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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs' Lumpkin looking for real opportunity

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Published:   |   Updated: March 20, 2013 at 06:14 PM
TAMPA -

It's big and it sparkles. The 105 diamonds, including the 13 that form the embossed Packers logo, make it a majestic memento many guys in Kregg Lumpkin's situation would look at as the one that got away.

But not Lumpkin.

As much as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back would have liked to be a part of the Packers team that earned that glittering 2011 Super Bowl ring — and he might have been were it not for the Bucs — he's happy where he is.

"I have an opportunity here,'' he said.

Lumpkin had an opportunity in Green Bay, too, just not the kind NFL players dream of as children. The Packers wanted to stow Lumpkin on their practice squad last season, as they did in 2009.

It's not a bad way to go, especially when it includes a full second-year pro's salary, but it would have left him on the outside looking in. That's why Lumpkin believes his opportunity with the Bucs may be better.

There's a real opportunity to play here. The only back running ahead of him is starter LeGarrette Blount, who just happened to join the Bucs on the same day and in the same way as Lumpkin.

Both were claimed off waivers last season after their previous teams — Blount was with the Tennessee Titans — tried to sneak them onto their respective practice squads by releasing them on the final day of roster cuts.

And both might have wound up on those practice squads had the Bucs not spent so much time with Blount prior to the draft and so much time watching tape of Lumpkin during the 2009 and 2010 preseasons.

"Lumpkin's tape was great in Green Bay,'' Bucs coach Raheem Morris said. "We saw him in some of the (same) protections that we (use here) and (saw) him pick those up. And he was pretty good when he had the ball in his hands, too.''

Lumpkin ran 27 times for 95 yards and a touchdown for the Packers during the 2009 preseason. But his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and hang in as a pass protector really stood out to the Bucs.

Their primary goal was to find someone who could fill the role of a third-down, change-of-pace back and pass protector, which is what they think they have in Lumpkin.

The Bucs are so convinced Lumpkin can fill that role they passed on an opportunity this preseason to re-sign Cadillac Williams, who filled that role exquisitely last season after Blount became the starter.

"We have confidence in Lumpkin,'' Morris said. "It's a competition with Earnest Graham, and we also drafted Allen Bradford (in the sixth round out of USC), who can come in and give you a little thump as well. So, it's a competition, constantly a competition.''

Lumpkin appears to have won the first round of the competition. In the Bucs' preseason opener at Kansas City, he ran six times for 24 yards and caught two passes for 10. His next chance comes Thursday night when Tampa Bay plays the New England Patriots at Raymond James Stadium.

"It's the same thing we saw toward the end of last year with him and the same thing we saw of him when we watched him on tape with Green Bay,'' Bucs general manager Mark Dominik said. "He did what we expected him to do.''

Lumpkin's expectations are to give the Bucs everything they had in Williams a year ago — and more. The Bucs consider him to be a more powerful runner, and he's more natural as a pass catcher.

"I feel like I've got some of the same attributes that Cadillac has,'' the former University of Georgia back said. "He was a great pass catcher and pass protector, but I'm hoping to add my own twist wherever I can.''

He seems to have the ability. During his career at Georgia, Lumpkin ran 340 times for 1,656 yards, a 4.9 yard average, with 15 touchdowns. He's had a hard time, however, overcoming a knee injury his senior season.

That robbed him of a chance to be drafted and, after he was signed by the Packers, robbed him again of a chance to prove himself worthy of regular playing time.

Finally, though, a real opportunity is at hand for Lumpkin.

"I'm excited about it,'' Lumpkin said. "(The Packers) gave me an opportunity when no one else would and I was grateful for that. But I'm grateful for this opportunity, too. Now I just have to take advantage of it.''

PATRIOTS AT BUCS

Thursday's game: 7:30 p.m.


rcummings@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7979

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