The shortest offseason in league history hasn't kept the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from getting nearly all of their rookies into camp on time.
On Thursday, the Buccaneers announced that they have signed three of their 2011 draft picks: fourth-round tight end Luke Stocker, fifth-round safety Ahmad Black and seventh-round cornerback Anthony Gaitor.
Coupled with Wednesday's agreements with Adrian Clayborn, Da'Quan Bowers, Mason Foster and Daniel Hardy, that leaves only sixth-round running back Allen Bradford unsigned, with a day still remaining before the first practice of camp.
The Buccaneers also announced the signings of three more undrafted rookie free agents on Thursday: Boston College guard Thomas Claiborne, Idaho running back Deonte Jackson and Washington linebacker Victor Aiyewa.
Clayborn was the first of the league's 32 first-round picks to sign with his team and still one of only a handful under contract by Thursday afternoon. Given that they wanted to have all their young players on the field for the start of camp, the Bucs turned their deals within a very short window. The new CBA was signed on Monday afternoon and teams could only begin negotiating with their players on Tuesday morning. The Buccaneers reported to camp on Thursday and had the traditional kickoff meeting scheduled for all players in the early evening with Head Coach Raheem Morris. The first practice will take place on Friday at 5:15 p.m. ET.
Under current management, the Buccaneers put a premium on having their rookies in camp on time because the team's plan for long-term success depends largely on developing its own young talent. In 2010, Tampa Bay was the first team since the 1970 merger to post a winning record while giving starts to 10 different rookies. The 2011 class will have every opportunity to make a similar impact.
It is hoped that Stocker will play extensively as a rookie. His solid 6-5, 253-pound frame makes him an ideal blocker on the end of the line but he also runs well for his size and is a real weapon in the passing attack. In four seasons at the University of Tennessee, Stocker caught 85 passes for 956 yards and eight touchdowns, including 68 receptions and seven scores over the past two seasons.
The Buccaneers believe Stocker will complement the dynamic Kellen Winslow (143 receptions and 10 TDs in two years in Tampa) in the two-TE, single-back formation the team refers to as 'Tiger.' With another pass-catching threat opposite Winslow on the line, the Buccaneers can pound away with jumbo back LeGarrette Blount out of the Tiger set or send one or both of their tight ends into the secondary.
Like Stocker, Black was a team captain last year, emerging as the top playmaker on defense for the University of Florida. Buccaneer scouts loved his work ethic and passion for the game, but Black also produced impressive raw numbers: 48 games played, 39 starts, 244 tackles, 13 interceptions, 14 tackles for loss, 15 passes broken up, two sacks, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and three defensive touchdowns. That's the weight of Black's outstanding four-year career in Gainesville, which ended in his selection as a second-round Associated Press All-American in his senior year.
The Buccaneers believe they can continue their recent tradition of seventh-round success with the selection of Florida International's Gaitor. Recent final-round hits for the Buccaneers include Sammie Stroughter, E.J. Biggers, Cody Grimm, Dekoda Watson and Erik Lorig.
The 5-10, 178 pound Gaitor, who hails from Miami, was a four-year starter at FIU and one of the most consistently productive players in the Sun Belt Conference during his career. After starting 11 of 12 games and leading the Panthers with two interceptions as a freshman in 2007, he began a run of three straight years as a first-team all-conference choice. He had at least 44 tackles and two interceptions in each of his four seasons, peaking at five picks in 2008. He led all Sun Belt players that season with 1.29 pass break-ups per game, as well.
The three additional signings on Thursday bring the total of undrafted rookies added by the Buccaneers since Tuesday to 19. The team announced two such signings on Tuesday and another 14 on Wednesday.
Claiborne started 34 games during his career at Boston College, and as a senior he provided blocking for the ACC's leading rusher, Montel Harris. Claiborne was the Eagles' starting right guard for most of the past three seasons and he helped BC running backs gain 100 or more yards in a game 17 times over the past two years.
Jackson was a versatile running and receiving threat at Idaho, where he was part of an effective three-back platoon in each of his last two years. Despite sharing time, he finished sixth in Idaho history with 2,700 career rushing yards, including a team-high 442 last year. Overall, he averaged 4.5 yards per carry during his 50-game Vandal career, scored 17 total touchdowns and caught 68 passes for 576 yards.
Aiyewa was a four-year teammate at Washington of the Buccaneers' 2011 third-round draft pick, Mason Foster. Aiyewa and Foster formed a very productive tandem at linebacker for the Huskies, particularly in 2010. Last year, Aiyewa posted 83 tackles, an incredible 21 of which were for losses, the fourth-highest single-season total in school history. Aiyewa also broke up three passes and forced for fumbles in 2010.