UPDATED: Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris announced after practice that the Bucs had cut RB Derrick Ward. The veteran running back was a big disappointment in Tampa Bay after signing a lucrative four-year contract in March of 2009. WR Terrence Nunn was also released, and LB Jon Alston was put on IR.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have cut running back Derrick Ward and wide receiver Terrence Nunn. Linebacker Jon Alston was placed on injured reserve. Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris announced the roster moves after Tuesday's practice. The roster moves have the Bucs at the roster limit of 75 players. Ward spoke with the media after practice, and did not know he was about to be cut.
“No, it does not bother me at all,” Ward said of rumors about his release. “If I worried about what you guys said in the media I wouldn’t be having a job. I’m just coming out here to play ball and the coach is going to do what is best for the team, which is keep the top-53.”
Ward, 30, was signed to a lucrative, four-year, $17 million deal in 2009. By cutting Ward the Bucs save $3 million in base salary.
“After practice today we were able to notify Mr. Ward,” said Morris. “It’s just like any other profession when it is time for you to depart. It’s not a surprise anytime in our profession anytime we tell you to go – can’t say you’re surprise. You have everyday to go out there and prove yourself. It’s just your job.”
Last season, Ward rushed for 409 yards, with only one touchdown and a 3.6-yard average. He also caught 20 passes for 150 yards and two touchdowns. The 5-foot-11, 228-pound Ward ran for 1,025 yards with the New York Giants as a backup the season before signing with Tampa Bay. Morris said that with starter Cadillac Williams healthy and having fullback Earnest Graham as a big part of the offense, that Ward was not part of the team's long-term plans.
“It’s more about the resurgence of Mr. Cadillac, Mr. insurance Graham, where the team is heading and where we’re going, our plan and direction, and how we want to go about our business,” said Morris. “No decision is made lightly around here. It was just time to make it today."
Ward had inconsistent attendance during the OTAs (organized team activities) and a disappointing performance in the preseason. Through two preseason games Ward had more carries than any other running back, yet produced 31 yards on 17 attempts (1.8 avg.). After taking a hard hit against the Chiefs, Ward left the game with a head injury. In the third preseason game against Jaguars Ward lead the team in rushing with four carries for 19 yards. Ward was criticized for being out of shape by some.
“It was less about the abandonment or anything like that,” Morris said. “It was about everybody’s skill level on our football team and where we need to go and how we see our team right now. Right now, we have Cadillac who we are happy to have and also we have insurance Graham back there playing fullback for us and he is able to carry the ball as well. And also we have our little spark-plug in Huggy and he is able to come in a provide a different look for us and different turn around.”
Second-year pro Kareem Huggins, a 2009 undrafted free agent out of Hofstra, beat out Ward for the backup spot to starter Carnell 'Cadillac' Williams. In three presesaon games, Huggins (5-9, 198) has run for 97 yards on 19 carries (5.1 average) with two receptions for 16 yards. The 24-year old Huggins brings more speed and big-play ability to the Buccaneers' backup running back position.
In the preseason last year, Huggins ran for 74 yards on 19 carries (3.9 average). Huggins was on the Bucs' practice squad for most of the 2009 season before being elevated to the active roster for the final four games. During the 2010 offseason Huggins earned a reputation around One Buc Place as one of the hardest workers on the roster.
Graham was moved to fullback permanently during the 2009 season when starter B.J. Askew went out for the season after a neck injury in a car accident. In the offseason Askew was released and Graham was made the starter for 2010. Graham, like Ward and Huggins, is a self-made pro.
“All those guys are in the running back room,” said Morris. “It’s not like they sit in different rooms. If you are a fullback or you are a running back, you sit in the same room. You hear the same thing. You hear the same information. You do the same ball carrying drills. He is versatile. That is the thing that makes Earnest special. I look forward to expanding his role and letting him play in all those different situations that he has been doing.”
Graham went undrafted out of Florida and had been on the back end of Tampa Bay's roster for a long-time before breaking out in 2007 after Williams went down with a knee injury. That year Graham lead the team with 898 yards (4.0 average) and 10 touchdowns. The Bucs won the NFC South and lost to Ward and the Giants in the playoffs.
Williams had major knee injuries in 2007 and 2008. Last season Williams re-claimed the starting running back position and ran for 823 yards (3.9 average) with four touchdowns on 211 carries. Tampa Bay plans on being a run first offense that features Williams in 2010. Williams is in the final year of his contract with Tampa Bay.
Alston was one of the few free agents that Tampa Bay signed during free agency. Alston had previously played for the St. Louis Rams and Oakland Raiders. He had a reputation for being a special teams standout. Alston had four tackles and one assist in the three preseason games.
Nunn was on the Bucs practice squad and active roster during the 2009 season. In the preseason Nunn had two catches for 11 yards and one TD.
“When you are talking about Terrance, he came in here and gave everything he had everyday,” said Morris. “He was a hard worker. He was one of those guys that we talked about in that receiver room. He was in the mix, fighting, playing really hard, and playing really well. But at the end of the day, it’s all about your skill-set and how much you can bring to the table for the 2010 Buccaneers.”
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