With defensive tackles Ellis Wyms and Damian Gregory spending the rest of their seasons on injured reserve and starting under tackle Anthony McFarland questionable for Sunday’s game against Atlanta with a right tricep strain, Tampa Bay attempted to add some much-needed depth and experience to defensive line coach Rod Marinelli’s unit Wednesday by signing former Bucs defensive lineman Chidi Ahanotu.
In order to make room for Ahanoto on their 53-man roster, the Bucs placed center John Wade (dislocated knee) on injured reserve.
Ahanotu, 34, spent eight seasons (1993-2000) with the Bucs before being released in April of 2001. He recorded 31 sacks during his eight-year tenure with the Bucs.
After being released by the Bucs, Ahanotu spent parts of the next four seasons with St. Louis, Buffalo, San Francisco and Miami, respectively. He’s notched 12 sacks over the past four seasons.
Ahanotu’s stay in Miami ended abruptly after he left the Dolphins for a week, citing the fact that he was unhappy with the amount of playing time he was receiving. During his brief hiatus, Ahanotu asked to be released or traded, and on October 20, that wish was granted when the Dolphins released him.
His stay in Tampa didn’t end nicely, either. According to Ahanotu, an antagonistic relationship with former teammates Frank Middleton and Warren Sapp led to his decision to ask to be traded during the 2000 season, which was his last one with the Bucs.
“Mainly the situation was right here in this locker room,” said Ahanotu. “I play this game for the love of it and the camaraderie and there was a situation with Warren Sapp and Frank Middleton — they were jealous of me. It was jealousy, hatred — I don’t know because I didn’t do anything. I was getting paid a lot of money at that time.
“I actually asked to be traded when I was here. There were a lot of things on and off the field that made it a pressure cooker. I asked to be traded and needed to get out of here for a lot of reasons. I would never look back and regret that decision because at the time I knew I had to go, but I knew I’d come back one day.”
In 2000, the confrontational relationship actually led to a locker room fight between Ahanotu and Sapp, and it was right then that Ahanotu knew that his days as a Buc were numbered.
“When Sapp and I fought it was the last straw,” said Ahanotu. “I knew that one of us had to go, and I knew he wasn’t going anywhere, so I decided to leave. It was hard because I love this community and organization. It was one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make.”
After leaving the Bucs during the 2001 offseason, Ahanotu blasted Sapp on several occasions, and he didn’t hesitate to describe his six years with Sapp on Wednesday.
“It was six years in hell,” said Ahanotu. “I’m a guy that’s quiet and can take a whole lot, so I guess it took six years to explode on him. You know how he is – everyone knows how he is.”
Ahanotu said he wasn’t the only Bucs player that didn’t get along with Sapp, whose own run with the Bucs ended this offseason when he left Tampa Bay for Oakland via free agency.
“I think everyone would raise their hand on that one,” Ahanotu said when asked how many teammates shared Ahanotu’s feelings toward Sapp. “It was a little different because we were together all of the time. Some people might have thought he was annoying, but I was around him all of the time.”
If Sapp had re-signed with the Bucs instead of signing a deal with the Raiders, Ahanotu said he wouldn’t have been able to return to Tampa Bay.
“Number 99 is dead — he’s Warren to me now,” said Ahanotu. “He’s his own person and we can’t co-exist in the same locker room. Maybe he can deal with me because I’m a quiet guy, but I wouldn’t ever want to be in that kind of environment again.”
Although they didn’t get along as teammates, Ahanotu said he’d try to make amends with Sapp should the two former teammates cross paths again.
“If I saw him today I’d give him a hug,” said Ahanotu. “As soon as I left here I learned a lot about this game. He and I together were magic. We may have not gotten along, but we were magic. The time I had here is time I appreciated and cherish. All of that is water under the bridge for me. I love Warren and I wish him the best.”
Even at 34, Ahanotu, a 1993 sixth-round draft pick out of Cal, said he’s got more to offer the Bucs, who are the only team he’s ever wanted to play for.
“My body feels good, my mind is good and I still have a lot of football left in me,” said Ahanotu. “I still love playing on Sundays. It’s been a four-year journey since I left here — I’ve been waiting four years for this. I’m going to lay my heart and soul on the line, especially for this community and organization.”
Although he has spent most of his career playing at the defensive end position, the 6-foot-2, 285-pound Ahanotu was signed to play the three technique (under tackle) spot. Should McFarland be unable to play Sunday in Atlanta, Ahanotu could start in his place while second-year DL Dewayne White plays under tackle on passing downs.
“I’m in the rotation right away,” said Ahanotu. “On paper, I’m at the three technique on first and second down, and then they have the rookie coming in to try and get us a pass rush. I’ve always been a guy that can play all positions, so I’ll play wherever they need me.”
After spending the past two seasons playing at the under tackle position, Ahanotu said he’s more than capable of playing well at that position in defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s scheme, which hasn’t changed much since Ahanotu left four years ago.
“It’s a lot different than playing at end, but I’m very comfortable there after doing it for the last two years,” Ahanotu said of playing under tackle.
After four years of playing football elsewhere, Ahanotu said it’s good to be back with the Bucs.
“I’ll always be a Buc, so it’s real special for me to be back,” said Ahanotu.
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