With strong safety Dwight Smith leaving Tampa Bay for New Orleans earlier this offseason via free agency, the Buccaneers have decided to move Jermaine Phillips, who started at free safety last season, to the strong side, where he’ll play closer to the line of scrimmage.

Dexter Jackson and second-year pro Will Allen will compete for the starting free safety job, which is wide open, according to Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.

“I like that Dexter is back,” said Kiffin. “We like Will Allen, he’s a good, young safety. He’s coming along, but he’s only going into his second year. We needed depth after we lost Dwight and we were down to Will Allen. Dexter was hurt there, but he’s healthy now and hopefully we’ll get that Dexter Jackson back from 2002, and with that have a young Will Allen. They’ll both be competing for the starting job.”

Tampa Bay held its first of 14 offseason team activities (OTAs) of the 2005 offseason on Tuesday at One Buccaneer Place.

While the Bucs didn’t have 100 percent participation, plenty of players attended Tuesday’s voluntary workout,, which impressed general manager Bruce Allen.

“I was very pleased with the turnout today,” said Allen.

Among the players that did attend Tuesday’s OTA workout was Pro Bowl cornerback Ronde Barber, who had recently been mentioned as a possible holdout by a local newspaper.

Barber, who is scheduled to have a base salary of $3.75 million and a salary cap value of $5.1 million in 2005, rode stationary bicycles and did not participate in the workout. When approached by the media to answer questions regarding the local newspaper’s report that suggested he was unhappy with his current contract, Barber declined all interviews.

With punter Josh Bidwell not attending Tuesday’s offseason team activity, the Bucs turned to wide receiver Michael Clayton as a holder on field goals attempted by kickers Matt Bryant and Jay Taylor.

Although Clayton appeared to do a good job in that regard, his holding duties are probably temporary.

“I was always the backup holder, but they’ll probably bring in somebody else by the time things are starting to get serious because that’s a key component in winning,” said Clayton. “We’ll have a specialist out there.”

Speaking of special teams, Clayton acknowledged that he could have a role there this season due to the loss of several key special teams contributors this offseason. Should he be asked to cover punts and/or kickoffs, Clayton said he’ll embrace the role.

“That’s always something you have to be prepared for,” Clayton said of playing on special teams. “It’s a long time until the season starts, so we don’t know who those 53 guys will be on the field yet. But it’s definitely something I’m preparing for and going to have to learn to do as well as other starters on the team because you do anything it takes to win. If it has to be me, it’s going to be me, and I have to be prepared for it. I’m definitely going to be practicing it and out there doing it, and when it gets to game time we’ll just have to see where we are in that area.”

Clayton, who caught a team-leading 80 passes for 1,193 yards (14.9 avg.) and seven touchdowns last season after entering the league as a first-round draft pick out of LSU, said participating in OTAs with a year under his belt is much easier than it was when he was a rookie, although he’s trying to take it easy after undergoing a knee scope earlier in the offseason.

“I’m a little more experienced this time around,” said Clayton. “I think the coaches respect you a little more and you have a little more leeway with your body. I’m just coming off of knee surgery and they’re really just giving me the things I need to do to get back healthy and get 100 percent. It’s just a matter of time, getting well and taking care of your body.”

With Tampa Bay’s 2004 season ending on Jan. 2, Clayton said it’s important for he and his teammates to get reacclimated to things, especially the playbook.

“The mental reps that we lost in our time off — this thing can really slip away from you, so you have to stay on top of it and get back into it,” said Clayton. “We started it today, and it’s early, so we’ll be ready for camp.”

Who will Tampa Bay take with the number five overall pick in the NFL Draft?

No one knows for sure, but the Bucs are targeting several players, including wide receivers Braylon Edwards (Michigan) and Mike Williams (USC), Auburn running backs Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Williams and Texas RB Cedric Benson, and California quarterback Aaron Rodgers, all of whom are expected to be drafted in the top 10 later this month.

Another player the Bucs are taking a look at is Utah QB Alex Smith, who is scheduled to visit with the Bucs in Salt Lake City on Friday, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

The 6-foot-3, 209-pound Smith, who is an early-entry junior, completed 66 percent of his passes and threw for 2,624 yards and tossed 28 touchdowns and just four interceptions en route to leading Utah to an undefeated year in 2004.

Tampa Bay currently has three signal callers — Brian Griese, Chris Simms and Akili Smith — under contract for the 2005 season.

If there were a defensive MVP award handed out to a Bucs player last season, defensive end Greg Spires would’ve received defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s vote.

Spires, 30, led the Bucs defensive line in tackles (86) and recorded a career-high eight sacks last season. Those numbers and Spires’ impressive play prompted the Bucs to sign Spires to a five-year, $17.1 million contract extension last month. Needless to say, Kiffin is pleased that Spires is back.

“He had a great year last year,” Kiffin said of Spires. “You’d have to show me all of the tapes and show me if there was a better left end in football than Greg Spires last year. There’s no way he shouldn’t have been in the Pro Bowl. He’s not a big name, but this guy, without a doubt, had a Pro Bowl-caliber year.”

Dewayne White, who was drafted as a defensive end in 2003 but spent some time playing at under tackle last season, will remain a defensive end, according to Kiffin. However, White, who notched six sacks while serving as a potent pass rusher at the three-technique spot, could be used in that same capacity again in 2005.

“Dewayne is definitely a defensive end, but he went inside on pass-rushing downs,” said Kiffin. “He’s not really a under tackle — he just went inside to play the three technique on passing downs. He did a really nice job there. There’s a big difference between playing the three technique on first-and-10 run downs vs. pass downs. On passing downs, you always want to get your four best pass rushers on the field, I don’t care who they are. Dewayne just happened to be an end, but he was a better inside rusher than we had.”

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed two players on Tuesday, inking linebacker Byron Hardmon and safety Eli Ward to contracts.

Terms were not disclosed.

The 6-foot-1, 232-pound Hardmon entered the NFL with the Miami Dolphins in 2003 as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Florida. After spending his rookie season on injured reserve, Hardmon was released by Miami and signed by the Seattle Seahawks, who allocated him to NFL Europe in 2004. However, Hardmon was released prior to the start of the ’04 regular season.

Hardmon recorded 258 tackles, three interceptions and three forced fumbles while playing both middle and strongside linebacker at Florida.

Ward (5-11, 200) entered the NFL with the Indianapolis Colts in 2004 as an undrafted free agent out of Minnesota. He notched 293 tackles, one sack, six forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, five interceptions and 14 passes defensed in 44 games with the Gophers. The Colts released Ward prior to the start of the ’04 regular season.

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