WR Frank Murphy has shown great promise during Buc practices this fall
A twisting but steadily progressing 2000 season has taken another turn for Frank Murphy, NFL rookie receiver. On Tuesday, Murphy, who started the year as a running back in Chicago, was signed from to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' active roster from the Bucs' practice squad, where he had spent the previous 12 weeks.
Murphy agreed to a three-year contract (including this season) and took the roster spot of veteran receiver Andre Hastings, who was released on Tuesday. Murphy's promotion also opened a spot on the five-man practice squad, which was filled by the signing of safety Lemar Marshall.
In April, Murphy was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the sixth round after a fine senior season as a running back at Kansas State. The Bears gave Murphy a shot at running back, but he was released on August 27 after rushing for 60 yards on 15 carries and catching six passes for 43 yards in the preseason.
After clearing waivers, Murphy promptly signed on with the Bucs' practice squad on August 28, but Tampa Bay wasn't looking for another running back. Instead, Murphy, who had played some of both position in college, was switched to receiver. Until Tuesday, he had spent the entire season on Tampa Bay's practice squad, where he progressed more rapidly than expected. The 6-0, 206-pound rookie showed great promise running on the scout team each week and the Bucs didn't want to lose him to another NFL team.
"What prompted us to sign him (to the active roster) is that he's got a trait," said Buccaneers Director of Football Administration John Idzik. "He's got speed; he's got size. He came in as a running back for Chicago, but we saw him more as a returner and receiver. At first, you thought it was going to take a little time, adjusting to a new environment, dropping some balls. But we saw the progression and we said, 'There's a guy that you want to hang onto.'
Each of the 31 NFL teams has a practice squad, most using all of the maximum five spots. However, a player's position on a practice squad is not intended to hamper his chances to make a 53-man roster somewhere in the league, so any player on a practice squad is fair game for any team to sign to their active list at any time.
"Any time you get a developmental squad player like that, and you see him progress throughout the season, come the end of the year, if there's a space for him, you're going to want to keep him on," said Idzik. "Right now, he's basically a free agent, so this protects him from any other club coming to get him. It locks him up.
Head Coach Tony Dungy will determine how Murphy is utilized on Sundays, but it appears likely that Murphy is not considered a big part of the team's onfield plans for the rest of 2000. Hastings had been inactive in eight of the first 11 weeks, playing only when WR Karl Williams was injured, and Murphy falls into that same role, presumably.
"It's more so for next year than this year," said Idzik. "I don't think we're anticipating Frank being active on Sundays. If he is, great, but it's certainly not expected. You're using a de-active spot for a future guy you really have a lot of hope for."
Hastings had signed with the Buccaneers on August 3, after training camp had already begun and shortly after the team had released WR Darnell McDonald. The former Steeler and Saint did not catch a pass during the regular season, but he did return five punts for 50 yards during Williams' three-game absence in October.
Marshall was also previously with the Bucs this season, not coincidentally during another time when the team was struck with multiple injuries at the safety position. Marshall was signed between the NFL's two major cutdown dates, after he was released by Philadelphia on August 21 but before the Bucs and the rest of the league would pare down to their final rosters six days later. At the time, both Dexter Jackson and Damien Robinson were recovering from injuries.
Marshall, who originally entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with Tampa Bay in 1999, played in the team's final preseason game but was let go on August 27. He had also made it to the Bucs' final cut in 1999, which meant he was quite familiar with the team's defensive system. That same fact played a large part in his return on Tuesday.
"Lemar's someone that's familiar with our system, our vernacular," said Idzik. "He's a guy that we liked. We brought him back earlier this summer, and now that we're thin, we brought him back again. We need guys just to be able to practice this week."
Marshall will help a team that has three injured safeties. Starting strong safety John Lynch dislocated his shoulder in Chicago on Sunday and faces an uphill battle to play against Buffalo this coming weekend. Rookie S David Gibson is in the final stages of his recovery from a quad strain and S Eric Vance, who plays primarily on special teams, suffered an ankle sprain in Chicago.
As he did while on the practice squad, Murphy will wear number 87. Marshall will wear number 32.