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The impact player: Not always obvious

Safety Tanard Jackson is an impact player. As a rookie last season, his collisions lef welts on ball carriers, intimidated receivers and set the tone for the Bucs' defense.

Jackson was a fourth-round draft pick who was converted from cornerback. Greg White, the 2007 Arena League Defensive Player of the Year, did not start training camp with the Bucs last season but wound up leading them with eight sacks.

Donald Penn, an undrafted free agent who originally signed with the Vikings in '06, started 13 games at left tackle for the Bucs.

If before last season you picked these players to make those contribution, try selecting lottery numbers.

First-round picks such as defensive end Gaines Adams, who had six sacks in '07, are expected to provide immediate returns. What newcomers will have the biggest impact this season? Take a look.

AQIB TALIB: At 6 feet 1, 202 pounds, Talib is one of the biggest cornerbacks in club history. He plays even bigger than he looks. Talib is long and athletic, with explosive speed and great change of direction. He also has great ball skills.

Talib had five interceptions for Kansas last season, returning two for touchdowns. He also had four touchdowns as a receiver. It's unlikely he'll see much action on offense, but Talib will battle Phillip Buchanon for one cornerback spot. At the least, he will provide a nickel cornerback when Ronde Barber moves to the slot position on passing downs.

The Bucs will miss Brian Kelly, who signed as a free agent with the Detroit Lions. Talib could have Tanard Jackson-like impact if he can avoid the off-field issues that follow him (among them: he was suspended once at Kansas for disciplinary reasons and has said he tested positive for marijuana three times while there).

JEFF FAINE: The strength of the offense may be the offensive line. The centerpiece is now in place with the addition of Faine, a free agent who spent the past two seasons with New Orleans.

Faine, 27, is a big upgrade from veteran John Wade, who at 33 was past his prime. He also is more athletic and will help the running game with his mobility. At 6-3, 291, Faine is not the biggest center in the NFL, but he plays with a huge nasty streak that used to get the ire of Bucs defensive tackle Chris Hovan.

Faine will need to adjust to making the protection calls; he will have more responsibility than he did with the Saints. But coming from another NFC South team, he is familiar with the opponents and will give quarterback Jeff Garcia more protection.

DEXTER JACKSON: The second-round pick from Appalachian State will make his biggest contribution as a punt returner. He could also be asked to be deep on kickoffs with Micheal Spurlock.

The hope is that Jackson will evolve as a receiver. At 5-10, 182, he is slightly lighter than Joey Galloway. But his speed is comparable. Jackson ran 4.33 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

But Jackson never caught more than 33 passes in a season at Appalachian State. He has a long way to go before he learns to be effective as a wideout in the NFL.

"Coach Gruden is going to spot-play me throughout the season," Jackson said. "Like trick plays and decoy routes. Whatever the team might need."

ANTONIO BRYANT: The Bucs added a 1,000-yard receiver during the offseason, and almost nobody noticed. Maybe because Bryant accomplished that feat in 2005 while with the Cleveland Browns. Off-field problems have dogged Bryant; while he was with the 49ers in 2006, the NFL suspended him for four games after a drunken-driving arrest for violating its substance abuse policy. He did not play last season.

The thing to note is that Bryant is only 27 and nobody has ever questioned his talent. He was voted the best receiver in college football while at Pittsburgh.

Since coming to the Bucs as a free agent, he has been impressive. He enters training camp as perhaps no less than their third-best wideout. Michael Clayton and Maurice Stovall may have to fight him for playing time. But it's a long, long way until September. The Bucs have been burned before by the promise of troubled players — like David Boston (twice). Bryant may be different.

DRE MOORE: Outside of Talib, Moore may have the biggest impact on defense. The 6-4, 305-pound Moore could be a disruptive force at tackle while spelling Jovan Haye and others in the rotation. He has a high motor and led Maryland with six sacks last season.

Moore hasn't played much football. He didn't start until his junior year of high school. And the heat was a problem for Moore during offseason workouts. But he has worked hard the past month to get in better shape and should make the defensive line deeper.

The impact player: Not always obvious 07/21/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 22, 2008 3:57pm]
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