The Buccaneers made sure that former Tennessee Titans tight end Ben Troupe knew he was a wanted man. Troupe received a phone call from Tampa Bay's energetic head coach, Jon Gruden, at 12:02 a.m. on February 29, which was the first day of free agency.
Free agency had been underway for only two minutes when Troupe was being recruited hard by Gruden, who wanted him to join his stable of tight ends with the Buccaneers that also includes the newly signed John Gilmore.
“It starts with the head coach,” Troupe said with a charismatic smile on his face. “Jon Gruden is the leader of this team and the energy that he brings as a head coach is contagious. His reputation throughout the league speaks for itself. He’s well respected, and he said, ‘Ben, we’re going to go out and work and fight to the finish. We may lose, but we’re going to play the same every game.’ That’s how I play. I play the same on every down. Whether we are winning the game or losing the game, I play the same way. He’s a coach that can kind of read your mind. He coaches the game like he’s a player. It was a no-brainer for me to sign with the Bucs after I got a phone call from him just after midnight at the start of free agency.
“Let me put it to you this way, the first person who visited my home during high school recruiting was Steve Spurrier. The first person that called my phone during free agency was Jon Gruden. He called at 12:02 a.m. and it started at 12:00 a.m. I was an hour behind at 11:00 p.m.”
Troupe, who played collegiately at the University of Florida, which is a few hours north of Tampa in Gainesville, was supposed to visit One Buccaneer Place on Monday, March 3. But Gruden was so anxious to get Troupe in Tampa that he arranged for him to come in on Sunday, March 2 instead. Gruden’s enthusiasm for the game of football sealed the deal for Troupe, who also had a visit with Buffalo during free agency before signing a two-year deal with Tampa Bay on March 10.
“As soon as I got off the plane, I went straight into his office. I mean I went straight in," Troupe said. "We were looking at each other face-to-face like we are now. He wanted to look in my eye, which shows his true interest. I went to Buffalo and I think I saw Dick Jauron right at the end before I left the building. Here, I went right up to the head man’s office and I was talking to the man – Jon Gruden. That meant a lot to me. He said, ‘You didn’t go off and get fat on me, did you? You haven’t lost your athleticism? I remember the Ben Troupe that could jump over grown men and who could do things after the catch.’ I told him, ‘That’s me.’ I can do those things, I’m just four years older. I’m not 21 anymore – I’m 25. I have four years in the league, so I definitely know what it takes. He said that he wanted me here, and when a head coach tells you that he wants you here that means something. He said he wanted me to help him win another Super Bowl."
Feeling wanted was important to Troupe, who is listed at 270 pounds on the roster, but revealed that he is actually a very physically fit 260 pounds. After being the Titans’ second-round pick in 2004 and catching a career-high 55 passes for 530 yards and four touchdowns in his second year in the NFL, Troupe was suddenly not in Tennessee’s plans anymore.
After catching just 13 passes for 150 yards and two touchdowns in 2006, Troupe was placed on injured reserve due to a broken ankle on November 26, 2007. Prior to the injury, he had gotten lost in Tennessee’s quarterback shuffle.
“By my third year, we had the quarterback carousel going from Billy Volek to Kerry Collins to Vince Young,” Troupe said. “In my fourth year, Vince feels comfortable with Bo Scaife. They went to the same school together.”
Because of the chemistry with Young, Scaife wound up beating out Troupe for the Titans’ starting job last year, catching 46 passes for 421 yards and one touchdown, while Troupe had a career-low five catches for 47 yards.
The appeal of being more involved in Gruden’s offense was the main attraction that led Troupe to become a Buccaneer. Tampa Bay’s tight ends combined for nine touchdowns last year, which were more scores than the wide receivers produced.
“The thing about Gruden is you don’t have to be worried about being utilized,” Troupe said. “Is he going to try to put me in situations to succeed in the running game and the passing game? Of course he is.”
Troupe, 25, realizes that Gruden’s fondness for the two tight end set will allow both he and starter Alex Smith to be plenty involved in Tampa Bay’s offense.
“Alex Smith and I are going to feed off each other,” Troupe said. “My best year in the NFL was my second year because I had [former Titans tight end] Erron Kinney. We had the same number of catches, but our talent fed off each other. I’m excited about being here. Get used to this face, Tampa. I’m going to be here for a while.”
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Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org