On Monday, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden alluded to the fact that it was hard for a running back to come in and quickly learn his system. On Tuesday, he decided to turn to a familiar face for help in light of severe injuries that have sidelined starting running back Cadillac Williams for the season and backup Michael Pittman for 6-8 weeks.
PewterReport.com is reporting that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will sign former Oakland fullback Zack Crockett on Wednesday to help shore up the team's depth chart at running back which features one halfback who has yet to start an NFL game – Earnest Graham – and another one who has yet to play in an NFL game – rookie Kenneth Darby, in addition to veteran fullback B.J. Askew. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Crockett, who played with Oakland from 1999-2006, including a three-year span under Gruden from 1999-2001, has rushed for 1,701 yards and 36 touchdowns on 509 carries (3.3 avg.) during his 12-year career in the NFL, in addition to catching 96 passes for 680 yards (7.1 avg.) and two touchdowns.
Last year, Crockett carried the ball 39 times for 163 yards (4.2 avg.) and hauling in 10 catches for 53 yards (5.3 avg.).
During his days under Gruden, Crockett was used as a fullback and a short-yardage and goal line back, rushing for 17 touchdowns in three years, but never rushing for more than 145 yards in any season. Crockett scored 15 rushing touchdowns in two years (2002-03) under Gruden's replacement, Bill Callahan.
From a yardage standpoint, Crockett gained more ground after Gruden and Callahan left Oakland, rushing for 232 yards on 48 carries (4.8 avg.) and scoring twice in 2004, and rushing for 208 yards on 60 carries (3.5 avg.) with one touchdown in 2005.
The 6-foot-2, 240-pound Crockett will turn 35 on December 2. He entered the league out of Florida State University in 1995 with Indianapolis and spent four years with the Colts before spending an injury-filled season with Jacksonville in 1998.
Crockett, who was one of over a dozen running backs the team has brought in for a workout, visited the Bucs last week. His knowledge of Gruden's system is believed to be the key reason he was signed. He is expected to contribute as a fullback, which will help possibly free up Askew to take on some work as a ballcarrier at halfback, in addition to getting some carries in short-yardage and goal-line situations. Askew was a halfback at the University of Michigan.
During a Tuesday night conference call with reporters, Bucs general manager Bruce Allen alluded to the fact that the team could be signing a fullback and noted that Askew could take on a greater role in the offense.
"We're real pleased with his development," Allen said of Askew. "You all have seen him with the ball in his hand. He's a pretty good runner with the ball in his hand. We'll let Coach Gruden come up with the creative designs of how to utilize him."
The Bucs created the roster room for Crockett by placing quarterback Chris Simms on injured reserve. Simms, who was fourth on the team's depth chart at quarterback, has struggled with passing the ball since his splenectomy last September.
Tampa Bay lost Williams for the season due to a torn patellar tendon two weeks ago at Carolina. He was placed on injured reserve. Pittman suffered a severe high ankle sprain last Sunday at Indianapolis and is expected to be out 6-8 weeks.
The Bucs had expressed interest in trading for Minnesota reserve running back Mewelde Moore, offering the Vikings a sixth-round draft pick. But Minnesota balked, apparently countering with a demand for a third-rounder, which was believed too much for the Bucs' front office to pay for a backup running back.
On Tuesday night, PewterReport.com also reported that Tampa Bay signed running back Lionel Gates to its practice squad. Gates had been with the Buccaneers last year on their practice squad, in addition to spending the 2007 offseason and preseason in Tampa Bay. He was released during roster cutdowns on September 2. Want the inside scoop on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2007 season and 2008 offseason plans? Want to find out who the Bucs are targeting in free agency and the NFL Draft next year? Subscribe to PewterReport.com's Pewter Insider by clicking here.
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Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]