Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Gold Standard

Following a successful draft weekend, the Bucs give themselves a gift of gold – Ian Gold, the former Bronco standout linebacker who signed on Wednesday

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LB Ian Gold was a Pro Bowl special teamer before becoming a standout starter in Denver

Less than three days after the conclusion of the 2004 draft, veteran linebacker Ian Gold is a Buccaneer. Looking back, there were some definite clues to this turn of events on Saturday and Sunday, even as the team was focused on the weekend's primary task.

For instance, after the Bucs drafted Washington linebacker Marquis Cooper in the third round, Head Coach Jon Gruden mentioned several times that they might not be done addressing that position. Then, with some possible linebacker prospects still on the board, the Bucs instead chose a safety, a guard and a tight end with their next three picks.

Oh, and one other fairly telling clue: Gold was spotted at Buc headquarters on Sunday, chatting with several team reps who were otherwise occupied with the draft and undergoing a physical.

By the Bucs' way of thinking, there was plenty of time available to sell Gold on the virtues of joining Tampa Bay's defense, even with the draft in full swing. Mission accomplished: the former Denver Bronco signed a contract on Wednesday, joining the amazing influx of impact veteran players into Tampa. Terms of the contract were not disclosed by the Bucs.

With Gold's presence at the facility over the weekend, his signing was not exactly a well-kept secret. However, the team did not officially conclude the transaction until Wednesday.

The 6-0, 223-pound Gold fits Tampa Bay's defensive mold as if he actually was drafted. Perhaps thought to be a bit undersized coming out of college, Gold has excelled thanks to top-notch speed and quickness and excellent instincts for the game. He can blitz the quarterback and drop into coverage with equally good results.

With Gold in the fold, the Bucs may finally feel comfortable with their corps of linebackers, which was woefully thin a little less than two months ago. At one point down to three returning starters from last year – Derrick Brooks, Shelton Quarles and Ryan Nece – the Bucs have now added Gold and Cooper, plus March pickups Keith Burns and Jeff Gooch.

Of the newcomers, Gold has the most extensive starting experience in recent years. He opened all 16 games for Denver at weakside linebacker in 2002, and the first six games of 2003 before sustaining a season-ending knee injury. Over that 22-game span, Gold recorded 205 tackles, 6.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, two interceptions and 11 passes defensed.

The Bucs, who didn't have a second-round pick in this year's draft, still managed to add a player who was selected 40th overall, early in the second round, in 2000. A collegiate standout at Michigan, Gold was an instant hit in Denver, first as a Pro Bowl special teams player and then as a starter on an outstanding Bronco linebacking unit. Just 25 years old, Gold is still in his prime as a player.

In his four Bronco seasons, Gold 254 tackles, 11.5 sacks, two interceptions, 13 passes defensed, five forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. He also was a game-changer on special teams, giving Denver 32 tackles, one blocked punt (which he returned for a touchdown), one forced fumble and five fumble recoveries. In 2001, he was the AFC's choice as the special teams representative in the Pro Bowl.

Gold was also one of the Broncos' best citizens, as evidenced by his 2003 selection as Denver's Walter Payton Man of the Year Award finalist. That nomination was a satisfying cap to what was otherwise a frustrating season, thanks to the torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee that interrupted a strong start. At the time of his injury, Gold ranked third on the team in tackles and passes defensed and first in interceptions.

Gold's signing, piggy-backed on the selection of eight rookies over the weekend, is a reminder that the draft is just one aspect of the offseason's roster work. The Bucs didn't land a running back in the draft, but are well-stocked in that area with the additions of Charlie Garner, Brandon Bennett and Jamel White and the recovery of Mike Alstott. Similarly, an offensive line that needed reinforcements got only fifth-round G Jeb Terry over the weekend, but that may be the cherry on top of a four-scoop free agent sundae – Todd Steussie, Derrick Deese, Matt Stinchcomb and Matt O'Dwyer.

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