Former Giants DE Maurice Evans was a force at Penn State in 2007
A young Tampa Bay Buccaneers team just got a little bit younger, and potentially more talented.
The Buccaneers filled the final two spots on their 53-man roster on Sunday by claiming two intriguing rookies off waivers: defensive end Maurice Evans from the New York Giants and cornerback William Middleton from the Atlanta Falcons. Tampa Bay now has 10 rookies among its 53 players.
The Buccaneers are obviously eager to stockpile promising NFL talent, and that extends to the practice squad as well. The team filled seven of its eight practice squad spots on Sunday by re-signing players it had cut the day before: cornerback Kyle Arrington, wide receiver Patrick Carter, defensive tackle Rashaad Duncan, running back Kareem Huggins, tackle James Lee, tight end Ryan Purvis and wide receiver Mario Urrutia. Duncan, Huggins and Purvis are rookies, as well.
The Buccaneers were the seventh-oldest team in the NFL entering the 2008 season, as measured by the average age of the 53 players on the roster in Week One. They are considerably younger in '09 as the team has refreshed its roster in an attempt to build quality depth at every position. Evans and Middleton will hopefully help in that regard.
Both Evans and Middleton were waived by their original NFL teams during Saturday's league-wide roster cutdown. The Buccaneers anticipated finding players it coveted on the waiver wire, actually paring down to 51 men on Saturday with one extra cut and the evening trade of quarterback Luke McCown to Jacksonville. Obviously, the Buccaneers had very fresh scouting reports on all of the league's rookies thanks to their preparations for the 2009 draft. Tampa Bay had only six picks in this year's draft and lost one of those, tackle Xavier Fulton, to a season-ending knee injury, but have still managed to give the team a sizable injection of young talent with the recent imports of Evans, Middleton and former Raiders center Jonathan Compas.
Evans was a finalist for the Ted Hendricks Award, given to the nation's top defensive end, in 2007 after a sophomore season at Penn State in which he racked up 12.5 sacks, 54 tackles and five forced fumbles. After opening the '08 season with a suspension and finishing with just three sacks, Evans declared for the NFL draft but was not selected. He ended up in New York with the defensive end-rich Giants, but will now get an opportunity to show off his skills in Tampa.
Middleton was a star at Furman in the FCS Southern Conference. As a senior he put up ridiculously good numbers: 95 tackles, five sacks, four interceptions, nine tackles for loss and nine passes defensed. He was part of a Falcons draft class that focused almost exclusively on defense; in fact, Middleton was the fourth defensive player, third defensive back and second cornerback taken by Atlanta in the first five rounds.
The first iteration of the Bucs' 2009 practice squad is a mix of rookies, first-year players and men with previous experience in Tampa, but it's obviously made of young performers who impressed the team in training camp.
Arrington and Lee were with the Buccaneers in 2008; in fact, both were in Tampa almost the entire year though neither one went to training camp with the team. Lee was claimed off waivers from the Cleveland Browns just before the season and was inactive for most of the '08 campaign, appearing in one contest. Arrington was signed to the practice squad in mid-December after he was released by Philadelphia and spent the rest of the year on that unit.
Carter and Urrutia are first-year players who got their starts elsewhere, though both are Louisville products who entered the NFL in 2008 . Urrutia was a seventh-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals last year while Carter came into the league as an undrafted free agent with the Baltimore Ravens. Both are big receivers – Carter is 6-3, 215 while Urrutia is 6-6, 232 – and both had strong preseasons for the Buccaneers. Carter caught eight passes for 88 yards while Urrutia hauled in seven for 85.
Duncan, Huggins and Purvis are all undrafted rookies, though Huggins actually finished his collegiate career at Hofstra in 2007 (he never signed with an NFL team in 2008). Huggins ran 19 times for 74 yards, though an ankle injury kept him out of the last two preseason contests. Purvis caught five passes for 69 yards and a touchdown. Duncan racked up seven tackles, one sack, two tackles for loss, two quarterback pressures and a pass defensed.
The Buccaneers have one remaining open spot on their eight-man practice squad, and changes on that crew are common during the regular season. It's also likely that the team's 53-man roster is still a work in progress. It got a little bit deeper on Sunday, the Buccaneers' believe, with the addition of two promising young players.