LB Jeff Gooch was one of the Bucs' best special-teamers from 1996-2001
Maybe Jeff Gooch and Dave Moore are a package deal.
Both Gooch and Moore finished the first part of their Tampa Bay Buccaneers career after the 2001 season, Gooch heading to Detroit and Moore picking up with the Buffalo Bills. Then, one week ago, on the first day of free agency, the Bucs brought back Moore, a 12th-year tight end, as their first signee.
This Wednesday, Gooch, a ninth-year linebacker, followed suit, returning to Tampa Bay and re-signing with the team that first brought him to the NFL. As is team policy with all signings, the Bucs did not disclose details of the deal.
Like Moore, who will be in the running for the team's long-snapping job in addition to his tight end duties, Gooch should be a boon to the Bucs' special teams. In his first eight NFL seasons, Gooch (5-11, 226) has amassed 145 kick-coverage tackles, including 85 in six seasons as a Buccaneer. During his tenure with Tampa Bay, he was considered one of the Bucs' top special teamers, and he could step right back into a similar role
"Jeff adds a lot of versatility to our linebacking corps," said Bucs Head Coach Jon Gruden. "He also brings dynamic leadership and playmaking skills to our special teams units."
The Bucs have signed two linebackers in the past two days, adding former Denver Bronco Keith Burns on Tuesday. Burns, the Broncos' special teams captain the past two years, is also expected to be a boost for the Bucs' kicking units, which struggled uncharacteristically in 2003.
Gooch and Burns also add depth to a position that had become seriously thin on the Bucs' roster. Before the addition of those two, Tampa Bay had just three veteran linebackers under contract, Derrick Brooks, Shelton Quarles and Ryan Nece. Top reserve Nate Webster signed with Cincinnati as an unrestricted free agent last week.
Gooch, who has played in 121 NFL games with 24 starts, played the entire season at strongside linebacker for the Buccaneers in 1998, his third NFL season. His career defensive totals include 198 tackles, 89 as a Buccaneer. He also owns 1.5 sacks and one interception. During his first Buc stint, Gooch was greeted with a loud call of "Goooooooch!" from the home crowd after every big play.
Still, Gooch's kick-coverage abilities may be his top asset in his second go-around with the Buccaneers. In 2002, his first year in Detroit, Gooch racked up a stunning 41 kick-coverage tackles and was named the Lions' special teams MVP.
Gooch originally joined the Buccaneers as an undrafted free agent in 1996. At Austin Peay, he was a remarkably versatile athlete, helping the Tigers on both offense and defense. After playing linebacker as a freshman, Gooch started his sophomore season in the same spot but took over the starting quarterback spot after a rash of injuries. He returned to linebacker as a junior but played strong safety as a senior, racking up 87 tackles that year. Gooch hails from Nashville, Tennessee.
The Bucs are seemingly loathe to let a day of free agency pass without adding another player. Tuesday was an especially busy day, as the Bucs signed running back Burns, Charlie Garner and guard Matt O'Dwyer. In the previous five days of free agency, the team had also re-signed TE Rickey Dudley and added Moore, fullback Greg Comella and offensive linemen Matt Stinchcomb and Derrick Deese.