T Derrick Deese's foot ailment has contributed to a shortage of available players at offensive tackle
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers added a player to their training camp roster for the third straight day on Saturday, and in doing so acknowledged that they may not be done.
The Bucs re-signed tackle Jeff Hatch, who spent several weeks with the team during the spring after signing on April 12. A third-round draft pick by the New York Giants in 2002, Hatch spent the 2003 season on the Giants' active roster after missing his rookie season with a back injury. The team did not have to cut a player to sign Hatch, who took the spot vacated by Lance Nimmo on Friday.
The recall of Hatch is the team's first stab at a developing problem in training camp: A shortage of offensive tackles. Though the team has had a relatively healthy camp through the first nine days, the hits at tackle have come suddenly and rapidly in recent days.
Derrick Deese, who opened camp as the incumbent starting left tackle, has practiced little due to a foot sprain that recalls a similar struggle last summer. Kenyatta Walker, the starter on the right side, has been limited to one practice a day by knee swelling. Nimmo abruptly left the team on Friday. Rookie Chris Colmer missed one practice and still feels a hip pointer he sustained earlier in the week. Rookie Kevin Fischer, an undrafted free agent, was released earlier in the week.
That's why, even as Gruden announced the addition of Hatch, he indicated that the team is still looking for another tackle who could contribute immediately. He didn't rule out any method of acquiring such a player, including free agency and trades.
"We've got to get our offensive line ready for the Tennessee Titans," said Gruden. "And to be fair to them and to be honest with ourselves, we need to add some players to the tackle position. We're going to do everything we can to get that done."
Gruden is concerned about overworking the few available tackles, especially Anthony Davis, who has moved into the starting left tackle position and has taken a large amount of practice snaps. Davis is the silver lining in the story, as he has been impressive in that important role, but Gruden doesn't want to short-circuit the young player's development by wearing him out.
"Anthony Davis, if we played right now, is the starting left tackle for us," said Gruden. "We like the progress that he's made but we need to get him some help over there so we can be more realistic with the turns that he makes.
"[Davis] is a physical presence. He has a triceps injury right now he's fighting through, but he gives us some real thump on the left side. He makes our running game come to life a little bit on the left side. His pass protection is improving. I think if we can get another healthy left tackle in here to take some of the reps off him we'll see a little bit more execution in all phases from him. He gets a little sluggish and tired late in practice, and that's expected."
The Bucs do have a few versatile linemen, such as Matt Stinchcomb and Jeb Terry, who could be temporarily slid over to tackle in order to share the load at that position. Gruden is reluctant to do this, however, as the team's offensive guard play has been a bright spot and he doesn't want to derail that progress. Hatch will help the Bucs avoid that maneuver, but he may not be the full solution.
"We don't want to compromise what we've begun here, in spite of some injuries; we don't want to rotate too many positions this early," said Gruden. "Jeff Hatch will give us a chance to maintain some continuity. We're going to continue to look hard, to do anything we can to find another tackle to add to our football team, a guy who could come in here and potentially help us immediately."
The Bucs need to protect Davis a bit more because they are uncertain when Deese will be ready to return. The veteran linemen has been sent to four foot specialists; on Saturday, the team's medical staff immobilized the injured foot in the hopes that it would speed up his recovery. There is no specific timetable for his return, although Gruden is encouraged by X-rays an MRIs that show no need for surgery. Last year, Deese missed about a month in August after undergoing foot surgery.
"I'm very pleased with Anthony Davis, but I am concerned obviously about Derrick Deese," said Gruden. "He missed numerous days last year in training camp and it's very, very hard on him right now. It's a frustrating injury for all of us. The thing about football is, nobody waits. You've got to be able to move forward, and we've got to do that in his absence."
As has become tradition at Buccaneers camp, Gruden made the second Saturday "Family Day" and gave his players the afternoon off. Some hurried back down I-4 to Tampa, while others planned to relax with family that had driven into town. Nobody will be thinking about football, not even – supposedly – Gruden, who expects to be dragged to Disney World by his three sons.
"It's an opportunity to get the evening off and get away from our coaches a little bit," said cornerback Ronde Barber. "You don't get many opportunities to catch up with your family during these three weeks, so this is a good day."
The Bucs do have a midnight curfew on Saturday, so they won't be able to stay away overnight. That's necessary because the team launches right back into two-a-day work on Sunday.
"All the wives and families and girlfriends of these players are in town and we gave them the afternoon off," said Gruden. "It's time to do that, get out of the hotel, call somebody you love or be with somebody you love, and come back rejuvenated, because next week's a big week for us."