The Tampa Bay Buccaneers don't have to trim their roster to 53 players until 4:00 p.m. ET on Saturday, but that didn't stop the team from making a pair of roster moves Wednesday.
The Bucs have released center Sean Mahan and signed guard Marcus Johnson.
Mahan, a 2003 fifth-round pick out of Notre Dame, was re-acquired by Tampa Bay in a trade with Pittsburgh before the start of the 2008 regular season.
The 6-foot-3, 301-pound Mahan spent a total of five seasons in Tampa Bay along with a one-year stint in Pittsburgh. He has started 52 of the 88 career games he's played in.
Mahan, 29, restructured his contract during the offseason in order to remain a Buccaneer. He was scheduled to earn 1.6 million in base salary in 2009. Mahan saw significant playing time in training camp and preseason due to a groin injury sustained by starting center Jeff Faine.
Mahan's departure means the Bucs will turn to rookie centers Marc Dile, Rob Bruggeman and Jonathan Compas, who was claimed off waivers from Oakland Tuesday, as the backup(s) to Faine.
"Coming in here it was pretty much my goal to try and learn from those guys ahead of me and Sean was a great guy," Bruggeman said. "He helped me out with a lot of stuff. Jeff Faine helped me learn the offense and I've just been trying to improve. I'm nowhere near where I want to be and I'm just trying to come in here every day and improve.
"I'm looking forward to playing a lot (on Friday. It's a little different when you come out and don't start the game and come in later after starting in college and playing right from the first snap. Hopefully it will be a good learning experience to get more snaps under my belt and maybe play the whole game and get my conditioning up. I'm excited and looking forward to that."
The Bucs could also call on starting left guard Jeremy Zuttah to play center should Faine be sidelined with an injury.
"Some of the young guys stepped up, which gives you confidence to release a guy like Mahan," Bucs head coach Raheem Morris said of the center position. "We've had a couple of guys working at the position, including Bruggeman and Dile, and Zuttah has experience at center as well. We've got a couple of guys in mind and a couple of guys lined up. Bringing in Compas, he adds more depth to the center position. We're ready to go."
Johnson (6-8, 320) originally entered the NFL in 2005 as a second-round pick with Minnesota. He has played in 47 games (18 starts). Johnson played for the Vikings from 2005-08 before signing with the Raiders this offseason. He was released on Aug. 31.
The Bucs saw appeal in Johnson and Compas since they both played in Oakland, which runs a zone blocking scheme similar to the one the Bucs have implemented in Tampa Bay.
"You're talking about a big, athletic guy that is coming from the same system in Oakland," Morris said of Johnson. "He can play multiple positions. He can move around a little bit. He seems to be confident. We'll get him out there and see what he can do."
FREEMAN EXCITED TO MAKE FIRST START Tampa Bay will rest quarterbacks Byron Leftwich and Luke McCown vs. Houston, which means first-round pick Josh Freeman likely will make his first start in the NFL on Friday night.
"It is has been talked about, and really they probably won't tell me probably right up until the game, but I'm pretty sure I am," Freeman said of starting. "It is late in the preseason. Luke and Byron are doing a lot to prepare for Dallas. It is my time to step up and show people what I can do."
Freeman, who was the 17th overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, has completed 15-of-32 (46.9 percent) of his passes for 153 yards and tossed no touchdowns and one interception. He has also shown good mobility, rushing five times for 48 yards (9.6 avg.), including a 28-yard touchdown. However, Freeman realizes he has plenty of room to improve.
"It is definitely had its ups and downs," said Freeman. "It is preseason, so I mean obviously it all counts, but none of it is something that can really lose a game for you. I mean, I'm just trying to get better, honestly. It is nothing to live or die by. If I play bad games I'm going to be in the dumps, but if I play great games it is not like I'm the best or anything. I'm just going out to work and trying to better myself as a player.
"I've grown a lot, but there is still a lot of work to be done. It is kind of tough to judge exactly how you did because there were so many different situations, but I'm going to continue to try and improve."
GILMORE, HAYWARD RULED OUT OF GAME Bucs wide receivers Antonio Bryant and Michael Clayton returned to practice Wednesday.
Bryant (knee surgery) and Clayton (hamstring) initially returned to practice Monday, but did not participate in Tuesday's workout due to a change in the schedule that did not allow the players enough time to warm-up properly.
Although they were back on the practice field, neither Bryant nor Clayton is expected to play in Tampa Bay's preseason finale vs. Houston on Friday night.
In addition, Bucs rookie running back Kareem Huggins (knee) practiced with the team, which sported shorts, jerseys and helmets this afternoon.
"Huggins is ready to go," said Morris. "He's shown some mental toughness. He forced his will on his opponent, which was the trainer and his knee. Now he's ready to go and ready to run."
Bucs kicker Matt Bryant (hamstring), tight end John Gilmore (calf), safety Donte Nicholson (quad) and linebacker Adam Hayward (ankle) did not practice Wednesday.
Gilmore and Hayward have been ruled out of Friday night's game vs. Houston.
"Gilmore will be down this game with the calf issue. Hopefully we'll see him for the Dallas game. Hayward won't be out there. He has an ankle sprain and won't be able to go this week."