Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Open Arms

Jon Gruden knows retirement is an option for six-time Pro Bowl FB Mike Alstott but hopes he will return for 2006…Plus, Bill Muir signs an extension and the Bucs get the 23rd draft slot

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FB Mike Alstott scored seven touchdowns this season, his highest total since 2002

Jon Gruden doesn't know whether Mike Alstott has played his last NFL game. That's not surprising, given that Alstott himself may not know yet.

But Gruden does know this: He wants Alstott to return to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2006. That's an opinion he shares with the majority of Buccaneer fans.

"I hope he does not retire," said Gruden. "I will do all I can – if any of my efforts matter, we will see – to keep him on this football team. He is a fine football player, he is a great team man."

Alstott's 10th NFL season and first decade with the Buccaneers came to an end in Saturday's 17-10 Wild Card playoff loss to the Washington Redskins. Because the subject of his future has been open speculation for weeks – though not speculation he fueled himself – it was also one of the first things he was asked in the postgame locker room.

Still in the flush of a tough loss and a wonderful season, Alstott wasn't ready to give an answer.

"I don't know," he said. "I'll talk to my family, my wife and everybody else. We'll discuss it between me and my family and figure out what is best."

This is not the first time the subject of Alstott's possible retirement has been a hot topic. In 2003, he suffered a serious neck injury that required surgery and led some to wonder if he could return to his patented, bruising style of play. However, he vowed in 2003 to return to the game he loved, and he succeeded with two mostly healthy seasons in 2004 and 2005. This latest campaign, in particular, was a revelation, as he was used more extensively in the offense, particularly around the goal line, and had one of the best blocking seasons of his sparkling career.

"If Mike retires, he is going to retire having played one [heck] of a season," said Gruden. "He was a fine fullback this year."

Alstott tied for the team lead with six rushing touchdowns this season, helped rookie tailback Cadillac Williams rush for 1,178 yards and 25 receptions for 222 yards and another score.

"First of all, I've had the best time this year," said Alstott. "Going through two frustrating seasons, first in 2003, with the neck [injury] and then last year trying to re-group and get back to my normal self. I felt I played well this year and did some good things this year. It was back to the old style again, and [we] did some good things on the field."

Whenever Alstott does retire, it will cap the career of one of the most popular and productive players in franchise history. Alstott is the team's all-time leader in touchdowns with 68, a mark nearly 50% better than the second-place total on the list, James Wilder's 46. His 414 points rank fourth in team history, first among non-kickers. He is in the team's top five in both rushing (second with 4,917 yards) and receiving (fifth with 284 receptions). His six Pro Bowls are the most by an offensive player in team history and his every run or reception still draws a huge response from the home crowd.

Gruden would like to hear those cheers again next year, and he would certainly like to keep Alstott's production and leadership in the team's developing offense. The coach knows, however, that the decision ultimately does not rest in his hands.

"Mike Alstott will decide his future when he decides it is time," said Gruden. "We will just be there for him and we certainly will do all we can to keep him around."

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Muir Signs Extension

Gruden does know that his offensive coordinator/offensive line coach, Bill Muir, will be around next season. During his season-ending press conference on Monday, Gruden announced that Muir has signed a contract extension. Details of the contract, as is team policy, were not disclosed.

Muir came to the Buccaneers in 2002 and has been on Gruden's staff for all four of the head coach's seasons in Tampa. In 2005, the Bucs also added Senior Assistant Aaron Kromer, a former Oakland Raiders coach, and Kromer aided Muir in developing the team's young offensive line. Gruden is pleased to have both coaches back for 2006.

"I thought they were great complements to one another," said Gruden of Muir and Kromer. "They made as good of a contribution to our football team as I've been around. The development of Anthony Davis; Dan Buenning, the rookie left guard; Sean Mahan converted himself to a right guard. The progress that was made with some of our young players is exciting. I do expect the two of them to collaborate and do a great job together again next year."

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Bucs Pick 23rd

They got their answer a few weeks earlier than they had hoped, but the Buccaneers now know specifically where they will be pick in the 2006 NFL Draft.

The Bucs will select 23rd out of the 32 teams in the first round. Because they are in a segment with five other teams that also finished with 11-5 records, the Bucs will rotate downward from 23rd in the subsequent rounds. In other words, they will pick 24th in the second round, 25th in the third round, and so on.

At the moment, the Bucs would rotate all the way down to 28th in the sixth round, then back up to 23rd for the seventh round. However, it is possible that their segment of tied teams will be one or two teams smaller by the end of the 2005 playoffs. Teams do not drop out of their specific segments unless they reach the Super Bowl. Three of the six teams in the Bucs' segment – Carolina, Chicago and Pittsburgh – are still alive in the playoffs and would drop to 31st or 32nd if they make the final game.

This weekend's results clarified the Bucs' draft standing in the 23-28 range. They had been tied with Carolina for the 23rd and 24th slots, as both teams were 11-5 and had an opponent winning percentage of .449. However, the Panthers advanced to the second round of the playoffs and the Bucs did not, causing Carolina to drop below Tampa Bay in the draft order.

Last year's 23rd overall pick was Nebraska cornerback Fabian Washington, to Oakland. The previous four picks at number 23 overall were Texas DT Marcus Tubbs (Seattle), Miami RB Willis McGahee (Buffalo), Northwestern LB Napoleon Harris (Oakland) and Mississippi RB Deuce McAllister (New Orleans).

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