T Chris Denman (since switched to jersey #61) leads a group of lineman through a footwork drill
With one week to go before the first practice of training camp, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are halfway done with their rookie signings.
The latest 2007 draft pick to come to terms with the team is tackle Chris Denman, a seventh-round pick out of Fresno State. Denman's deal was announced Friday, adding him to a list of signees that also includes fourth-round safety Tanard Jackson, fifth-round defensive tackle Greg Peterson and sixth-round linebacker Adam Hayward and seventh-round cornerback Marcus Hamilton.
Tampa Bay drafted 10 players in April, including two second-rounders and three seventh-rounders. By NFL rules, those 10 rookies were allowed to participate in the team's offseason program before inking their first contracts, but they cannot report to training camp until that issue is resolved. So far, that doesn't appear as if it will be a problem for the Buccaneer. Generally, the team and its latest draftees wrap up their contract work in the last few days before the start of camp, but the process got an early start this year when Jackson finished his deal on June 22.
Now with half of the new class in the fold, the Buccaneers can concentrate on first-round defensive end Gaines Adams, second-round guard Arron Sears, second-round safety Sabby Piscitelli, third-round linebacker Quincy Black and one remaining second-day selection, seventh-round running back Kenneth Darby. Some of those deals may come down to the training camp wire, but the Bucs haven't had an extended rookie holdout in over a decade.
Players under contract are required to report to training camp next Thursday afternoon, July 26. The first practice will be on the morning of Friday, July 27.
This year's draft picks did not count against the 80-man offseason roster limit while they were still awaiting their first contracts. They do count once they sign, meaning most of the rookie signings taking place this month have to be balanced with the release of another player.
In this case, however, the Bucs didn't have to make a cut after signing Denman. Rather, they applied an extra NFL Europa exemption that had been earned during the spring. The Bucs sent five players to the NFLEL this year (Jovon Bouknight, Jonathan Clinkscale, Bruce Eugene, Carlos Hendricks and Kyle Smith), and each of those men earned their own roster exemption for training camp. However, because Clinkscale spent all of last season on Tampa Bay's practice squad, he was labeled a Level 1 player when he was allocated to NFL Europa. Level 1 players earn their NFL teams a bonus exemption on top of the player's own exemption.
Better yet, that extra addition does not have to be applied specifically to someone who participated in the NFLEL this year. It can be used on any player on the roster who has one year of NFL experience or less – that is, a rookie, first-year player or second-year player.
The Bucs chose to use it on second-year guard Davin Joseph. The decision does not affect Joseph in any way but does allow the team to bring one more player to camp. Like the other NFLEL exemptions, this one will expire when the teams cut down to 75 players on August 28.
Though Denman was the first of three seventh-round picks by the Buccaneers, he very quickly made a positive impression on the team in spring and summer workouts. Head Coach Jon Gruden praised the rookie's work on the practice field on several occasions and mentioned as assets Denman's size, intensity and physical style of play.
The 6-7, 315-pound Denman, picked 214th overall, started the last three seasons at right tackle for Fresno State, earning first-team All-WAC honors this past season. Originally a walk-on, he was in the starting lineup at right tackle for each of the last 43 games of his collegiate career.