Tuesday was the Buccaneers first organized team activity since mid-April. After the practice session many Buccaneers players were in a position to update their latest news on contracts and injuries. On player who could not update their status with the team was running back Earnest Graham.
Graham was not at Tuesday's OTA. The Buccaneers running back has been at odds with the organization regarding a contract extension. Graham was not present at the first set of OTA's that were held in April.
Last season Graham took the starting running back position after injuries to running backs Michael Pittman and Carnell Williams. For the year Graham had 222 carries for 898 yards and 10 touchdowns. Not only was he Tampa Bay's leading rusher, but also Graham was the Bucs' third ranked receiver. He hauled in 49 passes for 324 yards, an average of 6.6 yards per catch. Graham is entering the last season of his contract and will be a free agent after the 2008 season.
After missing the first set of OTA's, Graham said he had a family conflict as to the reason why he could not attend. It was unclear whether Graham had another conflict that prevented him from attending the practice, or if he was missing due to being unhappy with his contract.
Other than Graham the Buccaneers have three other running backs that have ran for 1,000 yards in a season. They are Williams, Warrick Dunn, and Michael Bennett. Tampa Bay also has second year player Kenneth Darby, rookie seventh-round pick Cory Boyd, and undrafted free agent rookie Clifton Smith competing at running back.
Haye Signs Contract
Among the players that updated their contract issues was defensive tackle Jovan Haye.
Earlier in the day Haye signed a contract with the Buccaneers. Haye was a restricted rights free agent, which meant that he could only re-sign with the Buccaneers. With being designated as a restricted free agent, Haye had an offer of a one-year contract on the table.
"It feels real good," said Haye. "I was out here before we got it done, but we wanted to get that done so we can concentrate on football."
The Buccaneers did not announce terms of the contract. It was unclear whether Haye signed the one-year contract, or a multi-year contract extension. When asked directly, Haye was vague in his answer.
"I signed something," said Haye. "I'm not allowed to touch on that, but I'm here. Good try though."
While the terms of the contract remains a mystery Haye said the negotiations were amicable.
"Oh no it was never back and forth," said Haye. "We never had any problems, but it was one of those things that was going to get done whenever it got done. Now its just play football and enjoy that I actually signed something. The staff rewarded me, so hopefully I can go out on the field and reward them this season."
Cadillac Williams Update
While his teammates practiced, injured running back Williams rehabbed his injured knee. Some people questioned whether Williams would ever play football again. Williams gave an update on his rehab after Tuesday's OTA.
"It's a long process. I've come a long way," said Williams. "Early on I had some bumps in the road but now things are starting to smooth out. I'm starting to do things on the field, some cutting here and there. I'm taking it day by day. We're going to make a decision in July, and take it from there."
There has been some speculation that Williams will start the season on the physically-unable-to-perform (PUP) list. That seemed to be something that has been discussed but will be decided at some point during the preseason. For now Williams is working closely with the Buccaneers head athletic trainer Todd Toriscelli.
"I'm not sure. I know Todd had mentioned it," said the fourth-year running back about going on the PUP list. "I'm not sure if I'll end up on it. I'm going to keep working and see what happens. I'll do what's best."
Now, Williams seems optimistic that he will be back on the field sooner rather than later. In fact Williams sounded confident that he would be able to participate in training camp.
"Me personally, by July, I definitely should be ready to play ball," said Williams.
Stovall Progressing In Rehab
Third-year receiver Maurice Stovall is progressing in his rehab of a broken arm. Stovall suffered the injury on Dec. 23 at San Francisco. The injury denied Tampa Bay one of its best special teams players for the season finale against Carolina and their playoff game against the New York Giants. Stovall discussed how his rehab is going.
"It's going real well. I'm coming in every day," said Stovall. "I'm starting to lift weights more. I'm getting stronger. I've noticed improvement but I'm just taking it day-to-day."
Stovall was second on the team in special teams tackles to departed safety Kalvin Pearson. The wide receiver excelled as a gunner on punt coverage particularly. For the season Stovall had 18 special teams tackles. Stovall is participating in the team's OTA's and has been cleared to catch passes, but he is still not completely healthy.
"I'm still working my back," said Stovall. "I'm not 100 percent yet. I'm working towards that, and just taking it day-to-day. I'm following what the trainers and weight lifting coaches have me doing."
While he is still not completely recovered from his injury, Stovall is already competing for playing time at the crowded wide receiver position. Last year Stovall had 10 receptions for 86 yards and one touchdown. The crowded receiving corps and the challenge to earn playing time does not seem to be a concern for Stovall. His focus seems to be on the team more than anything else.
"I always look forward to competition. I believe it makes me better as a receiver. It makes the entire receiving corps better also. It helps our team out, and our organization. I plan on helping the team out as much as I can," said Stovall. "That's the same for every year. Just play my role whether its starting receiver, a backup, third string, fourth string, and special teams it doesn't matter as long as I'm contributing and helping us get wins."
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