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Much has been made of Tampa Bay's soon-to-be free agents, including quarterbacks Jeff Garcia and Luke McCown, wide receiver Antonio Bryant and Michael Clayton and defensive backs Phillip Buchanon and Jermaine Phillips, and whether the Bucs will re-sign them. Their contracts are set to expire at the end of the 2008 season.
But there's another player that the Bucs are interested in re-signing that brings a significant amount of value to Tampa Bay's roster, particularly the defense and special teams.
Bucs safety Will Allen originally entered the NFL in 2004 as a fourth-round draft pick out of Ohio State. He started 24 games in his first three seasons with the Bucs, but hasn't started a game since then due to the drafting of Tanard Jackson, who has served as an upgrade at the free safety position by displaying better instincts and athleticism.
But Allen isn't far from seeing action on defense again. If injuries hit he could be called on to play, and not just at safety. The Bucs have four cornerbacks – Ronde Barber, Buchanon, Aqib Talib and Elbert Mack – on their active roster, but did you know that none of Tampa Bay's cornerbacks would be called on to replace Barber in nickel situations if he were to sustain an injury?
If such a scenario did play out and Barber was injured, the Bucs would start Talib at right cornerback, but would call on Allen to fill the nickel cornerback role, which Barber has excelled in over the past decade.
That might surprise some Bucs fans since the team has three other cornerbacks on their roster and Jackson played four seasons at cornerback at Syracuse before making the transition to safety once he was drafted by the Bucs in 2007.
Defensive backs coach Raheem Morris explained the logic behind the contingency plan of moving Allen, who is also a valuable special teams contributor (tied for second on team in tackles with six), to nickel cornerback in Barber's absence.
"We all know T-Jack can do it and he's done it before. It's all a matter of whether you want to move T-Jack from the safety spot and put in Sabby [Piscitelli] or put in Will. We have a bunch of options," said Morris. "I don't really know what direction we would go in a long-term situation. Will is very valuable on special teams and you'd hate to take that away from your team. But in a short-term situation Will Allen would definitely go inside and finish the game and we'd keep everyone else in their normal rotation and groove."
Injuries are quite common in the NFL, so why so much interest in Tampa Bay's nickel cornerback position? Well, because Barber has made four Pro Bowls since he was drafted by the Bucs in 1997, and much of his success has come from the slot. Remember his 92-yard, game-clinching interception return for a touchdown against Philadelphia in the 1999 NFC Championship Game? Barber made that 92-yard pick for a TD from the slot, and he set the interception up earlier in the game by blitzing and sacking Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb from the nickel cornerback spot.
Barber has notched an NFL-record 22 sacks during his career, which is the second most on the team only behind only defensive end Kevin Carter (102.5 career sacks).
Although he's a safety, Allen has significant playing experience at cornerback from his playing days at Ohio State.
"I played nickel corner my sophomore, junior and senior year in college," said Allen. "I've always been the emergency nickel corner here. I think the coaches have faith in me and trust me to go out there and get the job done. I know I'm not going to give up a big play. Keep everything in front of you and just react as quickly as you can. That's it.
"I definitely would enjoy the opportunity [to rush the passer]. Ronde is the best at it in this game. He's the best blitzing corner in the league and probably one of the best blitzing players in the league. He moves so well and he's very savvy. I'm not as good as he is, but I believe I can make one or two guys miss if I had to. Of course, the likelihood of me playing there is slim to none, but you have to be ready."
Allen is right. The likelihood of Barber not playing is slim, evidenced by the fact that he hasn't missed a start since the 1999 season. Barber is, however, 33, and he can't play forever. The Bucs view Allen, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, as a capable fill-in, and maybe more.
"Will is probably the smartest DB we have," said Morris. "He knows everything and he's got all of the intangibles and awareness. He can come off the sideline and diagnose a play for you. He's kind of like a coach on the field. He's a big-time leader and a [special teams] captain on this team.
"Ronde is the greatest nickel corner of all time. But Will could go in there and do a formidable job. I have all of the confidence in the world that he could do that. I don't know if he could be Ronde. I don't know who could be. I don't want to see anything happen to Ronde, but I wouldn't mind seeing Will in there because I know he can do it."
Buchanon Still An Option At Receiver?
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden has experimented with defensive players on the offensive side of the ball during his seven-year tenure in Tampa Bay.
Some experiments have come to fruition, like Warren Sapp, Anthony McFarland and Kevin Carter being used at tight end, while others have not, particularly cornerbacks Ronde Barber and Phillip Buchanon playing wide receiver.
The Bucs have scored nine offensive touchdowns through five games, including one vs. Denver's 30th-ranked defense. They are averaging just 5.5 yards per completion in the absence of wide receiver Joey Galloway.
Gruden toyed with the notion of using Buchanon at receiver during the 2007 training camp due to his speed and knack for scoring touchdowns, evidenced by his 17 scores since 2002.
That said, has Gruden revisited the idea of playing Buchanon at wide receiver?
"Right now we talk about it, but there really hasn't been anything initiated," said Buchanon. "I'm playing defensive back and that's it, but if Coach Gruden needs me I'm here.
"I have about 10-12 plays in the offense, and I remember them, so it's not like I don't know the plays. If we ever come back to it, it wouldn't be difficult to execute."
The good news for the Buccaneers is Galloway appears to be closing in on his return from the foot injury he suffered in Week 2.
Bucs Unlikely To Make Trade Deadline Deal?
Tampa Bay likely will enter the 2009 free agent signing period with more salary cap room than any other team in the NFL. Bucs general manager Bruce Allen has made a trade deadline deal every year he's been in Tampa Bay since his arrival in 2004.
This has some Bucs fans asking whether Tampa Bay will make yet another trade deadline deal, this time for a wide receiver that can help the Bucs offense stretch the field and secure an insurance policy for Joey Galloway, who hasn't been able to shake the injury bug in nearly a year.
The three teams to keep an eye on are Cincinnati, Detroit and St. Louis. All three clubs still are winless and could be looking to unload some players in an effort to acquire draft picks or players.
Bengals WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Lions WR Roy Williams and Rams WR Torry Holt are the three names being thrown around by fans and some media outlets as the NFL Trade Deadline approaches (Oct. 14).
Houshmandzadeh has caught 446 career passes for 5,229 yards and 36 touchdowns. He's been productive in Cincinnati, but has averaged just 11.9 yards per reception and is 31 years old.
Williams has hauled in 260 passes for 3,661 yards (14.8 avg.) and 29 touchdowns since entering the NFL as a first-round draft pick in 2004. He is 26 years old and not happy in Detroit.
Holt has easily been the most productive receiver of the bunch. He has caught 820 passes for 12,051 yards (14.7 avg.) and 72 touchdowns. Even though he's 32, Holt still is extremely quick and possesses playmaking ability.
The dilemma the Bucs and other teams face is whether to trade for a receiver that might hit the open market in February. That is the case with Houshmandzadeh and Williams, both of who will have their contracts expire at the end of the 2008 season.
However, there's no guarantee the Bucs will have a shot at landing either player, especially if other teams trade for them first. The team that trades for these players likely would want to sign them to a long-term, lucrative deal. The Bucs certainly have the cap room to do that.
Sources tell Pewter Report that the Lions have not been shopping Williams, but most people around the league believe the Bengals, Lions and Rams would part ways with Houshmandzadeh, Williams and Holt, respectively, if a team blew them away with an offer.
The Bucs appear to be in need of a proven wide receiver, but there's no guarantee they're going to make a move for one.
Antonio Bryant and Michael Clayton both are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents in 2009. Joey Galloway and Ike Hilliard will be 37 and 33 by the time the 2009 NFL Draft rolls around. Neither Maurice Stovall nor Dexter Jackson is proven at the receiver position.
Despite its lack of offensive success from a scoring standpoint, Tampa Bay likes its current roster and the fact that 46 players are under contract for 2009. The Bucs also have nine picks in the 2009 NFL Draft.
But if the Bucs elect to pass on the opportunity to trade for Houshmandzadeh, Williams or Holt, they better be sure they're going to land a receiver in 2009. And if they decide to acquire a receiver in the draft, the pick needs to be substantially better than Clayton, Jackson and Stovall, who were first-, second- and third-round draft picks, respectively.
While he didn't rule it out, Gruden suggested fans should not hold their breath when it comes to the Bucs trading for a wide receiver this year.
"No one makes trades," said Gruden. "I think we're the only team that has made a trade over the last 10 years at the trade deadline. Nobody makes trades. It's fun to talk about, but the reality is nobody makes trades.
"We're always open for work here, but that doesn't mean there's a lot of willing partners. And making trades at midseason, let's be honest, it would be a tall order to get somebody in here and get them ready to play in your system. This is a little different than any other pro sport. The NBA, sometimes they can suit up and figure it out with 24 seconds to shoot it. In Major League Baseball you're still playing third base and you're hitting fifth instead of third, so it's not a culture shock. There are some reasons why trades don't happen [in the NFL]. It's just hard on both sides, I think."