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Tampa Bay Buccaneers' returner Clifton Smith finds limelight but keeps working on finer points

Clifton Smith, all of 5 feet 8, 190 pounds, is piling up yardage quickly in the Bucs’ return game.

Clifton Smith, all of 5 feet 8, 190 pounds, is piling up yardage quickly in the Bucs’ return game.

TAMPA — Compact rookie return specialist Clifton Smith continued to get plenty of attention Wednesday in the wake of his big return effort in Detroit.

"Maybe we're on to something. Maybe we've got our own explosive guy," coach Jon Gruden said. "We've just got to take better care of the ball. He's clearly made a difference since he's become the return man."

Smith returned a punt 70 yards for a touchdown and added a key 49-yard kickoff return in Tampa Bay's 38-20 victory Sunday. His 97-yard kickoff return against the Chiefs on Nov. 2 helped the Bucs come from behind to beat the Chiefs 30-27 in overtime.

The undrafted free agent from Fresno State averages 32.7 yards on nine kick returns and 15.6 yards on seven punt returns.

But fumbles in each of the past four games (one as a running back) are a concern. After practice, Smith stayed on the field to work on catching punts — and holding onto the ball — while getting batted by pads and with a coach in his face, trying to distract him.

Earlier, a crowd of reporters greeted Smith at his locker. He was asked whether people used to tell him he was too small to play football.

"A lot of people tell me that, but I just tell 'em I'm 6-21/2 and weigh about 210," he said. Listed in the media guide at 5-8, 190, Smith is the shortest player on the Bucs, behind veteran tailback Warrick Dunn (5-9, 187). He said Dunn has been a mentor since training camp.

"He actually has been giving me a hard time about these fumbles and saying he's going to take some money out of my paycheck," Smith said. "Warrick has always played the big brother role to me and given me a lot of guidance since I've been here."

BARBER AWARD: CB Ronde Barber was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his stellar effort against Detroit. The 12-year veteran made two interceptions — returning one 65 yards for a touchdown, the 13th TD of his career — and had three tackles and defended two passes. This is the eighth time Barber has earned the honor and the first since 2006.

CONFIDENCE UP: RB Cadillac Williams is feeling good after returning to action in Detroit with 16 carries for 27 yards. He was out of action for more than a year with a career-threatening knee injury. "It was definitely a confidence builder for me," he said of Sunday's game. "My knee responded well and felt good, so I'm ready to rock and roll." Said Gruden: "That was really good for him. … You could witness it on the practice field. He looked different; he looked better."

MISCELLANY: The Bucs announced that they are offering a new credit card payment plan for season-ticket holders to purchase tickets for potential home playoff games. In the past, season-ticket holders had to pay for both potential home playoff games in advance. This year they will not be charged for a second game until the Bucs are guaranteed to host the NFC title game. … TE Alex Smith (ankle), S Jermaine Phillips (forearm) and QB Brian Griese (elbow) were limited in practice. WR Ike Hilliard (shoulder) participated fully.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers' returner Clifton Smith finds limelight but keeps working on finer points 11/26/08 [Last modified: Thursday, November 27, 2008 12:58pm]

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