Head coach Jon Gruden needed a running back and, preferably, a player that was familiar with his complex West Coast offensive system. General manager Bruce Allen obliged as the Bucs signed free agent fullback Zack Crockett on Wednesday. Crockett played for Gruden when he was the head coach of the Oakland Raiders from 1999-2001.
Crockett, who came out of Florida State in 1995, along with Patrick Pass and David Wimbush worked out for Tampa Bay last week after running back Carnell "Cadillac" Williams was lost for the season with a knee injury. Williams tore the patellar tendon in his right knee during the second quarter of a 20-7 win vs. Carolina in Week 4 and was placed on injured reserve.
With the injury to running back Michael Pittman, a severe high ankle sprain that happened last week vs. Indianapolis, for six to eight weeks, the Bucs needed to add some depth at the running back position. Crockett's familiarity with Gruden's offense made him the ideal candidate to bring in.
"It's a plus because we play on Sunday," Gruden said. "If he had no background it would have been awfully difficult to get him ready to play. Sometimes you have to account, even though you don't want to, that someone might get ill the night before the game. Somebody possibly turning an ankle on Thursday or Friday so there's not a lot of people out there that have the kind of background that this guy has and [linebacker] Derrick Brooks insisted that we bring in another Florida State Seminole so Derrick had a lot to do with this."
Crockett isn't worried about knowing the plays in the offense, he just needs to work on the terminologies and the new plays that have been added since Gruden left Oakland.
"It's just getting back in and learning the terminology right now," Crockett said. "It's good when you come to a system that you have already been a part of and been successful in for years and just come in and get acclimated to the environment. It's just about getting repetition right now. I feel great about things, I'm excited about it and I'm definitely excited about being down here and ready to go."
The 13-year running back has 61 starts in 174 games with 510 carries for 1,701 yards and 36 touchdowns. His skills in terms of catching the ball out of the backfield are evident with 96 receptions for 680 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterback Jeff Garcia believes that is a big plus for a fullback in this offense.
"He's just a big, strong running back. He's a guy that can carry the load, carry the ball a number of times during a game," Garcia said. "I think he's a very physical back and from what I remember, he catches the ball well out of the backfield. For as big as he is, he brings a good combination of size, speed, agility and ability out of the backfield to be able to be a check down guy, be an asset when it comes to the passing game and not just being able to utilize his running skills."
The Bucs expressed interest in trading for Minnesota running back Mewelde Moore, but those plans seem to be on hold for the moment. Tampa Bay heads into Sunday's contest vs. Tennessee with one running back – Earnest Graham – getting his first career NFL start and another running back – Kenneth Darby – who hasn't played in a regular season NFL contest.
Crockett will be used as a fullback and in short-yardage and goal line situations, similar to how fullback Mike Alstott was used in the past two seasons. Fullback B.J. Askew could also see some carries at the running back position. Askew was a halfback in college at the University of Michigan.
"We've lost three backs. We've lost our top three ball carriers from a year ago," Gruden said. "So you have to understand that we will show some versatility. Obviously it's a hot place to play, Tampa, Florida, and if Earnest [Graham] gets tired someone has to go in the game."
Despite his familiarity with Gruden's offense, Crockett believes his talent is the reason why the Bucs signed him.
"It's just about being productive in this league, what I've put on the field all my years and just by being a player, a team player at that," Crockett said. "It's never all about me. I've always been a person that has tried to come in and contribute any which way I possibly can. That's how I've been successful this long in this league and I have more on the plate being able to play fullback as well as tailback. It's good to come back to a system that uses me that way, to the best of my ability."
BUCS BANGED UP There were several Bucs players that were banged up during the 33-14 loss vs. the Indianapolis Colts last Sunday. Defensive end Greg White left the game with a stinger injury to his neck. Wide receiver Ike Hilliard, who has battled through an ankle injury that has lingered for the past three weeks, injured his shoulder vs. the Colts. Cornerback Brian Kelly sat out most of the contest vs. the Colts after re-aggravating a groin injury.
Hilliard had eight receptions for 58 yards last week and proclaimed himself ready to go vs. Tennessee. The 11-year wide receiver leads the team with 23 receptions for 304 yards and participated in practice on Wednesday. Kelly, however, did not participate in practice and Gruden stated that his status is questionable.
"I think I'm the last guy you need to worry about because I haven't complained at all and no one needs to worry about it," Hilliard said. "I'm a guy who wants to give my teammates an opportunity to know that they can count on me no matter what happens. If they have to carry me off the field, then we have a problem, but I'm cool."
White isn't too worried about missing the Titans contest either, but was limited in practice along with linebacker Barrett Ruud, who is battling with a knee injury.
"It's good; I should be ready to go this week," White said. "I should be fine. I probably won't be able to practice today, but I'm looking forward to practicing tomorrow. I strained a muscle in my neck, which is a good thing. It could have been worse."
GATES SIGNED TO PRACTICE SQUAD Running back Lionel Gates was added to the practice squad on Wednesday and running back DonTrell Moore was released. Gates was with the Bucs during the preseason, before being released on September 1.
Gates played in three games during the preseason with seven carries for 22 yards and one fumble. His consistent fumbling issue during training camp didn't give Gruden the confidence to give him the ball with any regularity.
"I just appreciate the opportunity to be able to get back on the team and continue to show what I have," Gates said. "I hope the coaches believe in my talents and we can just go out and get it done. We've got some good backs here, and we've lost some good backs."
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