Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Numbers Game

A packed offseason roster and a large group of new faces have led to some interesting jersey shuffling in the Bucs’ locker room

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TE Dave Moore, formally number 83, had to find a new jersey number to begin his second stint in Tampa

A Tampa Bay Buccaneers game jersey features a player's number in four places – front, back and both shoulders. Informally, equipment men often pen jersey number on shoes, helmets and even shoulder pads, just to keep a player's gear together during the cleaning and restocking process.

But there's one more place that players often keep their numbers: In their hearts.

Corny? Yes, but no less true. Some players become very attached to their numbers, often trying to claim the same one when jumping from college to the pros or from team to team. The obvious fact that only one player on each team can wear a certain number (except in training camp, when duplications are common) means not every player gets his wish.

At least not right away.

In an offseason like the one the Buccaneers are putting together, with dozens of player transactions, number claims can become a free-for-all. Spots that have been locked up for years become available, and dozens of new players must be fit into a limited number of openings.

For instance, the Buccaneers signed four new offensive linemen in the first two weeks of free agency, but there are only 30 possible number choices for men at that position, 51-79. Since most teams, including the Bucs, rarely use 50 numbers on linemen, reserving those for linebackers instead, the practical available numbers are 60-79, and a few defensive linemen usually dip into that pool as well.

After a bit of initial roster jockeying, the Bucs new front foursome found their numbers, with Derrick Deese taking 70, Matt O'Dwyer claiming 73, Todd Steussie assuming 75 and Matt Stinchcomb sliding into 78. Of course, things could change again before the regular season.

New running back Charlie Garner wore number 25 in Oakland and San Francisco, but is unlikely to wrest that spot from Brian Kelly, so he has taken over jersey number 30 in Tampa, going back to his Philly and University of Tennessee roots. Of course, that meant young fullback Darian Barnes had to find a new jersey, and he briefly settled on 47, recently vacated with John Lynch's departure, before switching to 46.

Dave Moore wore number 83 in Tampa for 10 seasons before spending two years in Buffalo, where he also got his hands on 83. Upon returning to the Bucs in March, he found that spot now rather ably occupied by WR Joe Jurevicius and settled instead on number 80.

Joey Galloway had no such trouble, assuming his traditional number 84, which was worn last year by Reggie Barlow. As of April 2, Barlow, an unrestricted free agent, had not been re-signed. RB Brandon Bennett also found his Cincinnati Bengals number, 36, available and gladly took it. RB Jamel White might have had a shot at keeping his Cleveland tag of 30 if not for Garner's arrival; instead, White will slide into #22, a very attractive number for a running back and a nice consolation prize.

Wearing number 17 with the New York Giants made it easy for QB Jason Garrett to stay put, numerically, when he moved to Tampa. QB Brian Griese, on the other hand, had no shot at his number with both Miami and Denver, 14, so he decided to think Young with number 8.

A pair of returning Buccaneers have taken advantage of the number shuffling to get new jerseys, including WR Edell Shepherd, who thankfully traded in his single-digit 3 for Karl Williams' vacated spot, number 86. The other Buc to switch numbers is none other than kicker Martin Gramatica, easily recognizable as number 7 for the last five years.

Gramatica wore 10 in college and would have jumped at the chance to continue in that spot in the pro ranks. Unfortunately, he just missed it. QB Shaun King, drafted in the second round in 1999, took 10, leaving Gramatica, that year's third-round pick, to make a different selection. Now that King has left for the Arizona Cardinals, Gramatica and number 10 have finally been reunited.

And what of the seven or so young men who will join the team as draft picks in less than a month? Any drafted linebacker will probably like what he sees, as 52, 54, 57, 58 and 59 are all available. Just about anyone else will find slim pickings, at least in late April. By September, it should all be sorted out nicely.

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NFLEL Season Underway

Fresh off its joint training camp in Tampa, the NFL Europe League will began its regular season this weekend, as the Amsterdam Admirals, Berlin Thunder, Cologne Centurions, Frankfurt Galaxy, Rhein Fire and Scottish Claymores begin pursuit of the two spots in World Bowl XII.

NFLEL clubs play a 10-game regular-season schedule beginning this weekend and concluding on Sunday, June 6. The top two teams in the standings will play for the league championship on Saturday, June 12 at Arena AufSchalke in Gelsenkirchen, Germany.

The first weekend of games began with Amsterdam's Saturday visit to Frankfurt, won convincingly by the home team, 34-11. On Sunday, Rhein downed the visiting Centurions, 26-25, and Berlin stopped the visiting Scottish Claymores, 20-14.

Five Buccaneer players are competing in the NFLEL this spring: G Kevin Breedlove, C Ben Claxton, CB Lynaris Elpheage, DE Corey Smith and T Chris Ziemann. Buccaneers.com will carry weekly reports of those players' exploits across the pond including, shortly, highlights from the first week's action.

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