TE Dave Moore (right) returned to action on Monday; Patrick Hape could join him within a week
Mawuko Tugbenyoh arrived at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' headquarters on Monday for the second week of voluntary workouts, giving the team an even 80 players on hand. Tugbenyoh, a rookie free agent defensive end from Cal-Berkeley, had been prohibited from joining his new NFL team until Cal finished its spring schedule, but he eagerly suited up in his red #61 jersey Monday morning.
At the same time, TE Dave Moore pulled on his white #83, the same number he has worn since joining the team in November of 1992. Depending on Paul Gruber's decision on whether or not to return, Moore could enter 2000 as the longest-tenured player on the team.
So, Moore's return to practice on Monday added a valuable veteran presence to a team that is trying to absorb a new offense imported by Les Steckel, one that reportedly places a great emphasis on the tight end. Moore had missed the first week of the month-long voluntary program after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right ankle three weeks ago.
WR Reidel Anthony, who had suffered a sprained ankle early last week, also returned to action. Head Coach Tony Dungy, already pleased by the virtually complete turnout for the series of workouts, welcomed back his veteran passcatchers. "We got a few banged-up guys back," said Dungy, "and that should get going even more over the next week or so. Alshermond Singleton (ankle) and Pat Hape (foot) could be back in a couple of days. The key thing is that these guys are working very hard."
Moore and Anthony stayed active last week even when not running routes, taking extended turns on the 'Jugs' gun, which simulates passes. They also attended all of Steckel's class meetings, keeping pace as the team continued to slowly flesh out the offense. The Bucs are adding new plays to the list every few days, and Dungy thinks the pace will pick up a bit. "Once you learn the terminology," he said, "the new stuff becomes easier to learn because you've already heard the words."
Moore practiced without difficulty on his rehabbed ankle and lined up with the first team offense at the beginning of team drills. While he sat out the first week, that role had been alternately filled by veteran signee Lovett Purnell and rookie fifth-round draft choice James Whalen, with vet Henry Lusk and rookie Todd Yoder also working in extensively.
Dungy expects Hape to join those five shortly, as will Jason Freeman in time for training camp. Freeman, a first-year player who spent time on the Bucs' practice squad last year, is currently playing for the Berlin Thunder in the NFL Europe League. That will give the Bucs' seven tight ends vying for an undetermined number of spots on the team's final roster. Tampa Bay has routinely carried three tight ends under Dungy, a number that may expand due to the position's increased importance under Steckel, or may not.
"Not necessarily," said Dungy. "We're going to look at it and try to keep guys that can do a lot of different things. Right now, we have some of our backs – Kevin McLeod and Mike Alstott – doing some of our tight end duties. We've got some big wide receivers that can do that. So we're going to keep the best players, but the tight ends should have a bigger role in this offense."
As the incumbent starter, Moore is expected to be on the final roster, of course, and he could be one of the largest benefactors of Steckel's arrival. Over the last four seasons, Moore has averaged four touchdown receptions per year and has become a fan favorite due to his terrific hands. However, his average reception total in that span is a decent but unexciting 23 per year. Last year under Steckel, Tennessee Titan tight ends/H-backs Frank Wycheck and Jackie Harris combined for 95 receptions.
That's an appealing goal for the likes of Moore, Hape and Whalen, but right now they're catching passes that don't go into any stats ledger. It's mid-May and the focus is simply on tomorrow's workout and another session of offensive instruction. September will come soon enough.