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Backfield Help: Bucs Sign Zack Crockett

The versatile veteran has experience in Jon Gruden’s offense and could help the injury-depleted Bucs at several positions…RB Lionel Gates also returns to Tampa Bay’s practice squad


Former Raiders FB Zack Crockett has started at both halfback and fullback and is a proven force around the goal line

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers addressed their backfield shortage on Wednesday by signing Zack Crockett, a versatile back who is familiar with Head Coach Jon Gruden's offense.

Crockett (6-2, 240) spent the last eight seasons with the Oakland Raiders, where he registered starts at both fullback and tailback and averaged just under 50 carries a year. He originally entered the league as a third-round draft pick of the Indianapolis Colts in 1995. He went to camp again with the Raiders this summer but was released during the final roster cuts.

Crockett takes the roster spot opened on Tuesday when quarterback Chris Simms was placed on injured reserve. The Buccaneers also made a related move on the practice squad, re-signing running back Lionel Gates, who was with the team during training camp, and releasing running back DonTrell Moore.

The Buccaneers' backfield has been depleted by injuries during the last two weeks. Starting tailback Cadillac Williams was lost for the season after suffering a knee injury at Carolina on September 30. One week later, in his first start in Williams' place, veteran Michael Pittman sustained a severe ankle sprain at Indianapolis, an injury that is expected to keep him out six to eight weeks. Crockett, who spent three years in Gruden's offense (1999-2001) during Gruden's time as the Raiders' head coach, could help the Bucs' backfield in several ways.

For one, he is an experienced lead-blocker who started 25 games at fullback for the Raiders over the last three years. The Bucs have been thrilled with the play of new fullback B.J. Askew, but the position has recently become very thin. Pittman was the Bucs' best reserve option at that position and even started the season opener at fullback. Not only is he now unavailable, but his injury means Earnest Graham, another player capable of playing fullback, must now concentrate solely on his starting halfback role.

Crockett could take a share of the carries, as well. He has 510 career runs for 1,701 yards and 36 touchdowns. In each of the last seven years he has carried the ball between 39 and 60 times and gained between 118 and 232 yards. In addition to his work at fullback, Crockett started 12 games at running back for the Raiders over the last four seasons.

Crockett is particularly effective at the goal line, as his 36 touchdowns in 510 carries attest. From 2000-03, Crockett scored 28 touchdowns on 188 carries, scoring on a remarkable 14.9% of his runs.

Also, the veteran back is a potential threat as a pass-catcher out of the backfield, as evidenced by his 96 career receptions for 680 yards and two scores. He was used increasingly in that role over the past three seasons in Oakland, catching 39 passes from 2004-06.

Gates' return gives the Bucs another back who is familiar with the team's offense, if only for practice. Gates (6-0, 223) spent almost all of the 2006 season on Tampa Bay's practice squad and also went to training camp with the Buccaneers this summer.

The formerly Louisville standout first entered the league as a seventh-round pick by Buffalo in the 2005 draft. He made the Bills' active roster as a rookie but did not appear in a game. After being released by Buffalo at the end of the 2006 preseason, he was signed to Tampa Bay's practice squad. In December, he earned a promotion to the active roster, though he did not see action in the season finale against Seattle.

Moore spent one week on Tampa Bay's practice squad, having been signed on October 3.

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