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Here are some quick hits regarding the roster moves the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made on Saturday en route to determining their league-mandated 53-man roster:
BUCS TURN ATTENTION TO ASSEMBLING PRACTICE SQUAD Tampa Bay trimmed its roster from 75 players to the league-mandated amount of 53 players on Saturday evening.
Several of the players that were released by the Bucs on Saturday are eligible for the practice squad, which means some of these players could re-join the Bucs in that capacity if and when they clear waivers.
One of the first players the Bucs will attempt to sign to their practice squad is rookie running back Kenneth Darby. Tampa Bay gave serious consideration to keeping Darby, a seventh-round pick out of Alabama, on its 53-man roster, but it felt good about keeping running backs Cadillac Williams, Michael Pittman, Earnest Graham and fullback B.J. Askew.
The Bucs still are hoping they can sneak Darby on to their practice squad, but he has to clear waivers first.
Should Darby get claimed off of waivers by another team, the Bucs could attempt to sign RB Lionel Gates, who was released along with Darby on Saturday, to their eight-man practice squad.
Seventh-round draft pick, cornerback Marcus Hamilton, is also a candidate to sign on to Tampa Bay’s practice squad.
Speaking of the secondary, one player that the Bucs are interested in signing to their practice squad is cornerback Alan Zemaitis, their 2006 fourth-round draft pick out of Penn State.
Zemaitis, who was inactive for all 16 regular season games as a rookie, was a huge disappointment in Tampa Bay. Despite the fact that the Bucs fired defensive backs coach Greg Burns and brought back Raheem Morris to replace him during the offseason, Zemaitis failed to show much improvement in training camp and preseason.
There’s no way of knowing for sure, but the guess here is if Zemaitis clears waivers and signs on to Tampa Bay’s practice squad, he might begin the transition to safety, which was an idea the Bucs flirted with last year.
The recently waived players that the Bucs probably will not be signing to their practice squad are offensive tackle Chris Denman, wide receiver Chas Gessner, cornerback Carlos Hendricks and wide receiver Paris Warren.
All four players were waived-injured on Saturday, meaning they will go on injured reserve if they’re not claimed off of waivers.
The Bucs are expected to announce their eight-man practice squad on Tuesday or Wednesday at the latest.
WHO WILL RETURN KICKS/PUNTS FOR THE BUCS? Tampa Bay gave wide receiver Mark Jones, a 2004 seventh-round draft pick, every opportunity to win the kickoff and punt return jobs with the Bucs, but he didn’t excel as a return man and failed to make a significant impact on offense, which is why he was released Saturday.
So who will return punts and kickoffs for the Bucs this season?
The Bucs haven’t made any official announcements, but cornerback Phillip Buchanon likely will get the nod.
Buchanon thrived as a return specialist in Oakland, where he returned three punts for touchdowns shortly after entering the league as a fist-round pick with the Raiders. Buchanon simply makes plays when the ball is in his hands.
He has 14 career interceptions since 2002, and Buchanon has returned four of those picks for touchdowns, giving him seven career touchdowns. Not bad for a player that doesn’t play offense, although Bucs head coach Jon Gruden has designed a play or two for him.
Buchanon doesn’t have a lot of experience as a kickoff returner, and the Bucs could ask running back Michael Pittman to handle those duties, but no one should be surprised if Buchanon serves as Tampa Bay’s nickel cornerback and primary return specialist this season.
In a related note, the Bucs likely will take a look at WR Jeremy Bloom, who was recently released by the Philadelphia Eagles. Bloom, a former fifth-round pick and Olympian, was an excellent return specialist at Colorado. The Bucs probably won’t look to sign Bloom to their active roster since he still has practice squad eligibility.
BUCS HAVE APPROXIMATELY IN $17 MILLION IN CAP ROOM The Buccaneers released defensive lineman Ellis Wyms, a 2001 sixth-round draft pick, on Saturday. Wyms recorded 14.5 sacks during his six-year tenure in Tampa Bay, but he was given a chance to solidify the Bucs’ under tackle spot last year after the team traded DT Booger McFarland and failed to do so.
With younger defensive linemen like Jovan Haye, Greg Peterson and Greg White stepping up in preseason and still considered to have a lot of upside, Wyms and his $3.9 million base salary became expendable.
One interesting note regarding Tampa Bay’s 53-man roster as it pertains to Wyms is with Wyms no longer a Buc, only seven players – cornerback Ronde Barber, linebacker Derrick Brooks, cornerback Brian Kelly, safety Jermaine Phillips, running back Michael Pittman, linebacker Ryan Nece and defensive end Greg Spires – remain on Tampa Bay’s active roster from the Super Bowl XXXVII team.
BEHIND WINBORN’S RELEASE Tampa Bay kept seven linebackers on its active roster. This didn’t come as much of a surprise, but the seven players might have.
The Bucs elected to keep LB Leon Joe, who was claimed off of waivers last week, and release LB Jamie Winborn, a former second-round draft pick with the San Francisco 49ers.
What makes the release of Winborn even more interesting is the fact that PewterReport.com has learned that the Bucs had actually signed him to a contract extension during the offseason. The 2007 season was scheduled to be his last in Tampa Bay, but Winborn, 28, signed a one-year extension with the Bucs that put him under contract through 2008 and called for him to receive a base salary of $1.25 million next year.
One of the main reasons why the Bucs released Winborn is because they invested two 2007 draft picks – a third- and sixth-rounder – in linebackers Quincy Black and Adam Hayward. Their starting linebackers were already established as well, with Derrick Brooks, Barrett Ruud and Cato June starting at the weakside, middle and strongside linebacker spots, respectively.
With the exception of being a special teams contributor, there didn’t appear to be a significant defensive role awaiting Winborn in Tampa Bay. Either June or Hayward will be Brooks’ eventual successor on the weak side, and Black is viewed as the Bucs’ future strongside linebacker.
If the Bucs eventually sign free agent LB Jeremiah Trotter, the odd man out of this group likely will be either Ryan Nece or Joe.
WHAT PROMPTED THE BUCS TO KEEP SIMMS? One of the more surprising roster moves that came Saturday was one that didn’t happen.
Despite the fact that he’s struggled to regain his throwing form and mechanics since undergoing a splenectomy in September of 2006, the Bucs decided to retain quarterback Chris Simms, meaning they will take four quarterbacks into the 2007 regular season.
Simms signed a two-year contract extension with the Buccaneers in December. He is scheduled to earn a base salary of $2 million in 2007. Simms received a $3 million signing bonus, which is the only guaranteed money in his contract. Still, this might help explain why the Bucs decided to keep him around.
Tampa Bay also has a lot invested in Simms, who has completed 59.1 percent of his career passes for 3,087 yards and tossed 12 touchdowns and 17 interceptions since entering the league as a third-round draft pick in 2003.
Simms struggled as Tampa Bay’s undisputed starting quarterback in 2006, tossing one touchdown and seven interceptions in his first three starts before sustaining the season-ending spleen injury. As a result, the Bucs’ offense failed to score an offensive touchdown in their first two regular season contests last year.
The Bucs decided to ink Simms, 27, to an extension in December due to the fact that the two signal callers they had under contract at that time in 2007 – Luke McCown and Bruce Gradkowski – had combined for just 15 career starts in the NFL.
But with Jeff Garcia now established as Tampa Bay’s starting signal caller and McCown and Gradkowski clearly outplaying Simms, who took just six preseason reps this year, some are still wondering why the Bucs opted to dedicate one of their 53-man roster spots to Simms.
BUCS LOADED WITH TALENT AT WIDE RECEIVER What happened to Bucs wide receiver Paris Warren in Tampa Bay’s preseason finale on Friday night was a tragedy. But after taking a closer look at the Bucs’ group of receivers this year, odds are Warren, who caught 15 passes and four touchdowns in preseason, probably wouldn’t have seen much action at wide receiver in 2007 even if he had escaped the preseason healthy.
Well, for starters, the Bucs have four former first-round picks at this position, including Joey Galloway, David Boston, Michael Clayton and Ike Hilliard – on their active roster. In addition, Tampa Bay is high on second-year WR Maurice Stovall, who is a former third-round selection.
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