The Tampa Bay Buccaneers trimmed their roster from 75 players to the regular-season limit of 53 on Saturday, and in so doing confirmed several of the dominant storylines that emerged in the team's training camp at the start of August.
The receiving corps has newfound depth. The 2009 and 2010 draft classes are a huge part of the team's new foundation. Preseason performance matters. A player's origin – be it as a high-profile free agent or an undrafted rookie – is irrelevant in the face of on-the-field production.
All of those storylines, in fact, are reflected in the group of receivers with which the Bucs will start the season. The team kept seven receivers, at least one more than the most common 53-man roster number, releasing only veteran Michael Clayton on Saturday. Among those seven are three players drafted in the last two springs: Sammie Stroughter, Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams. The group also includes feel-good story Micheal Spurlock, the converted college quarterback who had a very strong preseason. And perhaps the biggest surprise is the continued presence of rookie Preston Parker, an undrafted free agent out of the University of North Alabama who has shown promise as both a receiver and a kick returner.
To get from 75 to 53, the Buccaneers placed second-year tackle Demar Dotson on injured reserve, placed cornerback Aqib Talib on the reserve/suspended list and released the following 20 players:
- CB Brandon Anderson
- S Vince Anderson
- RB Carlos Brown
- WR Michael Clayton
- C Jonathan Compas (waived/injured)
- G Marc Dile
- T Xavier Fulton
- DE George Johnson
- TE Jeron Mastrud
- LB Rico McCoy
- DT Dre Moore
- DT Carlton Powell
- TE Ryan Purvis
- C Donovan Raiola
- CB Derrick Roberson
- LB Lee Robinson
- DE James Ruffin
- QB Jevan Snead
- FB Rendrick Taylor
- CB Trae Williams
Not on that list: Any of the nine players drafted by the Bucs this past April, which could prove to be one of the most impactful draft classes in franchise history. It would have been an upset, of course, had the team not kept any of the players it selected in the first four rounds – defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price, wide receivers Benn and Williams and cornerback Myron Lewis – and sixth-rounder Brent Bowden is the only punter on the roster. However, it is particularly encouraging that the trio of seventh-rounders – safety Cody Grimm, linebacker Dekoda Watson and defensive end Erik Lorig – all made the squad. Grimm, Watson and Lorig are likely to be a big part of the team's efforts on special teams in 2010, and they might also fall in the footsteps of 2009 seventh-rounders Sammie Stroughter and E.J. Biggers and eventually carve out much larger roles.
NFL teams usually have general targets for the numbers of players they would like to keep at each position – say, six linebackers or three tight ends. However, the respective talent levels at those various positions can sometimes prompt a team to go over or under their targets in order to keep the best 53 players overall. In addition to wide receiver, the safety position seems to have caught the eyes of the coaching staff, as five players were kept in that crew. That includes Grimm and 2009 holdover Corey Lynch, both of whom had outstanding preseasons.
In fact, Lynch might be the best example of a player who solidified a potentially shaky hold on the roster with a strong showing on the field in the four preseason games. Lynch finished the preseason with 12 tackles, two interceptions, three passes defensed, one quarterback pressure, one special teams tackle and one blocked punt. He even saved his best performance for last, leading the Bucs to a 24-17 win in the preseason finale at Houston with two interceptions, one of which he returned 91 yards for a touchdown.
Second-year quarterback Rudy Carpenter also carved out a spot with strong preseason. The Buccaneers entered training camp with Josh Freeman and Josh Johnson strongly in place in the first two spots on the quarterback depth chart but the untested Carpenter had more to prove. Plucked off Dallas' practice squad midway through his 2009 rookie season, the former Arizona State standout made the most of his first preseason with the Buccaneers, completing 33 of 58 passes for 391 yards, three touchdowns, one interception and a passer rating of 87.6.
As is often the case, the 53-man roster includes several players who beat the odds after entering the league as undrafted free agents. This year, that exciting journey was made by Parker and Eastern Kentucky tackle Derek Hardman. Parker caught two passes for 45 yards in the Bucs' win in Houston on Thursday and also averaged 11.1 yards on eight punt returns and 23.5 yards on four kickoff returns. Hardman may have nailed down his spot thanks to some impressive versatility; though listed as a tackle he started Thursday's game at right guard in place of Davin Joseph.
Hardman's versatility, and the every-position abilities of third-year man Jeremy Zuttah, allowed the Bucs to enter the season with just eight offensive linemen. Behind starters Donald Penn, Keydrick Vincent, Jeff Faine, Joseph and Jeremy Trueblood the team will carry Hardman, Zuttah and third-year man James Lee. Lee will primarily back up Penn at left tackle but Zuttah and Hardman could potentially fill in anywhere on the line. During the regular season, the Buccaneers generally keep only two reserve linemen on the 45-man active gameday roster.
Though Saturday's moves comprised the last of the mandatory roster cuts before the regular season opener, the Bucs generally avoid referring to the results as the "final" roster. With cuts being made across the NFL, teams will spend Saturday and Sunday scouring the waiver wire to see if there are any possible improvements for their 53-man rosters out there.
The Buccaneers will also form the first iteration of their eight-man practice squad in the coming days, so some of the players who were released on Saturday will return to the team in that capacity.