jackson is special-teams player of future 08/03/08 [Last modified: Thursday, August 7, 2008 8:22am]
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