Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Phase Two

The release of two players – Jerry Ellison and Ashley Cooper – comes as camp ends and serious roster consideration begins

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RB Jerry Ellison, taking a handoff from QB Scott Milanovich, reached an injury settlement with the team on Tuesday

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced on Tuesday that they had reached an injury settlement with sixth-year RB Jerry Ellison. In addition, the Buccaneers waived rookie S Ashley Cooper.

The moves reduce the team's roster from 88 players to 86. That number must be pared by 21 more candidates before the end of the day on August 22.

This is the second phase of the preseason, when the team leaves behind the two-a-days and dorm living of training camp but picks up heavily in the meeting room. Tampa Bay coaches and personnel staffers have had three weeks of camp and two preseason games to evaluate roster hopefuls; only one more game remains before the first major cutdown, at New England on Sunday, August 20.

The team moved quicker on Ellison and Cooper in part because they would have been unavailable to play in New England anyway.

Ellison, who signed with the Buccaneers as an unrestricted free agent on February 22, chipped a bone in his elbow in the preseason opener against the Washington Redskins and required surgery.

Cooper, who signed as an undrafted free agent on April 17, missed both preseason games with a right patellar tendon injury suffered before he entered the NFL. He started 18 of 21 games in two seasons at Mississippi State after transferring from Copiah Lincoln (MS) Community College.

Ellison was actually seeking his second stint with the Buccaneers after playing for the New England Patriots in 1999 and seeing action in 12 contests. He began his NFL career with Tampa Bay from 1995-98, playing in 64 consecutive games. His 75-yard run against Detroit (12/23/95) is tied for the second-longest carry in club history. In 76 games and five starts, Ellison posted 74 carries for 368 yards (5.0 avg.) and 30 receptions for 310 yards (10.3 avg.). He also added 44 special teams tackles.

Ellison's departure reduces the competition at running back, but doesn't end it. Elsewhere, such as at tight end, defensive tackle and wide receiver, the outcome has still yet to take shape, at least publicly. There will be some answers next Tuesday, of course, and maybe even some serious clues on Sunday in New England.

"We'll go through the game and see and make our evaluations after the game," said Dungy. "You have an idea in practice, but you want to see it in a game. Some guys play a little better, some guys don't play as well. But probably, for the most part, (the roster decisions) will be done after the game."

It's possible that the shape of the first cut could be influenced by the team's injury list, a common occurrence in training camp. A few positions have been hit hard and a few key players have yet to work into the mix, though the team has mostly avoided the long-term injury so far.

"We're a little thin at safety right now until we get Dexter and Damien back," said Dungy. "Numbers-wise, that kind of concerns you a little bit. Offensively, I think, our running game has not been where we'd like it, partly because Mike, Patrick and Jason Odom haven't really been out there. I think those guys are going to be a big part of what we do. We've got to come on and hopefully get them going, or pick up the slack if they're not back in."

On the other side of the ledger, Dungy lists the return game as one of the biggest highlights of camp, and that is another situation that may affect the roster cutdowns. The coaching staff had vowed to stress the improvement of the team's kickoff and punt returns in the 2000 preseason, meaning a lot of work for such return candidates as Yo Murphy and Aaron Stecker.

"Our return game has been good," said Dungy. "That's one of the things that we wanted to get going, and in the first two games we got good returns, punt and kickoff returns. That's a positive Aaron's done a good job running it back there…Rabih…Yo Murphy had a long return. So that's probably been the biggest plus."

The coach discussed some other pluses – the pass protection, Shaun King's accuracy, the defensive takeaways – but this is not the time of year for addition. The Bucs have two days of heavy subtraction coming up in the next two weeks, and periods of intense scrutiny in between. Thus begins phase two of the preseason.

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