Florida WR Alex Willis was one of 15 undrafted free agents to choose Tampa Bay on Monday
Dust off that #74 jersey. Mr. Gruber is here and ready to play offensive tackle for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Before you think that the Buccaneers' spring run of fortune has suddenly shot off the charts, we should burst this bubble. Paul Gruber is not coming out of retirement. The Bucs can put his locker nameplate back out, however, because the team agreed to contract terms with Vanderbilt tackle Brian Gruber in the hours after this weekend's draft.
Oh, one more thing. It's pronounced 'Grubber'.
No word yet on whether Brian Gruber will be assigned Paul Gruber's old number, but he won't be saddled with unrealistic expectations simply because he shares a name with the finest offensive lineman in Buccaneer history.
"Brian was the highest-rated tackle left on our board," said Director of College Scouting Tim Ruskell. "We were a little surprised that he slipped through the draft.
"He's a smart player, very durable, hasn't missed a lot of games. He's played left tackle mostly but we think he could be a 'swing' guy."
In addition to Gruber, the Buccaneers agreed to terms with 14 other college free agents to fill out the 2001 roster before training camp. The group includes the first South Florida player ever to join the Bucs, long-snapper Ryan Benjamin, as well as a pair of Florida Gators, G Leon Hires and WR Alex Willis.
The complete list of college free agents who have agreed to join the Buccaneers is below. More free agent pickups could follow shortly.
|Andy Aracri||DT||Miami (OH)||6-2||285|
|Ryan Benjamin||LS||South Florida||6-2||240|
|Marq Cerqua||LB||Carson Newman||6-2||223|
|Khori Ivy||WR||West Virginia||6-2||195|
|Robert Kilow||WR||Arkansas State||5-11||167|
|Mike Mackenzie||DT||Colorado State||6-2||269|
|Jacquay Nunnally||WR||Florida A&M||5-11||200|
|Jamie Wilson||RB||East Carolina||6-1||212|
Buc fans won't find many of the above names very familiar, but then again Dauntae', Than and Tafoya weren't household words in Tampa before the draft, either. As you know by now, the Bucs used three seventh-round picks on TE Dauntae' Finger, S Than Merrill and DE Joe Tafoya. Since the draft was shortened from 12 rounds to eight in 1993 and then to seven in 1994, the pool of undrafted free agents has become a more intriguing group.
So, while these names may not ring a bell yet, they should not be easily dismissed.
"As you get later in the draft, you have a list of players you're interested in," said Director of Football Administration John Idzik. "In the seventh round, you're basically trying to decide which players will be hot commodities on the free agent market. You draft those and hope you can get the others to sign as free agents. We were fortunate because we had three seventh-round picks, but we still had a lot of players we were interested in when the draft ended.
"A lot of these guys were rated approximately the same as the players we drafted. The players you sign post-draft are often right up there with your sixth and seventh-rounders in terms of competing for a spot on the roster or on the practice squad."
That theory is certainly borne out by previous Buc experience. Last year, the Buccaneers picked up TE Todd Yoder and WR Chris Daniels after the draft among a group of about 10 college free agents. Yoder made the Bucs' active roster and saw action in nine games. Daniels spent the year on injured reserve due to a training camp shoulder injury but is currently in the NFL Europe League preparing for another crack at the Bucs' roster this season. Another Buc signee, CB Earthwind Moreland, eventually won a spot on the New York Jets' active roster.
Undrafted players dot the Buccaneers roster from top to bottom, from RB Rabih Abdullah to CB Floyd Young. According to General Manager Rich McKay, WR Karl Williams was a last-minute throw-in with G Jorge Diaz out of Texas A&M-Kingsville in 1996, and all Williams has done is compile the most impressive punt return statistics in team history. Williams also has 99 career receptions and remains a valuable third-down option in the Buccaneers' passing attack.
So maybe there will be a Gruber on the roster again in the fall of 2001. Or a Cerqua or an Ardley. These 15 players took the first step toward that goal on Monday.