LB Jermaine Taylor will play for the Berlin Thunder this spring before reporting to his second straight Buccaneer training camp
Jared Allen, an Oklahoman who played his college football in Florida, is headed to Amsterdam. He'll leave the States in less than two months.
Jermaine Taylor, on the other hand, will fly to Berlin this spring, while Jason Nerys has a ticket to Frankfurt. Phil Bogle, Jonte Buhl and Keith Wright can share a flight to Hamburg.
Allen, Taylor, Nerys, Bogle, Buhl and Wright are all Tampa Bay Buccaneers who have been made available to the NFL Europe League for its 2006 spring season, along with Jacque Lewis, Jonathan Carter, Xavier Beitia, Mike Shafer and Brian Simnjanovski. On Friday, the NFLEL took most of those 11 Bucs, along with hundreds of other players allocated by the rest of the NFL's 31 teams, and distributed them among its six headquarters. As it turns out, every European team will feature at least one Buccaneer.
All 11 of the young players the Bucs chose to send to Europe in 2006 were signed since the end of the 2005 season, though Allen, Bogle, Nerys, Simnjanovski, Taylor and Wright had been with the team at some point prior to January. All signed with the understanding that they would be getting some valuable live action across the Atlantic this spring.
On Friday, eight of those 11 found out exactly where that would happen; Beitia, Shafer and Simnjanovski will learn their destinations a bit later when kickers and punters are assigned to teams.
Allen, a first-year quarterback from Florida Atlantic who went to camp with the Buccaneers last summer, will play for the Amsterdam Admirals, the league's defending champions. The Berlin Thunder, who had the league's best record last year but lost to the Admirals in World Bowl XII, will provide the spring home for Taylor, a speedy linebacker who was also in the Bucs' last training camp.
Bogle, a guard, and Wright, a defensive tackle, have both appeared on regular-season NFL rosters in the past, Bogle with the San Diego Chargers in 2003 and Wright with the Bucs and the Indianapolis Colts in 2004. Those two will begin their efforts to get back into the league by opposing each other in practice with the Hamburg Sea Devils. Buhl, a first-year cornerback, will be there, too.
Carter, a former Giant and Jet receiver signed last week by the Buccaneers, will play for the Cologne Centurions. Lewis, a first-year running back out of North Carolina who was an undrafted free agent signee by Tampa Bay last year, will tote the rock for the Rhein Fire.
The player-distribution process for the NFLEL was accomplished in a variety of ways. A handful of players who were in the European league last year and are back for another tour this spring were simply protected by their previous teams. The six squads then conducted a draft of approximately 20 rounds, accounting for 116 placements.
The remaining allocated players were simply assigned to the various rosters, and another group of players who are simply free agents not associated with any NFL team were drafted in a separate procedure. The NFLEL rosters also annually include a handful of "national" players, non-Americans who have displayed a talent for the sport. Last year, British-born Scott McCready was the league's leading receiver before he suffered a season-ending injury.
Two of the Bucs' seven non-kicker allocations were taken in the draft. The Fire grabbed Lewis in the 10th round and the Sea Devils picked up Bogle in the 11th. As it often does, the draft of allocated players tilted heavily towards defense, with all six first-round picks and 14 of the 18 players taken in the Rounds 1-3 playing on that side of the ball. The other four players taken in the first three rounds were offensive linemen. The first pick overall was former Connecticut defensive end Tyler King, a player allocated by the Arizona Cardinals.
Players who agree to NFLEL allocations are hopeful that they will be able to demonstrate their talents in actual game situations, an opportunity that can be hard to come by in the NFL. They give up an opportunity to work with their NFL team's coaches during the spring months, but they often advance their game during the NFLEL's 10-game season and report to training camp with a head start over other young prospects.
The NFLEL, former home to Kurt Warner, Brad Johnson and Jon Kitna, can be particularly useful for young quarterbacks, especially if they win their teams' starting jobs. The allocated quarterbacks are not made available in the draft but are assigned directly to one of the six teams. In Amsterdam, Allen will battle for the starting spot against Seattle's Gibran Hamdan and Oakland's Reggie Robertson. Hamdan is back for a third tour of duty with the Admirals and was the team's starter for four games last spring before suffering a shoulder injury.
The Bucs had success the last time they sent a running back overseas. Aaron Stecker, who has now played six seasons in the NFL, was the NFLEL's Offensive Player of the Year in 2000 after leading the league in rushing. Lewis, a small but quick back, will have a lot of competition for playing time with the Fire. After taking Lewis in the 10th, Rhein subsequently drafted backs Jamal Branch (New Orleans), Doug Easlick (San Francisco) and Fredrick Jackson (Buffalo). The Rhein roster was also allocated two other backs, the Giants' Greg Hanoian and the 49ers' DeCori Birmingham.
Two of the Bucs' better NFLEL performers last spring were defensive tackles Delbert Cowsette and Bryan Save. Wright, a sixth-round pick of the Houston Texans in the 2003 draft, will try to follow in their footsteps, and it will help if he can earn a starting spot from among a group of Hamburg DTs that also includes Philadelphia's Keyonta Marshall and Buffalo's Tai Tupai.
Simnjanovski will be back in Europe for the second straight spring. Last year, he handled the punting duties for Berlin and averaged 40.0 yards on 41 kicks.
The fight for jobs will actually begin in Tampa, where the NFLEL annually holds its joint training camp in February and March. Soon after, however, the 10 allocated Buccaneers will head to their various European destinations, with the season scheduled to open on March 18, its earliest start ever. How much each of the Bucs makes of his overseas opportunity remains to be seen, but at least most of them now know where they will be playing their home games.