USC's Matt Grootegoed picked off five passes in his one season as a weakside linebacker after moving up from safety
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2005 group of undrafted free agents is an interesting mix of homegrown talent and players with championship experience.
The Buccaneers signed nine college players in the hours and days since the conclusion of the 2005 NFL Draft on Sunday, releasing the list on Tuesday. Among the nine are Mississippi State running back Fred Reid, who played his prep ball at King High School in Tampa, and two players from the national champion USC Trojans, cornerback Kevin Arbet and linebacker Matt Grootegoed. The list also includes University of Minnesota cornerback Ukee Dozier, who hails from Bradenton, Florida.
Here is the complete list of undrafted free agents signed by the Buccaneers:
|Fred Reid||RB||5-9||184||Mississippi State|
|Leon Robinson||G/T||6-4||314||Georgia Tech|
That brings the team's total haul of new players since the draft began at noon on Saturday to 22, including 12 rookies drafted over the weekend and second-year quarterback Luke McCown, acquired from Cleveland on Sunday in exchange for a 2005 sixth-round pick.
The NFL Draft was shortened from 12 rounds to eight in 1993 and seven in 1994, where it still stands. That has made the hours immediately following the end of the draft on Sunday into a very competitive time, as teams burn up the phone lines contacting players with good ratings who remain on their boards. Every team signs a group of available rookies after the draft, with classes ranging from just a few players to 15 or 16. With a dozen draft picks, the Bucs had room for only a relatively small group of college free agents.
Still, while the names on the above list may be less familiar than those of Cadillac Williams, Barrett Ruud or Alex Smith, they arrive in Tampa with a legitimate shot of making the Bucs' active roster next fall.
It is quite common for one or more undrafted rookies to crack the 53-man squad. Last year, it was Utah defensive end Josh Savage, who spent the entire season on the active roster and appeared in six games. In 2003, it was Georgia Tech tight end Will Heller, who now has two Buccaneer seasons under his belt, including 19 games played, 14 receptions and two touchdowns. Even the 2002 championship squad opened the season with two undrafted rookies, linebacker Ryan Nece and defensive end Corey Smith. Nece missed half of his debut season with a knee injury but has been a valuable contributor for three years and remains on the roster.
Other undrafted rookies have had to put in times on the practice squad or in the free agent pool before eventually earning spots with the Buccaneers. Recent examples include running back Earnest Graham, tackle Anthony Davis, Edell Shepherd and Ronyell Whitaker.
Additional prominent Bucs on the current roster who first entered the league as undrafted free agents include Shelton Quarles, Jeff Gooch and Derrick Deese.
The nine college free agents announced Tuesday will get their first shot to start down that same path this weekend, when the Buccaneers hold a three-day rookie mini-camp. Like the players drafted over the weekend, they are allowed one visit to their new NFL team before their respective school years end, after which they can report to One Buccaneer Place for good.
After starring at King and being named the best prep football player in Hillsborough County as a high school senior, Reid signed with Mississippi State and followed with a productive four-year career in college. His speed made him a smaller, change-of-pace back, and he ended up carrying the ball 236 times for 1,038 yards and six touchdowns. Appearing in 45 games with five starts, Reid also 44 passes for 318 yards and two scores and saw occasional work as a kickoff return man. As a senior, he rushed for 393 yards and caught 13 passes.
Dozier was a standout athlete at Southeast High School in Bradenton. He was the MVP of the Southeast track squad and one of the state's best long and triple-jumpers. He also lettered in football and basketball, though he missed four football games in his senior season due to a shoulder injury. At Minnesota, Dozier emerged as a four-year starter after redshirting in 2000. His career statistics included 191 tackles, four interceptions and 31 passes defensed.
Arbet and Grootegoed helped USC complete an undefeated season and win the national championship last fall. Arbet was originally a walk-on for the Trojans in 1999, but he quickly earned a scholarship and became a valuable contributor over the next three years. In 2001, as an oft-used reserve, he posted 25 tackles, two sacks, three interceptions and six passes defensed on defense while also averaging 9.0 yards on 25 punt returns. Arbet lost the next two seasons to injury but returned in 2004 with a sixth year of eligibility to play in 12 games and contribute 26 tackles, one interceptions and two passes defensed.
Grootegoed was extremely productive for the Trojans, first as a strongside linebacker and then at weakside linebacker last fall. In four seasons, he amassed 222 tackles, 13.5 sacks, six interceptions, six forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries and 11 passes defensed. Known for his hustle and hard-hitting Grootegoed took immediately to the linebacker position, recording 68 tackles, five interceptions and three sacks in 2004. In 2002, while starting at safety, he racked up 81 tackles and eight sacks. Both Arbet and Grootegoed are California products, the former hailing from Stockton and the latter starring as a prep in Huntington Beach.
Three of the nine players on the list are offensive guards, giving the Bucs four new players at the position, as they drafted Wisconsin's Dan Buenning in the fourth round on Sunday. One, in fact, was Buenning's teammate, as he and Clinkscale were sometimes referred to as the best guard tandem in the nation in 2004.
Clinkscale helped block for four 1,000-yard rushers in four seasons with the Badgers. After redshirting in 2000, he became a starter shortly into his first season and ended up opening 44 games at right guard through last fall. As a senior, he was named a second-team All-Big Ten choice. Clinkscale's quickness off the ball could make him a candidate to play center, as well. He hails from Altadena, California.
Buckles was a team captain at Ole Miss and was known for finishing every play to the whistle. Like Clinkscale, he was a second-team all-conference choice as a senior after starting all year at left guard. He helped the Rebels averaged 351 yards of offense in 2004 and was credited with 66 knockdown blocks. Buckles is a native of Madison, Mississippi.
The mobile Robinson could project to either guard or tackle on the professional level. He played both at Georgia Tech, starting a total of 29 games Robinson first stepped into the starting lineup as a redshirt freshman in 2001, opening five of the last six games at left guard. He stayed at that spot for every game in 2002, then was involved in a three-guard rotation in 2003. In 2004, Robinson moved to tackle on Tech's starting line. In high school, he also played defensive line and was an accomplished wrestler. He calls Garden City, Georgia home.
Morris gives the Bucs' three new corners in the free agent class, too. A productive three-year player at Vanderbilt, he was the Commodores' most valuable defensive back in 2003, leading the team with three interceptions and eight passes defensed. Last fall, he started for the third straight year and turned in 58 tackles, two interceptions, five passes defensed, one sack, three forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries. In his 2001 redshirt freshman season, Morris started six games before being sidelined by injuries.
McGruder transferred to Oklahoma from Tennessee and, as a senior, took over for the departed Tommie Harris in the Sooners' vaunted defense. He opened 11 of Oklahoma's 13 games last year, contributing 24 tackles and two sacks. Overall, in 37 games as a Sooner, McGruder recorded 69 tackles, four sacks and three passes defensed, after playing in nine games with the Volunteers and making six tackles and three sacks. He played his high school ball in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The addition of those 22 players to a roster that can hold roughly 90, including current NFL Europe exempts, necessitated the paring of four players on Tuesday. The four players released were cornerback Roderick Babers, tackle Jeff Hatch, fullback Tom Lopienski and kicker Jay Taylor.
Babers, Hatch and Lopienski were all signed during the current offseason. Taylor was signed last fall and handled the placekicking duties for the Bucs' final five games.