The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are busy making final roster decisions before having to trim their roster from 76 to 53 players by 5:00 p.m. on Saturday.
That means the Bucs must release 23 players in the next 24 hours in order to trim their roster to the NFL-mandated amount of 53 players.
“Yes, we are,” Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said of when asked if he and his staff were any closer to making final decisions on their roster. “We’re closer to our decision but we don’t have any announcements yet.”
TOUGH CALLS TO COME AT WR: Some of the tougher calls for Tampa Bay’s coaching staff to make will come at the wide receiver position, where players like Edell Shepherd, and rookies J.R. Russell and Paris Warren, played well in the preseason finale vs. Houston on Thursday night. In fact, all three players scored touchdowns en route to Tampa Bay’s 38-14 win over Houston.
“Tough call, no question,” Gruden said of what’s to come at the WR position. “We like what Ike Hilliard did last night, making two key catches, one on an audible and one on a key third down conversion. Joey Galloway only caught the one pass, but we had him open deep twice last night. We talked about Michael Clayton. We had a couple of miscommunications early in the game, but we like the top three receivers. Edell Shepherd made a catch last night. Some of our young guys have proven that they’ve gotten better throughout the course of camp.
“It comes down to a lot of things. You really have to keep five or you’ve got to keep six. Can they play on special teams? Things of that nature. But we do feel pretty good about the progress that we’ve seen in these young guys. Paris Warren has shown up on the scoreboard a couple of times. He’s made some physical blocks. J.R. Russell is a guy who’s really come a long way in three or four months. So, there’s been some positives there. Like I said, Edell Shepherd has been solid.”
One player whose future with the Bucs is uncertain is rookie WR Larry Brackins, who was sidelined for a week of training camp with a hamstring injury and played sparingly through four preseason contests.
“He’s a physical talent,” Gruden said of Brackins, who was one of Tampa Bay’s two fifth-round picks. “He’s in the mix. We realized that it was going to be a process. It might not happen overnight. It might take some time, but he’s still on our radar screen. I think he got into the game late into the third quarter and played 15-to-17 snaps, I believe.”
Although the Bucs escaped their final preseason contest of the year relatively healthy, WR Ike Hilliard suffered an ankle sprain, but the team believes he’ll be ready to play against the Minnesota Vikings on Sept. 11.
Despite some of the younger receivers stepping up and showing improvement, Gruden hasn’t ruled out the possibility of looking elsewhere for possible upgrades at receiver or at another position.
“I have no comment on that,” Gruden said when asked if the Bucs would look at signing WR Freddie Mitchell. “We’ll look at not only Freddie Mitchell but every receiver who’s on the waiver wire here in the next 24, 48 hours. We’ll make a decision based on what we feel we have through our evaluations. If there’s a guy out there who can come in, clearly, and be a guy we can get some playmaking out of, we would entertain it. But I can’t speculate at this time.”
DEESE’S FUTURE WITH BUCS UP IN THE AIR: After missing most of training camp and all of preseason with a lingering ankle injury, left tackle Derrick Deese’s future with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is very uncertain heading into the final round of roster cuts.
Deese, 35, has spent a good amount of time away from One Buccaneer Place and in California, where he’s had a battery of tests performed in an effort to help determine the source of his ankle injury. But those tests apparently haven’t provided many answers for the Bucs.
“All I can see is from the information from our doctors and Derrick doesn’t feel like he’s ready to go, so we’ll leave it at that.,” said Gruden. “We obviously have missed him and hope to get him back soon.”
The Bucs, who have been pleased with the play of new starting left tackle Anthony Davis and Todd Steussie, who was re-signed earlier this summer a week after being released in a cap maneuver, are prepared to move on without Deese.
“You’ve got to go on what the player says,” Gruden said. “If the player says he can’t go, we’ll listen. It’s been a frustrating matter. In the meantime, we just keep going on with our program and Anthony Davis and Todd Steussie play for us.”
BUCS READY TO DECIDE ON A KICKER: One of the more intriguing training camp and preseason battles was between kickers Matt Bryant and Todd France. After getting off to a shaky start in training camp, both kickers performed well in preseason. In fact, the only player to miss was by Bryant, whose 53-yard attempt vs. Jacksonville fell short. However, Bryant’s 52-yard field goal vs. Houston along with his deep kickoffs may give him the edge in this competitive battle for a roster spot in Tampa Bay.
No matter who the kicker winds up being, Gruden has been pleased to see significant improvement made in that area this summer after watching his team finish the last two seasons ranked dead last in field goal percentage.
“Man, I feel like we can kick a field goal at any time right now,” said Gruden. “I feel so good about it, I can’t tell you what kind of progress we’ve made. We made a 52-yard field goal, we made a 49-yard field goal, we won a game in overtime with a field goal. I’m really excited with our ability to make field goals. Hopefully that’s a winning edge for us this season.”
QUOTE OF THE DAY: Gruden on the possibility of starting three rookies in Minnesota:
“If they are our best players, then I’m all for that. I’m looking forward to RB Carnell Williams going wire-to-wire and getting his career started. I think there’s a chance, and I’m not saying it’s final, that TE Alex Smith, depending on what formation we are in at the first play of the game, might be one of our starters. And we will make a decision on G Dan Buenning certainly here in the next couple of days, in terms of who starts at left guard. It’s an interesting and exciting time. We did that with the Raiders. We started John Ritchie, Mo Collins and Charles Woodson. Despite all of the people that think I don’t like young players, I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again if they are our best players.”
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