Buccaneer QB Scott Milanovich led the Berlin Thunder to an overtime victory
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers currently have 79 players in town for a series of 14 voluntary workouts, focusing the attention of Buc fans on Tampa and somewhat obscuring the work of the six Bucs playing the NFL Europe League. However, while the campers in Florida took a three-day weekend off to recharge, the overseas six remained in action.
And what action it was. The two Buccaneers who have carved out the highest profile in the 2000 NFLEL season, RB Aaron Stecker and QB Scott Milanovich, were both involved in thrilling overtime games with their European squads. The two came out of the weekend a combined 1-1, but did nothing to take the shine off their European experience so far.
Milanovich, who began the season as a Berlin Thunder backup to Eric Kresser, allocated to the NFLEL by Cincinnati. A pulled stomach muscle kept Milanovich from giving Kresser a full run for his money in the early going, but the Buc QB came on strong in the NFLEL's third weekend of action, relieving Kresser in the second quarter and leading the Thunder to a 23-20 win over the Scottish Claymores.
Milanovich's first start for Berlin came two weeks later, and he completed 15 of 38 passes for 237 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions against Amsterdam but was unable to avoid a 24-21 loss in overtime. This Sunday, Milanovich and the Thunder found themselves in an extra period once again, but this time Berlin came away with a 25-21 victory over the first-place Rhein Fire. In the NFLEL, overtime periods are not 'sudden death' (first score wins) as they are in the National Football League.
Milanovich outdueled Danny Wuerffel in the Berlin win, throwing two touchdown passes during regulation to take the game into the extra period in a 21-21 tie. The Thunder won when Chicago Bears-allocated K Jaret Holmes hit a four-point field from 52 yards out.
While Milanovich was threading TD passes to the likes of Anthony Ladd and Tywan Mitchell, the Bucs' other three rostered signal-callers, Shaun King, Eric Zeier and Joe Hamilton, were running practice in Tampa and adjusting to new Offensive Coordinator Les Steckel's offense. Milanovich recently re-signed with Tampa Bay, meaning he will join that trio in training camp in late July. Meanwhile, he feels that the in-game work he's receiving overseas is working to his advantage.
"I came over here for more live action," said Milanovich. "I haven't been able to play on a consistent basis for quite some time. I'm just trying to do everything to improve my chances when training camp begins. … Ultimately, it will come down to how well I play and nothing else. I'll find out soon enough."
The same holds true for Stecker, who has played very well in Europe for the Claymores. While Milanovich was leading the Thunder to a win in five quarters, Stecker was also involved in extra action this weekend as his crew from Scotland fell 31-30 in overtime to the Frankfurt Galaxy. Stecker came into the sixth weekend of NFLEL play as the league's leading rusher (420 yards) and TD scorer (4), and he added another touchdown total with a three-yard dive in the second quarter.
That play ignited a Scottish rally that allowed the home team to tie the game at 24 in regulation, completing a 21-point rally that was the largest comeback in team history. In overtime, each team reached the end zone once, but the Claymores tried a gutsy two-point conversion after their score and failed, losing by one.
Stecker continued to impress, despite the loss, furthering his goal, which mirrors that of Milanovich. "Right now, it's just getting an opportunity to show what I can do," he said. "Being a free agent, you have bigger name guys in front of you. You have to be able to step in and take advantage of the opportunity. … I haven't done anything different. I have just been getting an opportunity to play and show people what I can do."
Like Milanovich, Stecker will return to the practice field with the Bucs in July, and he'll also face stiff competition for a roster spot. Running back Warrick Dunn is sure to maintain his starting role, and he's backed up by Rabih Abdullah, who held that role during the entire regular season in 1999. Also on the roster is veteran Jerry Ellison, who was a primary substitute for the Bucs for four years before spending last season in New England, and rookie free agent Ketric Sanford.
"I feel I have a good shot of making the roster in Tampa Bay," said Stecker. "They knew what I was capable of doing but they wanted to see me do it in games. I know Tampa has been keeping a close eye on me and I'm pretty sure they're happy with the success I have had."
Indeed, Buccaneers management has been pleased with Stecker's success, and is eager to have him, Milanovich and the rest of the Bucs' Europe crew rejoin the team later in the summer. With a new week beginning, Buccaneer focus will now shift back to the workouts in Tampa – there are four scheduled for this week, starting Monday – but Milanovich and Stecker plan to provide the highlights once again next weekend.