Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Looking to the Future

The Bucs’ roster grew significantly with Wednesday’s announcement of 14 ‘reserve/future’ signings, including seven newcomers, three former Bucs and four practice-squad holdovers

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Former Nebraska C John Garrison went to camp with the Titans in 2003 and was signed by the Bucs for 2004

The construction of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2004 training camp roster is underway.

On Wednesday, the Buccaneers announced the signings of 14 players to what are known as 'reserve/future' contracts. In essence, that means they are receiving 2004 contracts even though the 2003 league season extends through February.

Ten of the 14 players announced Wednesday were not with the team at the end of the 2003 season. Of those 10, seven are new to the Buccaneers: DT Delbert Cowsette, CB Lynaris Elpheage, LS John Garrison, P Craig Jarrett, K Carlos Martinez, DB Kalvin Pearson and WR Justin Skaggs. The other three are returning players: LB Altroy Bodrick, RB Earnest Graham and WR Frank Murphy.

Cowsette, a third-year player, is the most experienced of the group, having played in all 32 games of the 2001 and 2002 seasons with the Washington Redskins. The others are, for the most part, first-year players still looking for their first significant regular-season action.

The Bucs technically added 14 players to their 2004 roster on Wednesday because the four players who finished the season on Tampa Bay's practice squad also got new pacts. Practice squad contracts expire as soon as a team's season ends, so T Kevin Breedlove, LB Michael Brown, C Ben Claxton and WR Fabian Davis were all briefly free agents before the Bucs re-signed them along with the other reserve/futures.

Though these players were, by definition, free agents available to any team at any time, they should not necessarily be taken lightly. In January of 2002, the Bucs signed two players who eventually played for them in Super Bowl XXXVII, CB Corey Ivy and DE Ron Warner. Ivy remains with the team still, excelling on special teams and getting some action as a nickel back.

None of the reserve/future signings from last season made the roster, though RB Tony Taylor technically remained with the team throughout the season on injured reserve after suffering a knee injury in the preseason. Five of the 2003 signees did play in the NFL Europe 2003 season as Buccaneer allocates, however - WR Todd Elstrom, OL/DL Kyle Kipps, DT Josh McKibben, S Than Merrill and CB James Rooths.

Some of this year's reserve/future signings are likely to figure in the team's NFL Europe plans this season, as well.

Allowing teams to sign players to 2004 contracts as soon as 2003 is over is a concession to the fact that not every team's season ends on the same day. All teams may begin signing 'futures' free agents after the regular season has concluded, even if they are still competing in the playoffs. Last year, the Bucs could sign available players throughout the month of January without it affecting their 53-man roster for the playoffs. This keeps teams that are eliminated from the playoffs from gaining an unfair advantage over the ones still vying for the Super Bowl.

To be eligible for such a signing, a player cannot be on any team's 53-man roster when the season ends, because all players in that category have contracts that run through February. These eligible players, which include all practice squad players on teams that have been eliminated from Super Bowl contention, are often referred to as 'street' free agents, and teams generally have a good idea of who they would like to sign for next season even before the previous one comes to an end.

Here is a brief look at the newest players on the Bucs' roster:

Bodrick (6-1, 215) played his college football at Clemson and was an undrafted free agent with the Bucs in 2003. For the Tigers, Bodrick played in 42 career games and tallied 151 tackles, five sacks, one interception and four fumble recoveries. He started all 13 games as a senior in 2002 despite missing the previous season with a torn ACL. As a prep, Bodrick led his Winnsboro, North Carolina high school to a 15-0 record and a state championship.

Cowsette (6-1, 296) originally entered the NFL as a seventh-round pick of the Redskins in 2000, and though he didn't make the active roster as a rookie, he did spend the entire season on Washington's practice squad. In 2001, Cowsette made the 53-man squad and appeared in all 16 games, subbing at defensive tackle and recording 16 tackles. He played in all 16 games in 2002, as well, again serving as a reserve and a special-teamer and adding 12 tackles to his career total. Cowsette also got his first two NFL sacks in 2002, including one of St. Louis Rams' QB Kurt Warner. At Maryland, Cowsette played four seasons and racked up 280 tackles and 13 sacks. He hails from Cleveland.

Elpheage (5-9, 179) signed with New Orleans as an undrafted rookie last year after three outstanding seasons at Tulane. Among his contributions for the Green Wave in those three years were 171 tackles, 14 interceptions and 56 passes defensed, including a stellar junior season that produced 68 tackles, eight picks and 28 passes defensed. He was a Conference USA first-team selection after that 2002 season, during which he became the first player in NCAA history to score touchdowns by interception return, fumble return, kickoff return and punt return. Elpheage played his high school ball in New Orleans, where he was a quarterback and return specialist.

Garrison (6-5, 288) first joined the NFL as an undrafted free agent with Tennessee after a four-year career at Nebraska. He took over the Cornhuskers' long-snapping duties as a freshman, then became the starting center for his junior and senior campaigns. As a senior, Garrison started every game and was a second-team all-conference selection in the Big 12. As a prep, Garrison played defensive end at Blue Springs (Missouri) High School.

Graham (5-9, 215) was a rookie free agent with the Buccaneers in last year's training camp. He suffered an injury during the preseason and was waived by the Bucs with an injury settlement. Graham later ended up on Cleveland's practice squad, then spent a week on Tampa Bay's practice squad late in the season. At Florida, he played in 44 games and finished third in Gator history with 33 career touchdowns. Graham also compiled 3,065 yards on 603 carries and was UF's 'Most Outstanding Running Back' three times. Florida's 'Mr. Football' as a prep in 1997, Graham played his high school football in Ft. Myers and was a member of the Parade All-America team.

Jarrett (6-2, 215), like Cowsette, played for the Redskins in 2002. Though he was originally drafted by Seattle in the sixth round that year, he was waived on September 2 and eventually signed by San Francisco to the 49ers' practice squad in November. After a brief stay in San Fran, Jarrett moved on to Washington's practice squad in November and was then signed to the Redskins' active roster on December 2. Jarrett handled the Redskins' punting duties for the last four games of the season, kicking 20 times for 771 yards, a gross average of 38.6. A Martinsville, Indiana native, Jarrett was a standout four-year player at Michigan State. He finished his collegiate career with an outstanding gross average of 42.9 yards per punt.

Martinez (5-8, 180) completes the kicker-punter-snapper trio of free agents signed by the Bucs on Wednesday. He first signed with Philadelphia last April after a brief stint in 2002 with the Fresno Frenzy of the AFL2 (Arena League football). At Buena Vista University in Iowa, Martinez kicked 48 field goals, the second most ever in Division III football. He was a three-time all-conference selection and the MVP of the 2001 Aztec Bowl. Born in Iowa, Martinez went to high school in Nebraska (Papillion-LaVista) and, besides being a state-champion wrestler, he holds the state high school record for career field goals (28).

Murphy (6-0, 206) spent the majority of the 2002 regular season along with the 2003 preseason as a member of the Houston Texans following his two-year tenure (2000-01) with the Buccaneers. With Tampa Bay, Murphy caught eight passes for 71 yards and one touchdown and returned 22 kickoffs for 469 yards. He also attended the 2002 training camp with the Buccaneers.

Pearson (5-10, 190) appeared in five games as a rookie with the Cleveland Browns in 2002. He had joined the team as an undrafted free agent out of Grambling but had made the active roster with an impressive training camp. After playing through September and recording seven tackles plus two stops on special teams, Pearson was waived on October 8 and re-signed to the Browns' practice squad, where he spent the remainder of the season. He went back to camp with Cleveland in 2003 but ended up on the New York Giants' practice squad. At Grambling, where Pearson transferred after starting at Morehouse College, he recorded 74 tackles, four sacks, one interception and three forced fumbles as a senior. Pearson was born and raised in Town Creek, Alabama and is the cousin of former NFL CB Antonio Langham.

Skaggs (6-2, 202) most recently played extensively with the Amsterdam Admirals of the NFL Europe League, as a Redskins allocated player, but he had spent the previous two NFL seasons bouncing between the practice squad and active roster in Washington. In the NFLEL, Skaggs finished the 2003 season as the league's fifth-leading receiver, catching 37 passes for 401 yards. After first joining the Redskins as an undrafted free agent out of Evangel in 2001, Skaggs spent most of his rookie campaign on the practice squad, though he was activated for the final two contests. That pattern repeated in 2002, when he started on the 'Skins practice squad but was signed to the active roster in Week 15. Skaggs hails from Wentzville, Missouri.

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