TE Will Heller caught 14 passes for 113 yards and two touchdowns for the Bucs in 2003-04
Will Heller saw the Tampa Bay-Miami rivalry from both sidelines this year, but now he's back at home in the pewter and red. The Buccaneers re-signed Heller on Tuesday; to make room on the 53-man roster, kicker Todd France was released.
The big (6-6, 265) third-year tight end went to training camp with the Buccaneers and played against the Dolphins in an August 27 preseason game. However, the Bucs released Heller on September 3, during the final paring-down of the roster before the regular season, and he was claimed off waivers by the Dolphins.
That put Heller in a Miami uniform for the Dolphins' trip to Raymond James Stadium on December 16. Unfortunately for the former Georgia Tech standout, those travels put him on the losing end for both Bucs-Dolphins contests.
His return to Tampa, however, puts him in line for a shot at the playoffs. The Dolphins, who released Heller on November 5, are finishing the season strong and have rallied to 7-7 but have already been eliminated from the AFC playoff hunt. Heller's Bucs could clinch a playoff spot this weekend with the right combination of outcomes.
Though he was an undrafted free agent in 2003, Heller made the team out of training camp in his first year in the league. He was, in fact, the only undrafted rookie to make Tampa Bay's opening day roster that season. He appeared in 19 games with four starts over the next two seasons and contributed 14 receptions for 113 yards and two touchdowns.
The Buccaneers brought in two high-profile tight ends during the 2005 offseason, signing former New York Jets starter Anthony Becht and drafting Stanford's Alex Smith in the third round. Heller ended up in a competition with Nate Lawrie for the third tight end spot, and the Bucs elected to keep Lawrie. However, Lawrie was later released and was then signed by the New Orleans Saints.
Obviously familiar with the Bucs' offense, Heller could help quickly if Becht is limited by the right ankle injury he suffered against New England on Saturday. The Bucs won't release an official injury report until Wednesday, but Jon Gruden considered Becht a question mark for Saturday's game against Atlanta during the coach's Sunday press conference.
On the other hand, the release of France is an indication that the team is no longer significantly concerned about the health of kicker Matt Bryant. Bryant suffered a right hamstring injury against Chicago on November 27 and was forced to miss the following game against New Orleans. The Bucs signed France as a replacement, having been impressed with his work during their 2005 training camp. France hit one of two field goal tries and his only extra point attempt against the Saints.
Bryant remained on the injury report and France stayed on the roster during the following two weeks, but Bryant was ultimately able to kick against both Carolina and New England. This season, Bryant has made 17 of his 20 field goal tries.