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OVERVIEW
Despite the fact that Tampa Bay has just three fullbacks – Mike Alstott, Jameel Cook and Tom Lopienski – under contract for the 2005 season, signing a new one or two isn’t a huge priority for the Buccaneers.

Why?

Bucs head coach Jon Gruden would love to feature more two-halfback sets in his “Rocket” backfield, which essentially means the fullback, whether it’s Alstott or another player, won’t see the field much.

Tampa Bay restructured Alstott’s contract last month in an effort to keep him in a red and pewter uniform for one more season, which is expected to be his last in the NFL.

Last season, Alstott’s 67 carries for 230 yards (3.4 avg.) were the second-lowest total of his career, and don’t expect the “A-Train’s” role in Gruden’s offense to increase at all this season. The offense simply isn’t designed around him or his abilities. Alstott will continue to be a situational-type player, especially in goal-line and short-yardage situations, and the fact that he signed a new contract that included a pay cut suggests Alstott has accepted that limited role.

Jameel Cook was recently re-signed and will backup Alstott, while Greg Comella is an unrestricted free agent, but he has received very little interest out on the open market.

Tampa Bay also has its eye on unrestricted free agents like Jon Ritchie (Philadelphia), Marc Edwards (Jacksonville) and Heath Evans (Seattle).

Ritchie (6-2, 250) played for Gruden in Oakland (1998-2001) and has spent the past two seasons in Philadelphia, where the Eagles run the West Coast offense. Although he’s only carried the ball 15 times during his seven-year career, Ritchie has displayed soft hands by catching 150 passes for 1,148 yards and seven touchdowns.

Evans (6-0, 245) doesn’t have as good of hands as Ritchie, but he’s served as the lead blocker for Seahawks RB Shaun Alexander, who has produced four consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons and came within one yard of capturing the NFL rushing title last season.

BOTTOM LINE
Although Gruden would rather use two-halfback sets more often, the Bucs need a capable lead blocker for Charlie Garner and Michael Pittman. Alstott is a decent lead blocker, but he’s not great, and he proved to be a liability on some blitz pickups last season, which means the team wouldn’t be opposed to trying to upgrade the position.

However, the Bucs have $1.5 million tied up in Alstott, and they’ll be hard pressed to sign another quality fullback unless the player comes cheap, like Cook, who signed a one-year deal worth league minimum, did. Tampa Bay has 11 draft picks in April, but selecting a fullback isn’t believed to be one of its priorities, however Washington’s Zach Tuiasosopo is an option in the later rounds.

Current Position Grade: B-

Buc Update Publishing Schedule
Mar. 19 – Wide Receivers
Mar. 20 – Tight Ends
Mar. 21 – Offensive Tackles
Mar. 23 – Centers/Guards
Mar. 25 – Defensive Ends
Mar. 26 – Defensive Tackles
Mar. 27 – Linebackers
Mar. 28 – Cornerbacks
Mar. 30 – Safeties
Mar. 31 – Kickers/Punters


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