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Bucs' Jackson still learning ropes on kickoff returns

Dexter Jackson returns a kickoff out of the end zone during 
the first quarter of Saturday’s game against the Jaguars.

BRIAN CASSELLA | Times

Dexter Jackson returns a kickoff out of the end zone during the first quarter of Saturday’s game against the Jaguars.

TAMPA — The Bucs believe they haven't seen the best of second-round pick Dexter Jackson, slated to be the team's primary return man.

But Jackson and his coaches caution against forming too strong an opinion based on his mediocre performances to date, particularly on kick returns, where Jackson is something of a novice.

Jackson returned his share of punts at Appalachian State but returned just two kickoffs in his final two seasons there.

"He's learning everything, really," coach Jon Gruden said. "These guys are coming from all angles, a little bit faster than they did at Appalachian — no disrespect. Yeah, he's doing a good job of securing the ball and making good decisions. He's caught the ball well here on the field, so we feel good about that."

The fact the Bucs haven't used the more complicated blocking schemes they'll use in the regular season hasn't helped Jackson, Gruden said. Still, Jackson was clobbered on a couple of returns Saturday against Jacksonville, his inability to get into open field negating his breathtaking speed (4.33 seconds in the 40-yard dash).

Jackson vows to become familiar with the task in time.

"It's starting to come," he said. "My biggest thing is just to feel the ball and pick up the different ways the ball comes off a tee. It's different than punts. And then you have the blocking schemes. Guys are coming down on a free release because they're not in a punt set. So, the speed of it is a lot faster than punts."

Cash recovering: LB Antoine Cash, who was hospitalized with a neck injury sustained in an ugly collision against Jacksonville, will miss a week to 10 days, Gruden said. He added there was no structural damage and there should be no long-term effects.

The time frame means the reserve, who is on the bubble, will be out even after final cuts are due Saturday. If the Bucs decide against keeping him on the final roster, Cash could be released after reaching an injury settlement.

The other player involved in the play, backup CB Marcus Hamilton, suffered a hip pointer and won't play Thursday at Houston.

Talib's best night: First-round pick Aqib Talib got rave reviews for his performance against the Jaguars, his most complete of the preseason.

"The last game was probably his best overall game, looking at all the attention to detail and all the things we continue to teach him," DBs coach Raheem Morris said. "If he continues to grow like this, I don't know what he can be. We'll be talking about him for a long time."

Talib, a cornerback, made notable plays throughout training camp, but coaches have emphasized the routine ones, too.

Injury roundup: FB B.J. Askew will likely practice Monday, Gruden said. After a minor procedure on his foot, he was forced to rest but should be ready for opening day, Sept. 7 at New Orleans. WR Antonio Bryant (knee) missed practice and might miss Thursday's game, Gruden said. DT Jovan Haye (groin) is getting closer to returning after a weeks-long absence that has kept him out of all three preseason games.

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

Bucs' Jackson still learning ropes on kickoff returns 08/25/08 [Last modified: Thursday, August 28, 2008 10:14am]
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