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Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Davin Joseph and Barrett Ruud near big leap

TAMPA — The Buccaneers have no shortage of young players whose greatest asset might be potential.

But winning teams all have their share of certified stars. You don't win championships without truly great players.

So, where are the elite players on the Bucs roster? Maybe this is the season we find out.

If 2009 goes as expected for RG Davin Joseph and MLB Barrett Ruud, they could make compelling cases. But whether they make the leap from very good to great is, well, up to them.

"It's consistency," Joseph said when asked the telltale signs of a great player. "That's the main thing. It's that next step. Consistency is concentration, determination and having an attitude when you come to work every day and enjoying what you do. I have all those things in my favor, so hopefully everything will pan out."

Joseph is coming off a Pro Bowl appearance in 2008, getting his shot at Hawaii via his place as an alternate. But whether that was the first of many appearances remains to be seen. The 2006 first-round pick has a lot going for him entering his fourth season out of Oklahoma. He's young, just 25. He plays for a team that seems committed to running the ball, which bodes well for a guy who clears paths for backs. And, assuming he stays healthy, he plays a position at which players can remain at a high level for a long time.

Ruud has been somewhat underrated nationally, but the Bucs have left no doubt they're building their defense on his back. His desire for a new contract has kept him away from workouts this offseason, but Ruud likely will be taken care of by management at some point.

With Derrick Brooks gone, Ruud, 26, has a chance to emerge from the surefire Hall of Famer's considerable shadow and take ownership of the defense. And he'll presumably be involved in more plays given the shift to a defensive scheme that will rely heavily on the linebackers.

Asked his opinion, coach Raheem Morris acknowledged there are high expectations.

"Let's put it this way: They're the faces on the stadium," he said. "We've lost some of those faces on the stadium. These are the guys who are the new wave of Buccaneers."

Time will tell: WR Dexter Jackson has certainly had his share of opportunities in practice, making a handful of nifty catches. Which, according to Morris, means basically nothing.

You might recall the 2008 second-round draft pick showing some reluctance to engage in contact in his ill-fated attempt to be the team's return man last season. Seems the Bucs are still waiting to determine whether he has overcome this.

"You're really not going to know about Dexter until we get to the pads, until we get out there across the street in that stadium and helmets are on and chinstraps are buttoned," Morris said. "Then, we'll see what Dexter is.

"But right now, what he's doing, I can't complain."

Jackson possesses one thing the Bucs have never had enough of: speed. If nothing else, the man can run a deep route. He might be the fastest player on the team, according to some. But will that be enough to keep him on the roster? Probably not, which is why he has to show he has a range of skills. Training camp will be huge for Jackson.

Still on the table: The Bucs haven't ruled out constructing an indoor practice facility that would provide shelter from the elements, particularly dangerous thunderstorms and intense heat. But nothing will be in place by the start of this training camp, leaving the team to consider alternatives. The Bucs took advantage of a large, air-conditioned tent facility last year at Disney that provided them with nearly 40 yards of practice space.

Lighten up: Speaking of Joseph, he is one of several offensive linemen who have dropped weight this offseason under a mandate from the coaching staff. It wasn't a matter of Joseph, Jeremy Trueblood and others being overweight, but more a matter of preference.

"They warned us when we showed up either get with it or get gone," cracked Joseph, who has lost 15 pounds and dropped to 305. One of the ways these suddenly svelte linemen will benefit is that they'll theoretically be more agile, something that should enable the team to more effectively run the zone blocking scheme being implemented.

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

Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Davin Joseph and Barrett Ruud near big leap 06/06/09 [Last modified: Sunday, June 7, 2009 7:47am]
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