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OVERVIEW
When Tampa Bay entered the 2005 free-agent signing period, it had just one receiver that played for the Bucs in 2004 under contract for the ’05 season. That, of course, was Michael Clayton.

The Bucs were forced to release Joe Jurevicius in a salary cap maneuver, but they’ve extended him an offer and were hopeful that he would re-sign. However, it seems as if Jurevicius is on the verge of signing with Seattle, which is offering a much more lucrative contract.

In the meantime, Tampa Bay managed to re-sign Joey Galloway to a five-year contract. Although Galloway played in just 10 games (seven starts) due to groin and hamstring injuries, the Bucs were happy to bring him back since he brings speed and playmaking ability to head coach Jon Gruden’s offense.

Last season, Galloway (5-11, 197) hauled in 33 passes for 416 yards (12.6 avg.) and five touchdowns in his debut as a Buc, and the team is hoping he can find a way to stay healthy throughout the entire 2006 season.

If Galloway, 33, can’t stay healthy for the entire season, the Bucs offense could be in trouble since the team is lacking depth at the receiver position. That’s what happened last year when Galloway, Jurevicius, Edell Shepherd and Charles Lee were injured, and Keenan McCardell chose to hold out for a new contract. The loss of those four players hindered Tampa Bay’s offense, which finished last season ranked 22nd overall.

Behind Clayton and and Galloway are inexperienced receivers like Shepherd (6-1, 175), DeAndrew Rubin (6-0, 180), Adrian Madise (5-11, 215), Derrick Lewis (6-2, 185), Derek McCoy (6-3, 210), Kevin Youngblood (6-5, 215), Terrance Metcalf (6-3, 200), Scotty Anderson (6-2, 200) and Chris Davis (6-2, 200).

Since there’s no guarantee that Jurevicius will return to Tampa Bay, the Buccaneers are favoring taking a wide receiver with the fifth overall pick in the draft.

Many believe Michigan wide receiver Braylon Edwards will be the first receiver to go in the first round, and the Bucs are hoping USC’s Mike Williams, who is a Tampa native, falls to them at No. 5.

Should neither one of those players be there when Tampa Bay is scheduled to select, the Bucs could trade down in the first in order to acquire more picks, and they’d still have quality receivers like Oklahoma’s Mark Clayton and UAB’s Roddy White to choose from later in the first round.

Two sleepers to keep an eye on in mini-camp, training camp and preseason are Shepherd and Rubin. The Bucs have been high on Shepherd, who entered the NFL in 2003 as an undrafted free agent out of San Jose State. He runs crisp routes and has displayed soft hands during his short tenure with the Bucs.

Rubin, a University of South Florida product, managed to stay on Tampa Bay’s eight-man practice squad for practically half of the 2004 season. While he’s still raw, Rubin was an excellent return specialist for the Bulls and could be called upon to compete for the punt and kickoff return jobs this season.

Although they probably don’t have the money to sign any of them, the Bucs are still looking for receivers on the free-agent market. Among the players still available are David Terrell (Chicago), Kevin Johnson (Baltimore), Jerry Rice (Seattle), Alex Bannister (Seattle) and Ike Hilliard (New York Giants).

BOTTOM LINE
Tampa Bay has 11 wide receivers under contract for the 2005 season, but it needs to add more depth and experience between now and the start of training camp.

Don’t look for Lee or Tim Brown to return to Tampa Bay. Brown will retire and Lee failed to embrace a role on special teams while serving as a backup receiver. However, Jurevicius and even Frank Murphy are still options.

Although the Bucs were criticized by some for signing Brown last year, he served as a great mentor for Clayton, who set franchise rookie records in receptions (80), receiving yards (1,193) and touchdowns (7) in 2004. Clayton will be the first person to openly discuss that notion, and if the Bucs select a player like Williams or Edwards, they could use another veteran like Rice to help bring him along.

Current Position Grade: C

Buc Update Publishing Schedule
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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