A sixth-round pick of the Jaguars in 2005, WR Chad Owens was a dangerous return man at Hawaii
On Wednesday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced the signings of 14 free agent players, half of whom join the team for the first time.
The 2007 league year officially begins in early March, but any player who did not finish the 2006 season on an active roster is already eligible to sign with any team, including those that are still alive in the playoffs. This affords every team in the league, whether still playing or not, the same opportunity to build their rosters for the coming offseason.
Since all practice squad contracts expire at the end of the season, those players are eligible to re-sign as well. Accordingly, the Bucs re-signed all seven men who finished the '06 season their practice squad. That list includes two receivers – Chas Gessner and Chad Lucas – as well as offensive linemen Jonathan Clinkscale and Dennis Roland, fullback Jon Goldsberry, tight end Keith Heinrich and cornerback Carlos Hendricks.
The list of new players to the roster includes wide receiver Chad Owens, the small but explosive Hawaii product drafted by Jacksonville in the sixth round in 2005. Owens may be interesting as a punt or kickoff return option; he had eight return touchdowns during his collegiate career.
Also on the list is first-year wide receiver Kyle Smith, who was briefly linked to the Buccaneers nine months ago, if by accident. During the 2006 NFL Draft, Smith's name mistakenly appeared on ESPN's broadcast as one of Tampa Bay's second-day selections. Smith, the son of San Diego Chargers' Executive Vice President and General Manager A.J. Smith, was in fact not drafted, though he did sign as a free agent with the Minnesota Vikings the following week.
Here is the full list of the players signed by the Buccaneers since the end of the 2006 season:
|LB||Evan Benjamin||Washington||Seahawks' training camp '06|
|S||Tra Boger||Tulane||Packers' training camp '06|
|WR||Jovon Bouknight||Wyoming||Panthers' training camp '06|
|C/G||Jonathan Clinkscale||Wisconsin||Bucs' practice squad '05-06|
|QB||Bruce Eugene||Grambling||Undrafted signee by Saints in '06|
|WR||Chas Gessner||Brown||Bucs' practice squad '06|
|FB||Jon Goldsberry||Purdue||Bucs' practice squad '06|
|TE||Keith Heinrich||Sam Houston State||Bucs' practice squad '06|
|CB||Carlos Hendricks||Alabama-Birmingham||Bucs' practice squad '06|
|WR||Efrem Hill||Samford||Panthers' active roster '05|
|WR||Chad Lucas||Alabama State||Bucs' practice squad '06|
|WR||Chad Owens||Hawaii||Jaguars' active roster '06|
|T||Dennis Roland||Georgia||Bucs' practice squad '06|
|WR||Kyle Smith||Youngstown State||Undrafted signee by Vikings in '06|
While few of those names will be familiar to Buccaneer fans, these are not insignificant transactions. A year ago, the list of players signed in January produced two players who went on to make the regular-season roster, linebacker Antoine Cash and wide receiver Paris Warren. Cash proved to be a strong special-teamer, appearing in all 16 games and contributing 17 kick-coverage tackles. Warren saw late-season playing time after an injury to Michael Clayton and finished with five receptions for 63 yards. Clinkscale and Gessner were also on that '06 list; while neither made the team both showed enough potential to hold down practice squad spots and earn another crack at the roster in 2007.
The 2005 crop of January signings produced Kalvin Pearson and Blue Adams, two defensive backs who are still with the team today. Running back Earnest Graham was among the players signed in January of 2004.
Who might join that list next fall? It could be a practice-squad holdover such as Gessner or Roland; that was the path followed by Graham and Pearson, for example. Or it could be one of the seven newest Buccaneers. Here is a brief look at those young newcomers:
The 6-0, 222-pound Benjamin didn't go far after leaving the University of Washington, signing as an undrafted free agent with the nearby Seahawks. The son of former Seattle running back Anthony Benjamin and a Redmond, Washington native, he went to camp with the Seahawks but was released on August 28. As a Husky, Benjamin started as a safety before moving to outside linebacker for his senior season. In four years, he amassed 231 tackles, 6.5 sacks and eight interceptions, leading the defense in tackles in each of his last two seasons despite playing two different positions.
Like Benjamin, Boger entered the league as an undrafted free agent last spring, signing on with the Green Bay Packers in May. A 5-11, 210-pound safety, he also has NFL bloodlines of a sort, as he is the son of NFL official Jerome Boger. At Tulane, played in 50 games (four full seasons plus a redshirt year in which he played in only two contests) and finished his career with 329 tackles, nine interceptions, 19 passes defensed, two sacks and two fumble recoveries. As a prep star in DeKalb, Georgia, Boger was a dual-threat quarterback, rushing for 1,680 yards and passing for 2,580 yards while producing 54 touchdowns. The Packers took Boger to camp but released him on August 28.
Bouknight was an undrafted rookie in 2006, too, getting his start with the Carolina Panthers. The all-time leading receiver in the Mountain West Conference, the 6-1, 191-pound Bouknight made it to the final cut in September but was released by Carolina on September 3. At Wyoming, he was a first-team all-conference pick as a senior after racking up 1,116 yards and 12 touchdowns on 77 receptions. Overall, he posted 250 receptions for 3,626 yards in his four years for the Cowboys and never had fewer than 47 catches or 689 yards in a given season. He hails from Denver.
Eugene bears the nickname "Round Mound of Touchdown" for this startling combination of numbers: He runs in the neighborhood of 280 pounds and he threw for 56 touchdowns with Grambling in 2005. Eugene was not drafted last April after his stunning senior season, but he did sign with the Saints, his hometown team, just after the draft. New Orleans, however, released him before going to training camp. Eugene's 2005 campaign at Grambling also included 256 completions, 4,408 yards and only six touchdowns in 456 attempts. Though he lost most of the 2004 season to injury, Eugene also threw for 3,807 yards and 34 touchdowns in 2003. He was a three-time finalist for the Walter Payton Award, the Division I-AA equivalent to the Heisman Trophy.
Unlike the players above, Hill entered the NFL in 2005, as an undrafted free agent with the Panthers. He has also spent time on an active roster, as Carolina promoted him for the final two weeks of his rookie season after he spent the first 14 games on the practice squad. The 6-0, 179-pound Hill remained on the active roster throughout the Panthers' run to the NFC Championship Game but was deactivated for each contest. He went to camp with the Panthers again this past season but was released prior to the regular season. At Samford, Hill played four seasons and finished with 214 catches for 3,054 yards and 31 touchdowns. He was a two-time Ohio Valley Conference first-team pick and the OVC's offensive player of the year in 2003. Hill played his high school ball in Atlanta.
At Hawaii, Owens was part of an offense as prolific as that led by Eugene at Grambling, and he was one of the most accomplished kick returners in the nation. After catching 102 passes for 1,290 yards and 17 touchdowns and also scoring five times on punt returns in his senior season, Owens was made the 185th player drafted overall in 2005 by the Jaguars. He made Jacksonville's opening-day roster as a rookie and played in one game before spending the final 14 weeks of the season on the practice squad. He earned a spot on the 53-man roster again in 2006 and appeared in four more games before being released in November. During his five regular-season games with the Jaguars, the 5-7, 188-pound Owens returned 12 punts for 62 yards. He hails from Honolulu.
Now a Buc, the 6-0, 170-pound Smith has been around the NFL his whole life and was even a ball boy for the Buffalo Bills, for whom his father worked for 14 years. His first NFL stop as a player was with the Vikings, who signed him in March but released him just before training camp. At Youngstown State, Smith caught 101 passes for 1,536 yards and 10 touchdowns during his four-year career. He was the team's Most Outstanding Offensive Player as a junior and an honorable mention all-conference pick as a senior. Smith set a school record by catching at least one pass in 30 straight games and also excelled as a punt returner.