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New Panther Walker makes peace with old rivals

SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- Kenyatta Walker arrived at training camp with his new team and immediately sat down for lunch with Carolina's defensive linemen.

One of them, Julius Peppers, once took a swing at him during a game. Another, Kris Jenkins, once called him a "horrible player" and "garbage."

But for Walker, who signed with the Panthers on Monday after being released by Tampa Bay in the offseason, it was no big deal.

"I don't care. I was booed here. Do you think they're the first people to talk bad about me?" Walker said Tuesday. "Who cares about anything like that. We had some hard-fought games. I've said things and they've said things. But it was a competitive thing."

Walker, who will compete for a backup spot at tackle with Carolina, was involved in several skirmishes with his new team when he was with the Buccaneers.

In 2003, Peppers accused Walker of putting his hands inside his facemask, and Peppers had to be restrained from going after him by his teammates. In that same game, Walker and receiver Keenan McCardell were involved in a chop block that caused a season-ending knee injury to defensive end Kavika Pittman.

In the second game between the teams that season, Walker was called for three personal foul penalties and Jenkins ripped him after the game, saying he should be playing in the Canadian Football League.

"I ate lunch with Jenkins the first time I came here," Walker said. "I saw Jenkins somewhere out of town and we kind of hung out and stuff. We all say bad things. It's no big deal. It's really not."

Jenkins and Peppers declined interview requests Tuesday, but defensive end Mike Rucker said no one is holding grudges.

"I never really have had a personal hatred toward anybody," Rucker said. "A guy can hit me in the back and I'll be mad at that situation at that point in time, but I'm not going to carry that off the field."

Walker, who missed most of last season because of knee surgery, said he's healthy and ready to contribute to a team he used to despise.

"I don't think me and Peppers have talked on the field in three years," Walker said. "We had a problem, but it was nothing. Right now we're teammates and I'm happy to be on this team. I'm just trying to fit in and help this team win games."

Walker signed a one-year deal for the veteran minimum salary. If he makes the team, he will get to play against the Buccaneers twice this season.

Tampa Bay took Walker with the 14th overall pick in the 2001 draft. A year later with Walker as the starting right tackle, the Bucs won the Super Bowl under first-year coach Jon Gruden.

But a year later, when his feud with Carolina began, things started to turn sour. He was accused of being a dirty player who couldn't handle going up against elite defensive linemen without committing penalties.

Walker, who started 73 games in six seasons with the Buccaneers, played in only three games last season because of his knee injury. He was released in the offseason.

"I have nothing bad to stay about Gruden and all of that. But the record speaks for itself," Walker said. "They only won one Super Bowl over there and I was the starting right tackle. I don't think they're winning one anytime soon.

"What happened over there, a lot of it was how young I was at the time. There was not a lot of trust and appreciation for each other. I've moved on, but the record speaks for itself."

A starter his entire career, Walker will be competing for a backup spot behind starting tackles Travelle Wharton and Jordan Gross. But after missing most of last season and being dumped by the Bucs, he just wants to play football.

And make a few friends.

"I'm a Carolina Panther now," Walker said. "I'm glad to be practicing against a good defense rather than going against them twice a year."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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