The Buccaneers made a pair of 53-man roster moves Monday, signing former Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Keiwan Ratliff and releasing wide receiver Chas Gessner.
Ratliff originally entered the NFL in 2004 as a second-round draft pick out of Florida. He played in 51 career games (eight starts) with the Bengals before the team released him in late September.
Needless to say, Ratliff is happy to not only have landed with a new team, but also to play in the same state he played college football in.
"I was just working out and waiting for a team to call," said Ratliff. "Just working out, trying to stay in shape, stay ready and prepare myself mentally and physically to be able to come in and contribute.
“I worked out with Tampa along with a lot of other teams, but it was a surprise. I kind of made myself a Florida guy so to get to come back home is always a good thing.”
The 5-foot-11, 188-pound Ratliff has notched 101 tackles, three interceptions and 13 passes defensed during his four-year career. The Bucs are anxious to see what type of impact Ratliff can make on their team, which is 5-4 and in sole possession of first place in the NFC South division.
“We are going to find out," Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said of Ratliff. "We liked him coming out of Florida. He’s a guy that made a lot of plays, opportunistic player. A guy that we think can help us in special teams, but we can better answer that here in the next week or so.”
Ratliff likely will need several weeks to learn the cornerback position in Tampa Bay's defensive scheme. However, Ratliff is somewhat familiar with the Bucs' Cover 2 scheme from his playing days at Florida.
“We tried to do a lot of the same things that Tampa did in college," Ratliff said. "So we called ourselves the mini-Bucs on defense. We did a lot of the same schemes and the same terminology. So I did, but we weren’t as good as these guys.”
Ratliff's more immediate impact may come on special teams, which is where he made his biggest impact as a player for the Bengals.
The 26-year-old Ratliff is an experienced punt returner. He has returned 72 career punts for 540 yards (7.5 avg.). His longest punt return in the NFL went 49 yards.
The Bucs are averaging 9.0 yards per punt return this season. Their top return specialist, Mark Jones, was averaging 11.9 yards per return before he suffered a season-ending knee injury (torn patellar tendon) vs. Detroit.
Tampa Bay has used wide receiver Ike Hilliard and Joey Galloway, and CB Phillip Buchanon to return punts in Jones' place. However, all three of those players have averaged just 6.8 yards per return on 16 attempts.
The Bucs practiced Monday after having some time off for their bye week. Ratliff fielded some punts during practice and said he's comfortable in that role should the team ask him to handle those duties in games.
“I just came out after practice just to catch a few [punts]," said Ratliff. "Like I said, if they ask me to learn how to kick I will do that. I just want to help be a part of a team again. Football has been taken away from me for a few weeks now. That’s the longest I’ve went without playing so I’m just excited to have a chance to come out and compete with guys again.”
In addition to those roster moves, the Bucs signed WR Brian Clark to their eight-man practice squad and released CB Darrell Hunter.
Clark (6-2, 204), who was born in Tampa, Fla., played collegiately at North Carolina State. He is in his second year in the NFL. Clark was released from the Denver Broncos' active roster last week.
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