Before injuries cost Morris the last three seasons, he was a breakout rookie star for the Chiefs in 2000
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers continue to stockpile receiving talent prior to the official beginning of the 2004 league season.
On Thursday, the Bucs announced the signing of fifth-year wide receiver Sylvester Morris, who has spent the past three seasons on injured reserve with the Kansas City Chiefs. A first-round draft choice in 2000, Morris had an outstanding rookie season before knee and hip injuries cost him the next three years.
The receiver had been linked to the Buccaneers since a February 12 workout by Houston Texans quarterback Drew Henson, at which Morris caught Henson's passes. However, Morris' signing was not finalized until Thursday.
Morris, the sixth pass-catcher added by the team since the end of the 2003 season, may have the highest profile of the bunch. The 21st player drafted overall in 2000 – and the fourth receiver picked that year – Morris became an immediate starter as a rookie and contributed 48 receptions for 678 yards and three touchdowns. In just his second NFL start he produced six catches for 112 yards and three touchdowns against the San Diego Chargers (9/17/00). At the end of Morris' rookie campaign, during which he picked up 14.1 yards per catch, he was an all-rookie team selection by both Pro Football Weekly and Football News.
Before acquiring Morris, the Bucs also signed receivers Danny Farmer, Marcus Knight, Frank Murphy, Justin Skaggs and Fabian Davis. Farmer caught 43 passes for 611 yards and one touchdown over parts of three seasons in Cincinnati. Knight played two seasons in Oakland, primarily handling kickoff return duties. Murphy is a former Buccaneer, having played 12 games in 2000-01 and caught eight passes for 71 yards and one touchdown. Skaggs had brief stays on the Washington Redskins' roster late in 2001 and 2002 but did not catch a pass, and Davis spent all of 2003 on Tampa Bay's practice squad.
Interestingly, the Bucs, who did not make a pick in the first round of the 2000 draft (they traded two number-ones to the New York Jets for Keyshawn Johnson that year), now have two of the players taken in that round. Last summer, Tampa Bay traded receiver Marquise Walker, a third-round pick in 2002, to Arizona for running back Thomas Jones, who was the seventh overall selection in 2000.
After his breakout rookie campaign, Morris was preparing for his sophomore follow-up when he suffered a torn ACL in his right knee during an offseason workout in June. That injury forced him to the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list for the Chiefs, where he spent the entire 2001 season. He was back in camp in 2002 but not back to full strength, and that landed him on injured reserve for the balance of that campaign. He came to camp in 2003 without concerns about his knee, but subsequently suffered a hip injury and landed on injured reserve again. The Chiefs released Morris on October 15, 2003.
As a collegian, Morris established a new school record at Jackson State with 175 career receptions while totaling 3,188 receiving yards and 34 touchdowns. He was named All-American and All-SWAC his junior and senior seasons.
The Bucs also addressed the interior of their defensive line on Thursday, a spot at which every team likes to have significant depth. They did so by signing the 6-2, 305-pound Damian Gregory, who last appeared in a regular-season game with the Cleveland Browns in 2002.
Gregory first entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the Miami Dolphins in 2000 but spent his rookie season on injured reserve after suffering a knee injury halfway through the preseason. The following year, however, Gregory made the Dolphins' 53-man active roster and played in two of Miami's first five regular season games before another bit of medical misfortune. In this case, it was a ruptured spleen, and it landed him on the reserve/non-football injury on October 16.
The Dolphins later waived Gregory just before the free agency period began in 2002, and he was picked up off waivers by the Cleveland Browns on March 3, 2002. Gregory started that season on Cleveland's practice squad but was later promoted to the active roster for two games in November. He appeared in one game and was inactive for the other before being shuttled back to the practice squad. The Oakland Raiders signed Gregory as a free agent the following February but waived him prior to camp.
Gregory played three seasons at Indiana University before transferring to Illinois State University for his senior season in 1999. As a senior, he totaled 55 tackles and four sacks with ISU.