FB Tom Lopienski scored his only career NFL touchdown in a 2003 playoff win over Kansas City
With the onset of NFL free agency still a few weeks away, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers continue to prime their roster with available talent.
The latest additions are a pair of running backs, former N.Y. Jets tailback Johnathan Reese and former Indianapolis Colts fullback Tom Lopienski. Both were signed to "futures" contracts, meaning they have been added to the 2005 roster even though the 2004 league season has not officially ended.
The Buccaneers signed 14 other free agents to futures contracts on Jan. 14.
Reese comes to the Bucs as a waiver claim, having been released by Denver after the Broncos' season ended in the first round of the playoffs. Lopienski was signed by the Bucs after his practice squad contract with the Indianapolis Colts expired.
Reese and Lopienski started the 2004 season in similar ways, making the active rosters for the Jets and Colts, respectively, out of training camp. Both were waived in early September, however. Reese eventually signed with the Broncos for the final week of the regular season plus the postseason; Lopienski was signed to Indy's practice squad and spent the rest of the season with that unit.
Reese, the career rushing leader at Columbia University, gives the Buccaneers a pair of Ivy Leaguers on their 2005 roster, joining second-year tight end Nate Lawrie of Yale. The 6-1, 220-pound back is a powerful inside runner who can catches out of the backfield, as he showed during a fine 2004 preseason with the Jets, when he rushed for 123 yards on 29 carries and caught two passes for 10 yards.
Reese's strong showing last preseason got him through the final cut, where he had seen his first two cracks at the Jets' roster end in 2002 and 2003. However, he was waived after being inactive for the season opener and did not play again in 2004 until the Broncos signed him on December 28. After serving as a game-day inactive in the regular-season finale, Reese was released again as the Broncos made room for a third quarterback, Matt Mauck, on the 53-man roster.
Reese first joined the Jets as an undrafted free agent in the spring of 2002. In addition to attending camp with New York in '02 and '03, he played for the Amsterdam Admirals of the NFL Europe League in the spring of 2003. At Columbia, Reese ran for 3,321 yards on 739 carries, the fifth-best career total in Ivy League history, and caught 78 passes for 793 yards. In all, he scored 35 touchdowns, including one on a kickoff return. When he signed with the Jets in 2002, he was the first Columbia player to get an NFL contract in five years. Reese hails from St. Louis, Missouri.
Lopienski, a rugged 6-0, 246-pound blocker, played in the first two games of last season for the Colts before being moved to the practice squad. He has spent most of his first two NFL seasons on that unit after being signed as an undrafted free agent in May of 2003.
The former Notre Dame standout did spend more than a month on the Colts' active roster at the end of 2003, helping Indianapolis make a run to the AFC title game. Signed off the practice squad on Dec. 3, Lopienski played in the final three regular season games, primarily in a short-yardage blocking role. He then appeared in two of the Colts' three playoff games, catching a two-yard touchdown passes in Indy's 38-31 shootout win at Kansas City.
At Notre Dame, Lopienski was a three-year starter who saw action in 45 games and opened 28 of them. Though mostly a blocking back, he did carry 64 times for 205 yards and a touchdown and catch 13 passes for 140 yards and another score. He hails from Parkersburg, West Virginia.
Only players without contracts at the end of the 2004 season can be signed during this period. The NFL's veteran free agency period begins on March 2.