LB Wesly Mallard (left foreground), the newest Buc, was a special teams standout for several seasons with the Giants
After three-and-a-half seasons in the Northeast, Wesly Mallard has found a new NFL home in the South.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed Mallard, a fourth-year linebacker, on Wednesday, shoring up a position that has been short since the season-ending calf injury suffered by veteran Jeff Gooch on August 27. To make room for Mallard on the 53-man roster, the team waived rookie fullback Rick Razzano.
Mallard was in Buccaneer gear and on the practice field by Wednesday afternoon, giving the team six linebackers for the first time this season. While fourth-year player Ryan Nece has allowed the Bucs to fill Gooch's starting strongside linebacker spot without missing a beat, Mallard's signing helps address the special teams void left by Gooch's injury. A reserve for three years with the New York Giants (2002-04), Mallard played primarily on special teams and was one of the Giants' leading kick-coverage tacklers.
The mild hamstring injury suffered by linebacker Derrick Brooks in San Francisco was not a factor in Mallard's signing, except to highlight that the team was one injury away from playing with just four linebackers. Brooks is on the Bucs' injury report this week but is considered probable to play on Sunday against Carolina.
"With the injury to Derrick Brooks, although we expect him to play we still have to practice," said Head Coach Jon Gruden. "Mallard is a guy who we think can help us on special teams and at some point be a linebacker. He fits many of the criteria that we're looking for here."
The 6-1, 230-pound Mallard first entered the league as a sixth-round pick (188th overall) of the Giants in 2002. He made the team as a rookie and appeared in 15 games, playing almost exclusively on special teams and finishing second on the team with 15 kick-coverage stops. Mallard played in 15 more games in 2003 and posted 17 more stops, again second on the team.
Mallard's 2004 season was cut short by a knee injury after four games, in which he recorded two more special teams tackles. He was signed by the New England Patriots in April and appeared in the first two games of the 2005 season before being waived on September 27. Mallard was briefly re-signed by the Patriots, spending six October days and one more game on the active roster, before coming to Tampa.
At Oregon, Mallard excelled on the Ducks' football and track teams. He finished his collegiate career with 162 tackles, four sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.
The Bucs also saw a spot open up on their eight-man practice squad when rookie safety Hamza Abdullah was signed away by the Denver Broncos. Even while under contract to one team, practice squad players in the NFL remain free agents to a degree. A practice squad player may sign with another team at any time as long as they are going onto that team's active roster. Abdullah was a 2005 seventh-round draft pick of the Buccaneers who recently signed to the practice squad.