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Bucs rookie defensive end Blake deals with mental illness

Undrafted defensive end Tommy Blake, working out at Bucs minicamp, missed five games for TCU last season because of depression.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Undrafted defensive end Tommy Blake, working out at Bucs minicamp, missed five games for TCU last season because of depression.

TAMPA — Texas Christian defensive end Tommy Blake has won a lot of tussles in the trenches, but it's a battle with depression that he will have to tackle to fulfill his dream of playing in the NFL.

Blake is among the most recognizable players appearing at the Bucs' rookie minicamp on a tryout contract.

"He was highly touted a couple of years ago," coach Jon Gruden said. "I realize he's had these real tough things to go through here. It's a credit to him for keeping his head up and battling. All we're going to do is get acquainted with him for 21/2 days and see what happens."

Blake has been treated for depression and social anxiety disorder, which caused him to miss five games last season and undoubtedly prevented him from being drafted.

"There's ups and downs to life," Blake said Saturday. "A lot of people deal with a lot of things. Unfortunately, I had to deal with some things.

"I'm not really going to talk about it too much after this. I'm here to play football now."

A year ago, Blake could be found among the top 10 of some draft boards and was drawing comparisons to Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney. He led the Mountain West Conference with 16½ tackles for loss and was a preseason All-American.

But Aug. 16, halfway through TCU's two-a-days, Blake started showing signs of anger. He argued with coaches then walked off the field. Blake called his sister, Rochella Thomas, who drove 370 miles from their home in Aransas Pass, Texas.

Two days later, coach Gary Patterson and Mike Sinquefield, the Horned Frogs' director of football operations, flew to Aransas Pass and persuaded Blake to return to school and football. But things didn't get better.

He still was combative and missed the season opener for "undisclosed medical reasons." Blake played the next three games but wasn't nearly as effective. Finally, he was given a medical leave of absence and returned home again, this time to be surrounded by his family, and missed four more games.

Of course, rumors swirled, about drug use, steroids, even that Blake entered the ministry. All of it was untrue.

Blake eventually returned for the final five games, but he was overweight and seemed uninterested.

When Blake, who now takes medication, was invited to the East-West Shrine game, he weighed 287 pounds, nearly 30 over his ideal playing weight. Blake said Saturday that he was uncertain what he weighed, but it appeared to be considerably less than 287.

"I haven't weighed myself in a while, but I've cut down on a lot of weight," Blake said. "I think I've shown them what I had to show."

OFF AND NOT RUNNING: Speedy Appalachian State receiver Dexter Jackson is off to a slow start.

Jackson is thought to have strained a hamstring Friday. He participated in a 60-play walkthrough Saturday but was held out of the team portion of the workout.

"He's a little embarrassed about his personal issue right now," Gruden said. "I don't think it's anything to be alarmed about. It's more of a precautionary thing."

Times staff writer Stephen F. Holder contributed to this report.

Bucs rookie defensive end Blake deals with mental illness 05/03/08 [Last modified: Friday, May 9, 2008 6:15pm]
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