RB Earnest Graham, who led the team in rushing and scored three touchdowns during the preseason, was a natural choice for the practice squad
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers weren't able to get out of Jacksonville with a victory two and a half weeks ago – the team's only stumble of the preseason – but they apparently were able to gather some good scouting reports.
The Buccaneers put together their 2004 practice squad on Tuesday, and two of the eight players on the unit were with the Jaguars when the two teams met on August 20. Wide receiver Allen Suber and running back Joe Smith join two other newcomers – former New York Giant defensive lineman Issac Hilton and former Green Bay guard/long-snapper James Broyles – to form half of this year's squad.
The other half of the crew is comprised of players just released by the Buccaneers during Sunday's final cutdown date. Those four are running back Earnest Graham, offensive lineman Scott Jackson, defensive end Corey Smith and cornerback Ronyell Whitaker.
The practice squad is exactly what it sounds like: Players in this group can practice with the team throughout the week but are not eligible to appear in a game unless they are first signed to the 53-man active roster. While on a practice squad, players remain free agents of sorts in that they are free to sign with any team's active roster at any time.
That the team was able to retain four of their own difficult cuts and still bring in four additional prospects is a function of the newly-expanded practice squad, which had stood at five players for many years. Now, each team in the NFL can – and surely will – keep up eight players on this developmental unit.
Of course, the practice squad lineup can change throughout the season, and sometimes does so frequently. The makeup of the group can often depend on injuries to the 53-man roster; as a position on the active crew is depleted, reserves at that spot on the practice squad can allow practice to run smoothly. However, expanding the limit to eight players may make such weekly maneuvering less necessary and allow teams to use the practice squad more to develop promising young talents.
For the players, the practice squad represents a possible stepping stone to (or back to) the active roster. Last year, six players appeared on the Bucs' 53-man roster after first spending time on the team's practice squad: Whitaker, C. Smith, tackle Anthony Davis, defensive tackle Cleveland Pinkney, wide receiver Edell Shepherd and linebacker Justin Smith.
Davis is the perfect example. He began his NFL career as an undrafted free agent, signing with the Bucs after the 2003 draft. He did not make the active roster as a rookie but was one of the first players the team put on its practice squad. After spending almost the entire season in that capacity, Davis was signed to the active roster before the 2003 season finale. He then returned to camp with the Buccaneers this summer and was so impressive filling in for starter Derrick Deese at left tackle that he won a spot on the 53-man squad this year.
On this year's practice squad, all four of the returning Bucs are coming off fine preseason showings. Graham led the team in rushing with 124 yards on 37 carries and tied for second among all NFL players in the preseason with three touchdowns. Jackson played extensively at tackle and helped the Bucs allow just five combined sacks in four games. Smith had one of the Bucs' 10 sacks of the preseason and also forced two fumbles and made three tackles. Whitaker had a full defensive stat line in just four games: seven tackles, one sack, one interception and two passes defensed.
Broyles (6-4, 319) first entered the league as an undrafted free agent with the St. Louis Rams in 2002. He split his rookie campaign between the Rams' practice squad and active roster, then played in the 2003 NFL Europe League season with the Scottish Claymores. Broyles then signed with Green Bay this past January and went to camp with the Packers and appeared in two preseason games before being released. He played three collegiate seasons at Indiana before finishing at Southwest Missouri State, starting at guard for three years and handling both teams' long-snapping duties. He is a native of Rensselaer, Indiana.
Hilton (6-3, 251) was the second of two seventh-round draft picks by the Giants in April. He was a standout at Hampton, where he started for three seasons at defensive end and finished with 205 tackles, 24 sacks, five forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and eight passes defensed. He was also a decathlete on the Hampton track team and a two-time conference shot put title winner. Hilton appeared in three preseason games with the Giants, recording two solo tackles. He hails from Charleston, South Carolina.
Smith (2-1, 224) made the Jaguars' active roster as an undrafted rookie to begin the 2003 season, but then spent weeks 2-17 on Jacksonville's practice squad. This preseason, he appeared in one preseason game with the Jaguars but did not have a carry. In two seasons at Louisiana Tech, Smith ran for 2,189 yards and 24 touchdowns, averaging over five yards per carry. As a senior in 2002, he rushed 207 times for 1,217 yards and 16 touchdowns and was a first-team all-conference choice. He is from Cleveland, Texas.
Suber (5-9, 189) played in two preseason games with one start for Jacksonville this summer, catching two passes for 33 yards. He is making a dramatic position switch after excelling at quarterback for Bethune-Cookman for four years. During his four collegiate seasons, Suber played in 45 games and started 34 at quarterback, passing for 4,979 yards and running for 2,897 yards. He accounted for a combined 79 passing and rushing touchdowns. Jacksonville signed the Tampa native as an undrafted free agent. Suber played his prep football at Tampa Catholic high school.