Even as the 2005 NFL Draft approaches, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers continue to fill open spots on the roster with training camp hopefuls. On Tuesday, the team signed two more players, both offensive tackles: former Tennessee Titan Matt Martin and former New York Giant Jeff Hatch.
Martin and Hatch are both big, physical linemen who first entered the NFL in 2002. Martin (6-6, 300) signed as an undrafted free agent with the Titans and spent the 2003-04 seasons on Tennessee's active roster. Hatch (6-6, 305) was New York's third-round draft pick in '02 (78th overall) and he spent the 2003 campaign on the Giants' active roster.
The signings of Martin and Hatch bring Tampa Bay's offseason roster to 78 players. Roster exemptions earned by players competing in the NFL Europe League's spring season will still allow the team to sign all 12 of its presumptive picks in the draft, which is to be held April 23-24.
The Bucs have been actively signing players for the past two weeks, but Martin and Hatch provide the offense its first outside boost since unrestricted free agent tight end Anthony Becht was signed on March 15. The last six new players added to the Bucs' roster before Monday were all defenders: cornerbacks Juran Bolden and Roderick Babers, linebackers Josh Buhl and Byron Hardmon, defensive tackle Chris Hovan and safety Eli Ward.
Several 2004 Buccaneers were also recently re-signed, including safety Dexter Jackson, fullback Jameel Cook and tackle Anthony Davis.
The signing of Hatch, who was a first-team all-conference choice as a senior at Penn, gives the Bucs the unusual distinction of having three Ivy League players on the current roster. He joins Yale tight end Nate Lawrie and Columbia running back Johnathan Reese.
After his relatively high draft status, Hatch got off to a rough start in the NFL when he sustained a back injury on the second day of his rookie training camp. The injury was diagnosed as a herniated disk and it required surgery, which landed him on injured reserve for the season. He made the team the following season, however, serving as a reserve tackle for the first three months before seeing extensive action down the stretch.
After being declared inactive for the Giants' first 12 games, Hatch started the last four games of the season at right tackle after Luke Petitgout went to IR and Ian Allen switched from right to left tackle. After the season Hatch was released by the Giants on March 17; he did not play in the league in 2004.
Though he started his college career as a defensive lineman, Hatch switched to center as a junior then moved out to tackle for his senior season. The move went very well, as he earned first-team All-America honors from the American Football Coaches Association while helping the Penn offense average 403.1 yards per game. Hatch, 25, hails from Severena Park, Maryland.
Martin signed with the Titans after the 2002 draft and performed well enough to earn a spot on the practice squad for his rookie season. Late in the year, he was signed to the active roster and given his first regular-season action as a special-teamer and substitute at left tackle against Jacksonville on Dec. 22.
The following season, Martin made the Titan's 53-man roster but was inactive for each of the first 15 games, making the 45-man list for the regular season finale against Tampa Bay. He also saw action in one playoff game, against Baltimore. He looked like a good bet to make the active roster again last year, but instead landed on injured reserve with a preseason injury.
At Kansas State, Martin played in 22 games after transferring from Long Beach City College for his junior year. He earned the starting left tackle job as a senior and helped the Wildcats set a new school record with 257.7 rushing yards per game. The 25-year-old Martin is a native of Edison, California.