Rookie T Demar Dotson, who played just one season of college football, was one of eight rookies to make the opening-day roster for the Buccaneers
Elbert Mack and Clifton Smith were two of the 52 players the Tampa Bay Buccaneers kept after Saturday's final round of cuts. The Buccaneers' coaching staff hopes there are a few more Macks and Smiths among the other 50.
One day after concluding their 2009 preseason with a 27-20 loss to the Houston Texans, the Buccaneers trimmed their roster from 75 players to 52, one below the NFL-mandated limit of 53. That's an indication that the team has its sights set on a player or several players who may soon become available as the league's other 31 teams make similar cuts.
One spot on the roster was cleared in an unfortunate manner, as rookie tackle Xavier Fulton was placed on injured reserve. Fulton suffered an ACL tear in his left knee during Friday night's game. Also, safety Tanard Jackson will revert to the reserve/suspended list and will not count against the 53-man roster for the first four weeks of the season. Scroll down for a complete list of Saturday's roster moves.
As always, there were difficult decisions; likely among them this year were the releases of veterans Matt Bryant, Jameel Cook and Cortez Hankton, and the exact makeup of the depth along the offensive line. Of course, tough choices are a function of good and productive depth, something Tampa Bay's management is striving to create.
"It's never easy to cut a guy," said Head Coach Raheem Morris in the week leading up to Saturday's deadline. "That's probably the worst part of my job. But when we start making the tough cuts, that's when we become a good team, that's when we become a really great team."
Last year, then-rookie Mack was one of the surprising choices for the season-opening 53-man roster, especially considering his roots as an undrafted free agent out of Troy. He proved to be one of the team's 53 best players and, a year later, he is the obvious front-runner for the team's nickel back job.
Mack had a very good game in the team's 2008 preseason finale, sealing his spot. On Friday, second-year quarterback Josh Johnson showed off his athletic potential and wound up as one of four quarterbacks kept by the Buccaneers. Johnson completed 12 of 21 passes for 182 yards, one touchdown and one interception and also ran five times for 43 yards.
"We want to keep the best 53 and Josh went out again and proved he could move the football and when he's out there he can be productive and he can learn and he can go without a whole bunch of reps," said Morris after Friday's game. "That's big-time quality in this league when you have a guy like that. That's a special quality, I believe, a Jason Garrett-type of quality. A guy [like Garrett] can back up Troy Aikman for 12 years, or whatever it was, and go in a game and when they need him he wins football games. When he gets his opportunity to go play, he plays well and then he fights his way to the top. That's what I want this team to be built on."
Other young players who simply proved too valuable to let go included tackle Demar Dotson, cornerback E.J. Biggers and linebacker Rod Wilson. Dotson might be this year's most surprising success story. He played just one year of college football at Southern Miss after previously playing on the school's basketball team, and that was at defensive tackle. Agile and big (6-9, 315 pounds), Dotson represents a major find for the Buccaneers' scouting department.
"Last year it was Mack," said Morris. "Last year, E-Mack went up there and got a pick, hit the quarterback, got the crowd fired up. The next thing you know, he's on our team and we didn't know his name. We just called him 'Nook.' We're going to look for those types of players to step up and go out there and play this year and do the same things."
Here's a rundown of all the roster moves the team made on Saturday in order to get to 52 players.