Bucs quarterback Jeff Garcia talked about needing more playmakers in the offense, head coach Jon Gruden expressed his thoughts to get more team speed and general manager Bruce Allen faced the same questions in his end-of-the-year press conference at One Buccaneer Place on Thursday.
Tampa Bay wide receiver Joey Galloway recorded his third consecutive 1,000-yard receiving season with the Bucs, but was shut down in the 24-14 playoff loss vs. the New York Giants last Sunday. Whether it was a good game plan by the Giants or Galloway's shoulder injury, the Bucs didn't have another play-making receiver to look for in the fourth quarter.
Allen discussed the possibility of finding another dominant wide receiver, but feels the Bucs already have a feature wide receiver in Galloway. Even though teams knew they had to stop Galloway, he still managed 57 receptions for 1,014 yards and six touchdowns.
"Well it seemed to have worked. Everyone knew that he was our feature receiver the last two years and he still had 1,000-yard seasons and really only playing in 14 games [in 2007]," Allen said. "Whoever we open up with next year knows that they are going to have to defend Joey Galloway. We know when we play against Steve Smith that you better stop Steve Smith. Now are we going to look to upgrade talent on this team; absolutely."
Allen was pleased with the performances of wide receivers Ike Hilliard and Michael Clayton and believes that wide receiver Maurice Stovall has a bright future with the team. Clayton is a former first-round pick and arguably has underachieved in the last three seasons after a breakout rookie year.
"I agree, but the emergence of Ike Hilliard. Ike performed extremely well. Maurice Stovall's got a bright future in front of him," Allen said. "Hopefully we add competition to every one of these positions and if somebody gets less playing time because someone's better then that's a positive."
Clayton had 22 receptions for 301 yards (13.7 avg.) this season, but failed to score a touchdown in a season for the second time in his four-year career. After recording 80 receptions for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns in 2004, Clayton has 87 receptions combined in the last three seasons.
Allen, however, was impressed by Clayton in the way he battled through injuries and returned to make a contribution at the end of the season.
"Michael Clayton did come back for us this year in a very strong way and I'm actually kind of proud of the comeback that he did because he was an important part of our special teams and our offense," Allen said. "He sets a tone that you don't see in a lot of wide receivers in the NFL. In the playoff game I think he made some nice grabs. So I don't look at it so much as he had 30 catches [Clayton had 22 receptions] and Ike had 50 catches [Hilliard had 62 receptions] and Stovall has 20 receptions [he had 10 receptions]. Those are all Bucs receptions and if you can work within our mix, be a good teammate and not give a darn whether you caught the ball or a teammate caught the ball, but you can free up an extra reception yard that's the type of guys we want. I think Michael made a good comeback from his injuries and his future is still in front of him."
With Hilliard turning 32 before the start of the 2008 season, Clayton underachieving and Stovall coming off a broken arm, the Bucs receiving corps is doing little to compliment Galloway in the passing game.
Allen conceded on Thursday that the Bucs did contact former wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson late in the season after Stovall went down with his injury. Johnson won a Super Bowl championship with the Bucs in 2002, but was deactivated in 2003 and eventually released by the team.
"Yes I did. It was after Maurice Stovall had gotten injured and it was to put him on an emergency list, see if he's in shape and his legs," Allen said. We saw that he was still talking well, but Keyshawn and I have a long-term relationship before he even played in the NFL. It was something that if needed we just wanted to makes sure. We do that at every position. He's probably the only sportscaster we contacted."
The free agent list of wide receivers isn't promising either with Chicago's Bernard Berrian and Arizona's Bryant Johnson as viable options at the position. However, Cincinnati's Chad Johnson and Oakland's Jerry Porter, who is familiar with Gruden's offense, are options in the trade market.
"If we can find more players with that type of talent we are absolutely going to knock on that door and try and sign that type of talent," Allen said.
BUCS SIGN SEVERAL FREE AGENTS The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have signed several free agents to futures contracts, including cornerbacks Marcus Hamilton and Darrell Hunter, defensive end Marquies Gunn, offensive lineman Brian Johnson, tight end Daniel Fells and wide receivers Cortez Hankton and Brian Clark.
Hamilton, Hunter, Gunn, Johnson and Clark each spent time with the Buccaneers at some point during the 2007 season.
ALLEN LOOKING TO GET PLAYERS HEALTHY Even though the Bucs have $23 million under the cap to go after free agents, Allen understands that there are several players already on the roster that will help this team improve in 2008. All he wants is for them to get healthy and back on the field to prove their worth.
Tampa Bay had 14 players that were placed on injured reserve in 2007 – left tackle Luke Petitgout (knee), fullback Mike Alstott (neck), running back Cadillac Williams (knee), linebacker Antoine Cash (knee), kick return specialist Mark Jones (knee), rookie safety Sabby Piscitelli (foot), wide receivers Paris Warren (leg) and Maurice Stovall (arm), defensive tackle Greg Peterson (hamstring), quarterback Chris Simms (spleen), linebacker Sam Olajubutu (knee), cornerback Torrie Cox (knee), defensive end Charles Bennett (knee) and tackle Chris Denman.
Despite looking to upgrade the talent on the roster through free agency, Allen believes that getting several of these players healthy will give a boost to the team as well.
"The best way we can improve our team is to get those 14 guys on the injured reserve list healthy again because that would be the greatest increase in talent," Allen said. "We finished the season with 53 men on our roster, but we also had the 14 injured reserve players that we are looking at as a new group of free agents. We have to get them back in the system healthy again, competing for starting playing time and special teams' playing time in order to improve this team. If you add that type of quality to a 53-man roster, that's a great leg up on free agency."
Alstott has yet to decided whether to retire or not, but it's assumed that he will not be on the Bucs roster next season. Williams and Petitgout are battling back from season-ending knee injuries and Simms stated on Monday that he's feeling like himself again. Warren could add depth to the receiving corps, Jones can improve the return game and Piscitelli provides depth on defense.
Allen feels that there are playmakers already on the roster and will get a chance to show that in the off-season.
"Well you know a lot of people got a chance this year for one reason or another and I think the best way we can improve this team is by addition. Let's get those guys healthy and competing. Would I like to sign a Tiger Woods at every position, absolutely, and we did not have a Pro Bowl player this year," Allen said. "We can talk about why, were we not on national T.V., we need some players to come in and help this football team and dominate. Everybody inside that locker room is going to be given an opportunity. We put a great emphasis on our off-season program and the teachings of our coaches and the time they are committed to these players is unparalleled in this league. If somebody wants an opportunity to be a great player, they will have that opportunity this March, April, May and June."
BUCS CAN'T REST ON 2007 SUCCESS The last time the Bucs won the NFC South division was in 2005, but the following season didn't go as planned. In 2006, the Bucs struggled to bounce back from injuries and stumbled to a 4-12 record finishing last in the division. Allen knows that he can't stand pat with the players he has on the roster like he did following the '05 season.
In 2006, the Bucs had 21 of 22 starters returning from a team that went 11-5 the year before. The loss of quarterback Chris Simms and defensive end Simeon Rice showed the lack of depth on Tampa Bay's roster. This is something that Allen has learned from and won't let happen again.
"I'm looking forward to the 2008 season and we have the ability, different than after the 2005 season, to acquire more players and the opportunity," Allen said. "First and foremost, we can play better and execute better on the field. We can train better and the best way to improve the team is to increase the talent level on this team. We have the ability whether it's a trade, free agency or have another good draft to improve this football team."
Allen also noted that talented players have to be available in free agency for the Bucs to improve their roster. Just because Tampa Bay has $23 million under the salary cap doesn't translate into more wins next season. He believes that there is talent in the locker room that can make the Bucs a Super Bowl-contending team in 2008.
"Well it depends on if those Tiger Woods players are available. We have an infrastructure set and it starts with the best facility in the country without a doubt," Allen said. "It starts with the leadership and coaching and with a corps of players that has tasted some victories. We still have some champions on this team that can lead this team. There is no reason that we can't compete in the future."
QUOTE OF THE DAY Bucs general manager Bruce Allen when asked if Tampa Bay would sign Oakland DT Warren Sapp to a one-day contract to allow him to retire a Buccaneer.
“It would be tampering for me to talk about him because he’s under contract with the Raiders. “I did see where they’re going to do a ceremony for him to retire.”
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