When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers formed their first 53-man roster for the 2011 season on Saturday, they kept seven cornerbacks and just five linebackers. On Monday, those numbers evened out as Tampa Bay signed former St. Louis Rams linebacker Zac Diles and released cornerback D.J. Johnson.
The Buccaneers also bolstered their tight end corps after including just two on that original 53-man roster by claiming Zack Pianalto, formerly of the Buffalo Bills, off waivers. To make room for Pianalto on the roster, the team released defensive end George Johnson.
In addition, Tampa Bay formed its first practice squad of the 2011 season, signing eight players, all of whom were with the team in training camp. Though the practice squad remains fluid throughout the season and could change at any time, the first iteration includes the following players: safety Ahmad Black, tackle Will Barker, quarterback Rudy Carpenter, tight end Collin Franklin, wide receiver Ed Gant, tight end Daniel Hardy, running back Mossis Madu and linebacker Derrell Smith.
The 6-2, 240-pound Diles was originally a seventh-round draft pick of the Houston Texans in 2007 and he has started in the NFL at both weakside and strongside linebacker. After four years and 30 starts in Houston, he signed with the Rams this past July as an unrestricted free agent. St. Louis released Diles during Saturday's league-wide cutdown to 53 players.
Buccaneers General Manager Mark Dominik didn't have to go far to get a scouting report on Diles. The Abilene, Texas native played his prep football at Tulare High School in California's central valley and began his college career at Fresno City College but eventually transferred to Kansas State. In 2006, with current Buccaneers Head Coach Raheem Morris serving as his defensive coordinator at K-State, Diles racked up 149 tackles, 12 for losses, en route to All-Big 12 honors.
The 218th player selected overall in the 2007 draft, Diles made the Texans' roster as a rookie and played primarily on special teams. In 2008, he won the starting strongside linebacker job and contributed 66 tackles in the first eight games before suffering a broken leg. Houston moved him to the weak side for the next two seasons, and he started 22 games and contributed 144 tackles in that span. In all, Diles amassed 233 tackles, one sack, three passes defensed, three forced fumbles and one interception during his four seasons in Houston.
The addition of Diles gives the Buccaneers three reserve linebackers behind the starting trio of Quincy Black, Mason Foster and Geno Hayes. Adam Hayward is the primary backup to Black on the strong side and is also used frequently in certain packages as a stand-up pass-rusher. Hayward has backed up all three linebacker spots at various points in his career and is currently considered the team's number-two option in the middle behind Foster.
The 6-4, 250-pound Pianalto is a rookie who signed with the Bills as an undrafted free agent in July out of the University of North Carolina. In three preseason games this summer he caught six passes for 59 yards, with a long of 23. The Bills originally retained Pianalto on their 53-man roster during Saturday's cut-down, but then released him on Sunday, and the Buccaneers put in a successful claim.
At UNC, Pianalto set the school record for most career receptions by a tight end with 94, which he turned into 918 yards and two touchdowns. He recorded a career-best 33 catches for 334 yards and one TD as a junior in 2009 and surely would have surpassed those marks in 2010 if not for a fractured tibia that ended his season after six games and 30 receptions. Pianalto hails from Springdale, Arkansas.
As mentioned, all eight of the players signed to the Bucs' practice squad on Monday had been with the team during the preseason, including seven who had been released during Saturday's cuts (Franklin was waived five days earlier during the first roster reduction).
The most expected of those eight signings was that of Carpenter, the team's third-string quarterback throughout the preseason and all of 2010. In a departure from their usual direction, the Buccaneers kept only two quarterbacks – Josh Freeman and Josh Johnson – on the 53-man roster to start the season. However, it was not an entirely surprising move, as the NFL's change to the game day eligibility rules have prompted some teams to make the same decision. Rather than 45 active players and an "inactive" third quarterback on game days, teams will now simply have 46 active spots to use on players at any position. The Buccaneers do not anticipate using that 46th spot on a third quarterback on game day.
Black and Hardy were the two members of the Buccaneers' eight-man 2011 draft class who were not retained through Saturday's cuts. Black, a fifth-round pick out of Florida, missed most of the preseason with an ankle sprain suffered early in the opener at Kansas City. Hardy played in all four games and contributed four catches for 80 yards.
Franklin, Madu and Smith were all undrafted rookie signings; Madu and Smith joined the Bucs directly out of college in late July while Franklin signed first with the New York Jets then came to Tampa Bay as a waiver claim on August 8. Franklin caught two passes for six yards in two preseason games; Madu ran 15 times for 53 yards and also caught four passes for 51 yards in four preseason outings; Smith saw action in four games and had six tackles and a quarterback pressure.
Like Carpenter, Gant and Barker were holdovers from last year's roster. Barker split his 2010 rookie season between the practice squad and the active roster, seeing action in three games as a reserve. Gant joined the Bucs' practice squad for the final five weeks of the season. Both played in all four preseason games this summer and Gant finished with five catches for 164 yards and one touchdown.