This time last year, defensive tackle Chris Hovan had reached a crossroads in his career.
The former first-round draft pick spent five seasons with Minnesota before he and the Vikings parted ways during the 2004 offseason.
Hovan’s once promising career with the Vikings flamed out rather quickly. Once he left Minnesota, the 6-foot-2, 296-pound Hovan was just hoping another team would give him the opportunity to showcase his talent.
That team was Tampa Bay, which signed Hovan to a one-year contract worth the veteran league minimum last year.
As the story goes, Hovan made the most of his opportunity, earning Tampa Bay’s starting nose tackle job during training camp and helping the Bucs defense finish the 2005 season ranked number one overall and sixth against the run.
Although Tampa Bay’s leading tackler along the defensive line was scheduled to have the opportunity to test free agency, Hovan remained loyal to the Bucs, the team that had given him a chance when no one else was willing to.
The Bucs rewarded Hovan for his loyalty just before the start of free agency by signing him to a five-year, $17.5 million contract.
“I just had a lot to prove,” Hovan said Tuesday during a press conference held at One Buc Place. “Everybody pretty much knew about the situation in Minnesota. It was well documented. I’m just glad to be part of an organization that’s so close to winning a world championship, and that was the main reason why I re-signed with Tampa Bay.
“First and foremost, it was a factor of loyalty. They gave me an opportunity to come to Tampa and resurrect my career and showcase myself within this organization. Now, my loyalty is to Tampa, and I’m committed along with every man and woman in this organization to winning a world championship.”
In order for Tampa Bay to re-sign Hovan, it had to create the salary cap room first. At one point in the offseason, the Bucs were $19 million over the league-mandated salary cap.
Bucs general manager Bruce Allen went to several players and asked them to restructure their contracts. Players like running back Michael Pittman, defensive tackle Anthony McFarland and center John Wade agreed to do so.
However, linebacker Derrick Brooks made the biggest sacrifice by reworking his deal and essentially taking a $4.5 million pay cut in 2006. Hovan credited Brooks’ financial sacrifice with the Bucs’ ability to re-sign him.
“I know what Derrick Brooks did to sacrifice himself to enable me to re-sign here,” said Hovan. “I thanked him personally because he had to restructure his deal, and some other individuals did, too, but Derrick Brooks was the main ingredient. I thank him because if Derrick didn’t do what he did, then most likely I would be playing elsewhere to be honest with you because the Bucs wouldn’t have had the cap room, and it wouldn’t have been as flexible on both sides. We came to a fair agreement, and Derrick Brooks had a lot to do with that.”
Hovan also credited former Bucs assistant head coach/defensive line coach Rod Marinelli, who became the Detroit Lions’ head coach earlier in the offseason, with the success he had on the football field during the 2005 season.
“I think Rod has deservedly received a head coaching job,” said Hovan. “He’s a great teacher and mentor, and I can’t thank him enough for what he’s done for me and my career. [New Bucs defensive line coach] Jethro [Franklin] brings his own identity and is going to coach us to be the best defensive line we can be. We all have to be open to him, accept coaching, because he is our new defensive line coach, and Rod is pursuing his dream in Detroit. We have to take what Jethro is teaching us and apply it on the football field.”
Despite re-signing with Tampa Bay, Hovan remains driven to succeed and thrive in the Bucs defensive scheme. Although Marinelli is now in Detroit, Hovan said he would take what he learned from his former defensive line coach both on and off the football field.
“I signed the one-year deal, and I pretty much knew that I had to come out here and resurrect my career,” said Hovan. “I’ve been at the high, and I’ve been at the low. I was learning again how to be better individually than I wanted to be. One of the main things I remember Rod telling me when I got here was to be humble. Be humble in everything you do in life. You can accept praise and glory, and what not, but always be humble because we’re all human. Being humble just puts us all on a level playing field. I’ve learned quite a few things this past year, and being humble was one of those things.”
Tampa Bay hasn’t been active in free agency, but it has been successful in its attempt to keep the core of its 2005 NFC South division championship team intact. Although they have a lot of work to do, the Bucs aren’t far from competing for a Super Bowl title, according to Hovan.
“We’ve very, very close. It’s very exciting,” said Hovan. “We were so close against Washington, but close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. We have to put the work in, fill a couple of spots that we need to fill, and just get after it. We have OTAs coming up in another month, and mini-camps. If you’re not excited to be a Buccaneer you’re in the wrong line of work right now.”
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