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Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson an unexpected defensive plus

Bucs defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson gets Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb for one of his three sacks Sunday. He is second in the NFC in sacks with five, which is his career high.

BRENDAN FITTERER | Times

Bucs defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson gets Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb for one of his three sacks Sunday. He is second in the NFC in sacks with five, which is his career high.

TAMPA — It has been quite a whirlwind week for Bucs defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson.

There was Sunday, when the seventh-year pro racked up a career-high three sacks against the Eagles, tied his top mark with six tackles and forced a fumble.

Then, in the early hours of Tuesday, Wilkerson's wife, Jamie, had the couple's third child, a boy named Jax Jacob.

"Three sacks, a baby boy. I call that a good week!" defensive tackle Chris Hovan said.

In a disappointing season, Wilkerson has provided a feel-good story. He has tied his career high of five sacks through the first five games, which ranks second in the NFC behind Vikings defensive end Jared Allen (6.5), a two-time Pro Bowl player. Wilkerson also has 21 tackles, 10 quarterback pressures and three forced fumbles.

"It's been good," Wilkerson said. "I really don't think about it, because like my wife says, 'You gloat about it too much and you get the big head.' So I try to stay humble in what I'm doing."

Tampa Bay has struggled to put together a consistent pass rush, and though a lot has been expected of former first-round draft pick Gaines Adams and Stylez White, Wilkerson has unexpectedly led the way. Wilker­son, 28, a former Oklahoma star from a one-stoplight town (Omaha, Texas), didn't play much in his five years, spent with Kansas City, and he is relishing his first season as a full-time starter.

"Coming into the league a sixth-round draft pick, he's worked his way his whole career, and he's finally seeing the fruits of his labor," Hovan said. "For a guy that comes in and puts the amount of work in, and how skilled he is, and how detailed Jimmy is, it's deservedly so the way his career is going.

"It's just a good story. It shows you where a guy has been in his life, how much he's worked, always been under the radar, yet the guy still performs, he still shows up to work. I have a lot of respect for Jimmy."

When Wilkerson first showed up in Tampa after signing as a free agent in March 2008, then-defensive backs coach Raheem Morris knew very little about him. That's partly because Wilker­son had played sparingly for the Chiefs, getting five starts in five seasons.

The Bucs gave Wilkerson a fresh start.

"The guys around me gave me motivation, being in the right system, with better coaches and better techniques. You put all those things together, you can be a really good player," said Wilkerson, 6 feet 2, 270 pounds.

Wilkerson played in all 16 games last season, with one start, and ranked second on the Bucs with five sacks. Now head coach Morris said Wilkerson stepped it up even more in the offseason with his work ethic and by showing his versatility in workouts.

"It's awesome," Morris said. "When you see him be versatile in those types of positions, you wonder how much he can be and how far he can go."

Said defensive coordinator Jim Bates: "Jimmy is a total professional athlete as far as his preparation, how he practices, how he prepares for the game in the classroom, and it's proven out what he's doing on the field."

Wilkerson hopes his good fortune continues, Sunday against Carolina and Saturday, when his Sooners take on rival Texas in the Red River Shootout. Wilker­son and rookie defensive tackle Roy Miller, a former Longhorn, have been talking trash all week. Any bets going on?

"He's going to buy me a steak regardless," Wilkerson joked.

The way Wilkerson's week has gone, Texas may be in trouble.

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com.

up next

Bucs vs. Panthers

1 p.m. Sunday, Raymond James Stadium, Tampa

TV/radio: Ch. 13; 103.5-FM, 620-AM

Line: Carolina by 31/2

Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson an unexpected defensive plus 10/15/09 [Last modified: Thursday, October 15, 2009 10:05pm]
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