Tampa Bay Buccaneers

A Step Back

Bucs sign George Hegamin as Jason Odom’s back takes a turn for the worse


Jerry Wunsch has filled in well for the injured Jason Odom

On Wednesday, the Buccaneers signed sixth-year free agent T/G George Hegamin after placing S Eric Vance (foot) on injured reserve. The move has not been officially linked to the condition of erstwhile right tackle starter Jason Odom, but the team definitely shored up its offensive line depth with the addition of Hegamin.

Odom has not played in a game since September 26 against Denver due to a lower back condition that refuses to fully respond to treatment. Though he was showing significant progress as this week began, he took a turn for the worse on Wednesday and was again unable to practice. The team still hopes Odom can recover and avoid surgery and the injured reserve list.

"To be quite honest, my back's just not quite right," Odom said on Wednesday. "I don't want to have another setback at this point. They're being extremely patient to get me back."

Much of that patience is attributable to the outstanding play of third-year T Jerry Wunsch, who has stepped in for Odom on the right side and fared well in the most extensive action of his career. However, Hegamin's signing is an indication that the timetable for Odom's return is uncertain.

Hegamin's five previous seasons include a 1995 campaign in which he earned a Super Bowl ring as a top substitute on the Dallas Cowboys' offensive line. Hegamin signed a free-agent contract with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1998 and started six games last season at left guard after opening nine contests the previous season for the Cowboys at left tackle and left guard.

"George is a solid player who knows how to win," said Buccaneer Head Coach Tony Dungy. "He has won a Super Bowl with the Cowboys and can provide that added veteran leadership on our offensive line."

Though Hegamin has played every offensive line position except center in a regular-season game, Dungy indicated that the 6-7, 331-pound lineman would work out primarily at tackle with Tampa Bay. With Odom sidelined, Hegamin joins fifth-year veteran Pete Pierson as the Bucs' only backups at the tackle positions. Pierson has started six games in his NFL career, but none since 1996.

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