LB Jeff Gooch played primarily on special teams the last two years but was a starter at strongside linebacker in 1998
Apparently, Lovie Smith got his man.
Smith, formerly the Bucs' linebackers coach, is now the defensive coordinator in St. Louis, and that's where linebacker Jeff Gooch is headed. On Monday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers traded the sixth-year linebacker to the Rams in exchange for a fifth-round pick in this April's draft.
Smith tutored the linebackers during Gooch's entire tenure as a Buccaneer, as the coach arrived as part of Tony Dungy's staff in February of 1996 and the player signed on as a rookie free agent later that spring. Under Smith, Gooch emerged as a starter by 1998 but was eventually replaced in the lineup by Shelton Quarles and Alshermond Singleton. He may get an opportunity to regain more substantial playing time in Smith's new home.
"They called us because of Jeff's familiarity with the system (being imported by Smith)," said Buccaneers General Rich McKay. "It made sense to us from the perspective of acquiring a pick and from a salary-cap perspective."
The deal gives the Bucs 10 picks in the seven rounds of the 2001 draft, their own seven plus one extra selection each in the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds. Tampa Bay owns Jacksonville's sixth-round choice (in exchange for DE Regan Upshaw) and Atlanta's seventh-rounder (in exchange for QB Eric Zeier).
The Rams, who want to shore up last year's 23rd ranked defense under Smith, have now acquired two Buc linebackers since the end of the 2000 season. Special teams ace Don Davis signed with St. Louis as an unrestricted free agent on March 7. That pair of deals is an indication of the outstanding depth the Bucs enjoy at linebacker, where they still boast Quarles, Singleton, Derrick Brooks, Jamie Duncan and Nate Webster.
"Jeff's been a good player for us, but we feel comfortable with the depth we have at the linebacker position," said McKay. "We have been focused on trying to acquire picks in this draft to draft some young guys and help us from a salary cap perspective.
"Although they'll be hard to replace, we're confident we can do it in the draft with some young guys that will not be expected to play but will be expected to contribute on special teams."
An undrafted rookie from Austin Peay, Gooch made the Bucs' active roster in 1996 and immediately surfaced as a standout on special teams. He became a spot starter in his second campaign before taking over the main job at strongside linebacker in 1998. Gooch started all 16 games that season for the league's second-ranked defense, racking up 72 tackles, four forced fumbles and one sack. Gooch also continued to excel on special teams, which became his primary role after the emergence of both Quarles and Singleton.
Last season, Gooch paced the Buccaneers with 23 kick-coverage tackles. He finished his five-year Tampa Bay tenure with 123 tackles, six forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, one sack and 69 stops on special teams.