Patrick Chukwurah saw something in people’s eyes this season that an athlete never wants to see.
A lack of faith.
He understood. Chukwurah’s myriad injury problems this season led some in the organization to look in other directions for help at defensive end.
Gaines Adams and Greg White stepped up. Chukwurah — who at one point was No. 1 on the depth chart at right end — had to accept a smaller role once his injury problems receded.
“A lot of people were looking at me as if they couldn’t count on me because they didn’t know if I could stay healthy,” Chukwurah said. “That’s frustrating because you never ask to be hurt. You never do it purposely.”
Chukwurah suffered a knee injury against Miami in the preseason and missed the first three regular-season games. When he returned, his starting job was in the hands of White and Greg Spires. He played as a backup for three weeks.
And then against Detroit on Oct. 21 Chukwurah injured his left shoulder. He missed another three weeks.
The knee injury in August was one thing. He felt when he returned he could still make a contribution.
But the shoulder injury was much harder to deal with, he said.
“I played three games and then that shoulder injury really knocked me back,” Chukwurah said.
He returned against Atlanta in Week 10, but by then Adams and White had turned into a solid 1-2 combo at right end, and there was no room in the rotation for Chukwurah. He played the final seven games on special teams, missing one game as he fought a hamstring issue.
He finished the season with just 16 tackles, including one quarterback sack. He did manage to record 10 special teams tackles, despite the injuries.
The Buccaneers signed Chukwurah to a five-year contract in March, but he seemed uneasy as he put his belongings in a trash bag on Monday.
“Nobody’s future is certain — not even mine,” Chukwurah said.
But the former Viking and Bronco made it clear he wanted to remain in Tampa Bay, saying the locker room in 2007 was better than any locker room he had been in as a professional.
“The camaraderie here is outstanding,” Chukwurah said. “I’ve been fortunate to be on teams that had good chemistry. When I got here I was a little iffy about it. But that changed quickly, and I don’t want to be anywhere else.”
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Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for Bucsblitz.com and the Charlotte (Fla.) Sun-Herald. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, and his coverage of the Buccaneers has won numerous state and national awards.