Tampa Bay must trim its roster down from 72 to 53 players by 4:00 p.m. ET on Sunday.

The Bucs held a Saturday afternoon practice and had not yet announced any roster cuts. They did, however, start assembling their eight-man practice by reaching a verbal agreement on a contract with former New York Giants defensive end Isaac Hilton, PewterReport.com has learned.

The 6-foot-3, 251-pound Hilton, who entered the NFL out of Hampton as a seventh-round draft pick with the Giants, is expected to arrive in Tampa sometime this weekend to sign a contract with the Bucs.

Hilton, who was released by the Giants on Aug. 31, was a speed rusher and “difference-maker” at the I-AA level. He has 4.5 speed and was awarded both All American and all-conference honors as a senior in 2003.

Hilton started 32 of 39 games at Hampton, recording 205 tackles (119 solo) with 24 sacks for minus 204 yards, a school-record 69 stops for losses of 350 yards, 27 quarterback pressures, 8 pass deflections, 4 fumble recoveries, 5 forced fumbles, a blocked field goal and a blocked extra point attempt.

The Bucs will continue to assemble their practice squad throughout the weekend and during the upcoming week as the Bucs and other teams from around the league release players in an effort to be in compliance with the league-mandated roster limit of 53 players.

Bucs head coach Jon Gruden suggested the team would use the allotted time to make some tough decisions in terms of who to release while exploring some trade possibilities.

“We’re still evaluating, not only our team but other teams,” said Gruden. “Possibilities of things happening always exist at this time of year. We’ll make an announcement when we’ve had all the time expired on the clock, probably. We’ll probably wait around until it’s time for us to turn our papers in.”

“The telephone can ring. You saw a trade yesterday between Green Bay and Oakland. They made a trade. There are telephones at work behind closed doors, so you’ve got to take that into account sometimes. We’re no different that way than anyone else.”

One player that probably won’t start the regular season on Tampa Bay’s 53-man roster is wide receiver Joe Jurevicius. Gruden suggested Saturday that Jurevicius, who is still recovering from back surgery, is not 100 percent healthy, which means he could start the season on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.

“He’s getting better,” Gruden said of Jurevicius. “The workouts that I’m witnessing appear to be good. He appears to be moving around much better. He’s running patterns, h’?s bending, he’s breaking, he’s doing some things that a wide receiver needs to do. So that’s a positive. We’re excited about that. Until [team physician Joe] Diaco passes him on the physical, full-bore, he’s still somewhat limited and somewhat questionable in terms of his status as we begin the season. But his return looks very possible and not far behind.”

If Jurevicius is indeed placed on the PUP list, which is the same list guard Matt O’Dwyer was placed on earlier in the week, the Bucs will have until Week 6 to make a final decision regarding his status, meaning the team will have to activate, release, trade or place him on injured reserve.

After all of the shuffling and injuries, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have settled on first-team offensive and defensive line personnel.

The starting offensive line will feature Derrick Deese at left tackle, Matt Stinchcomb at left guard, John Wade at center, Cosey Coleman at right guard and Todd Steussie at right tackle.

Although Matt O’Dwyer was projected to start at left guard before he tore his pectoral muscle in June, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden credits Coleman for working his way back from adversity to win a spot in the starting lineup.

“He has had an interesting last six months,” Gruden said of Coleman. “Being an unrestricted free agent and not getting probably the opportunity that he wanted or was looking for. I admire him a lot, coming back here. We signed some linemen, made it competitive on him, and then the first thing that happens to him is he has major internal surgery. And here he comes out to training camp two or three weeks ahead of schedule; takes over at left guard when Stinchcomb goes down; when Stinchcomb gets back, he takes over at right guard. To be honest with you, he’s played very well. Maybe the time off in April, May and June helped his knee. He’s had some knee ailments over the last couple of years, but he appears more mobile and more effective. I admire that guy. He’s had a good camp and we think he can have a real good season for us, too.”

Coleman’s ability to solidify the right guard position allowed the Bucs to move Stinchcomb over to left side, which is where he saw most of his action while playing in Oakland.

“A lot of things went into (that decision),” said Gruden. “Obviously, injuries and certain things have taken their toll. He’s an instinctive football player who has the athleticism to pull. He’s just more instinctive, more comfortable on the left side than he is on the right. And I think Cosey’s natural position is on the right side, as well. To help both of those guys, we made that decision.”

Tampa Bay’s starting defensive line will feature Simeon Rice at right end, Chartric Darby at nose tackle, Anthony McFarland at under tackle and Greg Spires at left end.

Second-year DE Dewayne White pushed for a starting job in camp, but Spires beat him out.

“Spires will start at left end and rightly so,” said Gruden. “We’ve had some good competition, we’ve had some good players and we’re going to need them all, but ‘The Crane’ is in operation there at left end.”

Gruden has not yet decided whether Chris Simms or Brian Griese will backup Brad Johnson. That decision should come later in the week or possibly just before kickoff against the Redskins, which suggests the competition between both players is ongoing.

“We’ll announce that probably before the game,” Gruden said of the backup quarterback position. “We’ve got two guys who can play and we’ll announce that before the game.”

Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden has said all along that he’s sticking with his kicker, but with veteran kickers Morten Anderson and Steve Christie becoming available on Friday afternoon, the Bucs’ loyalty and patience are indeed being put to the test.

Martin Gramatica struggled during preseason, connecting on 6-of-10 field goal attempts and making just 3-of-7 from beyond the 40-yard line.

Gruden’s main goal is to get his kicker’s confidence back. Of course, bringing in a kicker to compete with Gramatica wouldn’t help the Bucs accomplish that, which is why Gruden nixed that idea on Saturday.

“I’m going to accentuate the positive a little bit,” said Gruden. “I want to get Martin Gramatica confident again, and to do that we’re going to accentuate the positive. I think he’s going to have a heck of a year for us. He knows he has to prove us and I’m confident he will. Like I said, we’re going to accentuate the positive. We’re going to stay with Gramatica. We think he’s made a lot of clutch kicks for us and he’s going to make a lot more. We’ve just got to help him now and that’s what we’re here to do.”

“I’m not bringing in any more kickers. Gramatica’s going to kick off and he’s going to do our placements. I can’t be any more clear than that. We’re confident he’s going to come out of whatever slump he’s in and he’s going to be fine.”

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