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Bucs rookie RB Smith follows Dunn's blueprint

Running back Clifton Smith, carrying in practice, got 12 offensive touches in Saturday’s preseason opener against the Dolphins.

WILLIE J. ALLEN JR. | Times

Running back Clifton Smith, carrying in practice, got 12 offensive touches in Saturday’s preseason opener against the Dolphins.

LAKE BUENA VISTA — Rookie Buc running back Clifton Smith may have been overlooked four months ago in the NFL draft, but the versatile 5-foot-8, 190-pounder from Fresno State definitely turned some heads Saturday against Miami.

Smith contributed on multiple fronts, rushing nine times for 28 yards, catching three passes for 12 more and returning a punt 30 yards. And he's hoping to emulate a certain Buc back of small stature but big productivity.

"I'm learning from the best in Warrick Dunn," Smith said Tuesday. "Me and Warrick are the same size. They've compared me a lot to him, so right now I'm just trying to learn from him and follow his footsteps."

Smith says Dunn often pulls him aside to give him input.

"I really think he's doing well," Dunn said. "He's picked up the offense and now he's starting to let his natural ability take over."

Coach Jon Gruden has been impressed, too: "He's a smart football player. He's very instinctive. He picks things up fast. He's a guy that simulates Warrick Dunn when Warrick isn't being featured on the practice field. … He should have been drafted. It was a mistake we made here in Tampa, but we got him."

Smith, a multi-purpose standout in college, was devastated after going undrafted. "When I didn't get a phone call, I stayed in bed for about three days," he said. But the Bucs called soon after, offering him a contract.

"My job (Saturday) night was just to show everybody what I can do," he said. "I still have a lot to work on, but at least I got my point across. And just being on the field with so many great players was a dream come true."

NEXT UP: With two days left in camp, attention has turned to Sunday's 8 p.m. home game against New England. "We're trying to find out who can step up and help us," Gruden said. "We're all also trying to get ready to handle a team that won 18 straight games, one of the more physical, potent football teams that I've seen." He was encouraged by last week's 17-6 win over Miami, saying: "We like what we're doing. No penalties, no turnovers. We ran the ball, we threw the ball with pretty good success and didn't allow a touchdown." But he added, "It ain't good enough."

MISCELLANY: The Bucs' no penalty, no turnover game against Miami was the first time they have achieved that feat — after 135 preseason, 500 regular-season games and 15 playoff games. Only twice before had they logged no penalties: a 2003 preseason contest against Houston and 1983 regular-season game against Detroit. … Sunday's game features a matchup of the Ruud Brothers — fourth-year linebacker Barrett for the Bucs, and rookie linebacker Bo for the Patriots. … Former Bucs fullback Lorenzo Neal, who had a workout with the Bucs last week, signed with the Ravens.

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

Bucs rookie RB Smith follows Dunn's blueprint 08/12/08 [Last modified: Monday, August 18, 2008 4:53pm]
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