The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have picked up an experienced NFL arm for their practice squad, signing third-year quarterback Brett Ratliff on Wednesday. The team began the day with two open spots on that eight-man squad, including one created last Saturday when quarterback Rudy Carpenter was promoted to the active roster.
The second open spot on the practice squad, created by Monday's release of defensive tackle Swanson Miller, was filled by the signing of rookie tight end Martell Webb, who most recently spent time on the New York Jets' practice squad.
Obviously, Carpenter's promotion was prompted by the right shoulder injury starting quarterback Josh Freeman suffered against the Tennessee Titans in Week 12. Freeman was eventually deactivated against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, with Josh Johnson getting the start and Carpenter serving as the primary back-up. On Monday, Head Coach Raheem Morris indicated that it was not yet certain if Freeman would be able to return to action in Week 14 against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
"I'm hoping so at this point," said Morris. "Obviously, I've got to see him throw. We've got to get him out there and let him move his arm around and see where the pain tolerance. You don't want to hurt your quarterback any further. You want to be smart with him and see what he can do and how fast you can let him do it."
Whatever size workload Freeman is able to shoulder this week, Ratliff will help the Buccaneers with practice-field reps and in running the scout team. In the league since 2007, Ratliff has been rostered with five different teams and has thus had experience picking up new offensive systems.
The 6-4, 235-pound Ratliff first entered the NFL in '07 as an undrafted free agent with the Jets out of the University of Utah. He spent his entire rookie season on the practice squad but made the 53-man roster in 2008 and was the inactive third quarterback for all 16 games behind Brett Favre and Kellen Clemens. Favre departed New York after that season, and a few months later the Jets traded up 12 spots in the 2009 NFL Draft to nab USC quarterback Mark Sanchez.
To make the move from #17 overall to #5, the Jets gave up their second-round pick that year as well as three players: defensive end Kenyon Coleman, defensive back Abram Elam and Ratliff. That move reunited Ratliff with new Browns Head Coach Eric Mangini, who had helmed the Jets during the quarterback's two years in New York. Ratliff would go on to serve as the inactive third quarterback for all 16 games in 2009, as well.
Ratliff went back to training camp with Cleveland in 2010 but was released during the final roster cuts before the regular season. He spent the first five weeks of the season on practice squads in Jacksonville and New England before returning to the Browns' active roster on October 12. With Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace both injured, Ratliff came back to serve as then-rookie Colt McCoy's primary backup. Ratliff did not see any game action, however, and was released again on November 17.
Ratliff signed with the Tennessee Titans last February and went to training camp with the team after the resolution of the labor impasse but was released at the end of August.
The Chico, California native began his college career at Butte College before transferring to Utah in 2005. He took over the Utes' starting job for the final two games of the '05 campaign and immediately led the team to an upset win over BYU with four passing touchdowns and 112 yards and another score on the ground. Ratliff also directed Utah to an Emerald Bowl win over Georgia Tech in his second start, helping him go into the 2006 season as the Utes' number-one quarterback. As a senior, he started all 14 games and compiled a passer rating of 133.2, throwing 23 touchdown passes against just nine interceptions. In addition to his 2,796 passing yards on the season, Ratliff also ranked third on the team with 260 rushing yards.
The sizable Webb – 6-4 and 268 pounds – was an accomplished blocker at Michigan, where he played four seasons and appeared in 38 games with three starts. Best known for his strength and power, he posted nine career receptions for 111 yards and two touchdowns. Webb also played on special teams and contributed three kick-coverage stops.
As a senior in 2010, Webb played in all 13 games and logged two of his three starts, finishing with five catches for 67 yards and a touchdown. He hails from Pontiac, Michigan.
Webb first entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the Philadelphia Eagles this past summer. He went to camp with Philadelphia but was released at the end of August. Webb later spent a month on the Jets' practice squad before being waived on October 4.