QB Sam Keller will try to catch on with the Buccaneers after one strong season at Nebraska
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have 12 rookies and a handful of first-year players on their current roster. Unless Gaines Adams was going to show up and teach everyone how to play seven-man football, that wasn't going to fly for this weekend's rookie mini-camp.
Thus, as has become their annual approach, the Buccaneers fleshed out the weekend roster by invited several dozen free agents to participate in the camp on tryout contracts. A total of 38 hopefuls, most of them rookies who passed through this weekend's draft without being selected, arrived on Thursday looking for a chance to earn a more lasting roster spot.
With those 38 additions and the four first-year players already on the roster who will participate – defensive end Marquies Gunn, cornerback Marcus Hamilton, guard Brian Johnson and wide receiver Charles Spiller – the Bucs will be able to field a squad of 54 players for their five workouts between Friday and Sunday. That's quite a bit less than a normal training camp roster, but the equivalent of a regular-season practice and more than enough to get some quality work done.
As usual, the list includes several players from nearby South Florida, including offensive linemen Jared Carnes and Walter Walker and wide receiver Amarri Jackson. The Bucs also put the call out to other in-state schools, with four players coming in from Florida State, two from Miami and one from Bethune Cookman.
Last year, the inclusion of Olympic sprinter Justin Gatlin among the tryout players dominated the weekend news, though Gatlin was the longest of long shots. There are no athletes trying to cross over from another sport this time around, but there is also no shortage of interesting stories behind the 38 invitees.
Texas Christian defensive end Tommy Blake, for instance, is trying to get his football career back on track after it was derailed last fall by what he later revealed to be depression and social anxiety disorder. A star for his first three seasons at TCU, Blake went into the 2007 season as a preseason All-American and a potential first-round draft pick.
Sam Keller, another of the 38 tryout players, is the second straight Nebraska quarterback to take his first crack at the NFL in Tampa. Last year, Husker passer Zac Taylor signed with the Bucs after the draft and spent three months with the team before being released on the eve of training camp.
Keller actually began his career at Arizona State and had a strong opening four games to the 2005 season before suffering a hand injury. A year later, in late August of 2006, he transferred to Nebraska after the Sun Devils' starting job went to Rudy Carpenter. After sitting out the mandated year, Keller took advantage of his one season with the Cornhuskers, throwing for 2,422 yards and 14 touchdowns in nine games. He missed the last three games of the '07 season after suffering a fractured collarbone against Texas.
Wide receiver Wes Doyle, who caught 73 passes for 926 yards and 13 touchdowns at San Diego last season, may be flying across the country for his tryout, but he should feel right at home. That's because one of the quarterbacks who will be tossing footballs his way is the same passer who hit him 125 times over the past two years. The Buccaneers drafted San Diego quarterback Josh Johnson in the fifth round last weekend.
Players like Blake, Keller and Doyle will do their best to impress at this weekend's camp, which is open only to players who have not accrued a single year of NFL free agency credit (thus, some first-year players can participate). Veterans are expressly prohibited from attending the camp.
Here is the full list of players who will be participating in this weekend's rookie camp on tryout contracts:
|DE||Tommy Blake||Texas Christian|
|DE||Daniel Brooks||Jackson State|
|T||Jared Carnes||South Florida|
|G||Jackie Claude||Florida State|
|LB||Derrick Doggett||Oregon State|
|WR||Wes Doyle||San Diego|
|CB||Byron Garvin||Kansas State|
|RB||Lavarius Giles||Jackson State|
|T||Floyd Headen||West Texas State|
|S||Anthony Houlis||Florida State|
|WR||Amarri Jackson||South Florida|
|CB||Brandon Jackson||Georgia Southern|
|S||Kyle Jackson||Florida State|
|T||Adam Kieft||Central Michigan|
|TE||Jon Loyte||Boston College|
|LB||Ron McCullough||Bethune Cookman|
|DT||Tywain Miles||Tarleton State|
|DT||Alphonso Moran||Kansas State|
|LS||Garrison Sanborn||Florida State|
|G||Pat Schwenke||West Texas A&M|
|RB||Clifton Smith||Fresno State|
|OL||Walter Walker||South Florida|
|FB||Stan White||Ohio State|
Though many of the above names may be unfamiliar to Buccaneer fans, each arrives at the Bucs' headquarters with a legitimate opportunity to prove himself. Spiller, one of the four first-year players from the Bucs' roster participating in the camp, was among the 28 tryout players in last year's camp. Spiller didn't get the call in the weeks after that camp, but was signed to a reserve/future contract in January. Four other players from that tryout camp did sign in 2007: tight end C.J. Leak, defensive end Jeremy Pittman, cornerback Chaz Williams and guard Anthony Wollschlager. Leak and Pittman went to camp with the team in August.
In 2006, the Bucs brought 30 players in on tryout contracts for the same camp and subsequently signed two of them to the offseason roster – cornerback Reuben Houston and defensive end Moe Thompson. Though Thompson was later released in June, Houston made it to Bucs training camp in Orlando.
In 2005, the Bucs brought in roughly 30 tryout players and ended up dipping into that pool repeatedly for the offseason roster. Eight players in all graduated from tryout contracts to spots on the roster in '05, including quarterback Jared Allen, cornerbacks Carlos Campbell and James Patrick, tackle Kevin Fischer, linebacker Rich Glover, fullback Steve Kriewald and running backs Jacque Lewis and Derek Watson. Campbell and Glover were released during the summer, but the other six made it to training camp, and four of the six (Allen, Lewis, Patrick and Watson) were back on the camp roster in 2006. Watson actually spent the second half of the 2005 season on the Bucs' 53-man roster.
Of course, the Buccaneers have a mostly full roster, and most of the tryout players won't be back after the weekend. However, the tryout camp could still serve as their first foot in the door, and lead to a subsequent signing in Tampa or elsewhere. There are plenty of interesting prospects among the 38 tryout players, in addition to the ones outlined above.
Central Michigan tackle Adam Kieft, for instance, was a fifth-round draft pick of the Cincinnati Bengals in 2005. He missed his first three seasons in Cincinnati after sustaining a knee injury in practice.
Two kickers will try to show off their legs this weekend – Louisville's Art Carmody and Virginia's Chris Gould. The Buccaneers are extremely confident in their own kicker, Matt Bryant, but the team occasionally brings two kickers to camp. Carmody won the Lou Groza Award in 2006; Gould is the younger brother of Chicago Bears Pro Bowl kicker Robbie Gould, and a strong-legged kicker himself.
Wide receiver Bruce Hocker is the all-time receiving leader at Duquesne, having caught 162 passes for 2,595 yards and 16 touchdowns in his Dukes career. The 6-4, 215-pound wideout was the first Duquesne player ever to participate in the Hula Bowl this past January, and the only player at that game from a non-scholarship program. Hocker wouldn't be the first Duke to graduate to the pros; Detroit cornerback Leigh Bodden, a standout player for Cleveland the last five years, also hails from Duquesne.
Of course, the best story to come out of the weekend would be one looking forward, not back. These 38 players come to Tampa hoping to make the most of their short time in front of the Buccaneers coaches and video cameras. If things go well enough, a spot in this summer's training camp could be waiting.