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Tampa Bay Buccaneers fullback B.J. Askew carrying bigger dream

Bucs running back B.J. Askew, being tackled Monday by Na’il Diggs of Carolina, had three carries in the game, five this season.

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Bucs running back B.J. Askew, being tackled Monday by Na’il Diggs of Carolina, had three carries in the game, five this season.

TAMPA — B.J. Askew knows that his knack for playing fullback keeps him gainfully employed in the NFL. Still, there are moments his thoughts drift to the old days, when he did more than block for other runners, protect the passer or occasionally get his number called in the huddle.

Ask Askew if he'd like to carry the ball more often — the way he did as an All-Cincinnati tailback for Colerain High School or University of Michigan standout who rushed for 1,580 yards and 17 touchdowns — and you can hear something stir in his soft-spoken words.

"I still have my dreams," said the second-year Buc, who played the position four previous seasons for the Jets. "Sometimes I wake up and I just dreamed I had rushed for 150 yards and I'm crying my eyes out.

"You never lose that tailback mentality. And just the memories of being in that position. … I mean, I'm almost ready to get teary-eyed now just thinking about it."

Indeed, his eyes mist over as he talks. "You can see how passionate I am about it," he added.

The good news for Askew, 28, is that his dream may come true — albeit in limited fashion. Coach Jon Gruden said Wednesday he could envision using the bruising 6-foot-3, 233-pound veteran in goal-line situations for added short-yardage firepower.

"Yeah, (Askew) has been thought about, and then Jameel (Cook) would obviously be the fullback if we want to go to a two-back set," he said. " … You can only practice so much (and) B.J. needs to get the looks as a fullback. Obviously, he can carry the ball. He did at Michigan and he's doing a good job here. That could be in the plans."

There's precedent with such a move for the Bucs. The stocky Cook, at 5-10, 237 pounds, once blocked for fullback Mike Alstott in the "Rhino" backfield, as did Lorenzo Neal.

Monday night, when the Bucs reached the Carolina 2 after a 52-yard reception by Antonio Bryant, an Askew-Cook combo might have been an effective weapon. In the end, the Bucs only mustered a field goal.

"I'm just hoping and praying, and my mom's calling me — she's like. 'You know they need to give you the ball!' " Askew said.

He found the end zone often in high school, scoring 16 times as a senior while rushing for 1,526 yards. That led to multiple honors, including second-team Division I All-Ohio, first-team All-Greater Miami Conference and selection to the Detroit News' "Best of the Midwest" team.

At Michigan, he excelled as a tailback, leading the team as a sophomore with 902 yards and 10 touchdowns. After splitting time with Chris Perry as a junior, he was converted to fullback in 2002 by coach Lloyd Carr, with Perry (who became a Bengals backup) named the starting tailback.

"He ended up getting hurt and they moved me back to halfback, and I ran all over Michigan State for over 150 yards," said Askew, who finished his senior year as the team's MVP, while earning All-Big Ten honorable mention.

In 2003, Askew was selected in the third round (85th overall) by the Jets, but saw most of his action on special teams and blocking for Curtis Martin. In four seasons, he rushed 27 times for 102 yards and caught 12 passes for 73 yards. Signed by the Bucs as a free agent in 2007, he appeared in 13 games last season, contributing as a strong lead blocker, displaying skill as a pass-catcher (18 catches for 175 yards) and being picked as a Pro Bowl alternate.

This year, his efforts were hindered by a hamstring injury, sustained Sept. 21 against the Bears. He returned Nov. 16 against Minnesota, rushing for his first NFL touchdown, and has played well since.

"He gives us not only pop between the tackles, (but he's) a reliable playmaker, a guy we can hand it to, a guy who can pick up blitzes, catch the ball out of the backfield," Gruden said. "He's a pro football player. I just think right now he's starting to get back to 100 percent."

Said Askew: "I want to bring some physical play to the team, some versatility. I definitely enjoy catching the ball out in the flat and getting some short-yardage runs. I'm doing everything I love to do. I couldn't ask for more."

Except a few extra handoffs.

FAST FACTS

Bucs at Falcons

1 p.m. Sunday, Georgia Dome, Atlanta.

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

Tampa Bay Buccaneers fullback B.J. Askew carrying bigger dream 12/12/08 [Last modified: Sunday, December 14, 2008 1:26pm]

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