WR Chas Gessner's consistent playmaking during training camp earned him a spot on the Bucs' practice squad
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who reduced their roster from 75 players to 53 on Saturday, the final cutdown day before the regular season, were back up to 60 on Monday, at least on the practice field.
The Bucs have begun the formation of their 2006 practice squad and, as expected, Saturday's cuts weren't the end of the line for several of the men released that day. Five players from Tampa Bay's training camp roster are back in this capacity: defensive end Charles Bennett, defensive tackle Anthony Bryant, wide receiver Chas Gessner, offensive lineman Scott Jackson and fullback Rick Razzano.
The Bucs also scanned the waiver wire from other teams to flesh out the practice squad, adding second-year running back Lionel Gates, recently of the Buffalo Bills, and tackle Dennis Roland, a rookie from the Dallas Cowboys. Those seven signings leave the Bucs with one open spot on the practice squad.
Each team is allowed to maintain a practice squad of up to eight players throughout the regular season and playoffs. As it sounds, these men may practice with the team but are not eligible to play in the games unless they are subsequently signed to the active roster.
Practice squad players can be signed to the active roster at any time – not just by their own teams but by any team in the league. Thus, players can participate on a practice squad and improve their skills while still maintaining the advantages of free agency. During his rookie season in 2003, defensive back Blue Adams was signed off the Bucs' practice squad by the Jacksonville Jaguars in early October. He appeared in eight games for the Jags; that, another camp with Jacksonville and a stint in NFL Europe this past spring prepared Adams for a strong showing with the Bucs in 2005 and a roster spot each of the last two years.
For players on practice squads around the league, it is that eventual promotion to the 53-man roster that stands as the possible reward for performing on the practice squad. The team shares that hope of developing future contributors for the regular season, but also gets the benefit of a more complete rotation of players for the practice field. Last year, three of the first eight players on the Bucs' practice squad were eventually promoted to the active roster: Jackson, safety Kalvin Pearson and running back Derek Watson.
Those promotions and the team's shifting practice needs depending the injury situation is why the eight practice squad spots remain rather fluid during the regular season, most of them changing hands several times. However, the expansion of the practice squad from five players to eight in 2004 has helped teams use those squads for long-term development, too. Last year, three players spent the entire season on the Bucs' practice squad: wide receiver Larry Brackins, cornerback James Patrick and defensive end Andrew Williams. All were back with the Buccaneers in training camp this summer.
Three players who spent time on the Bucs' practice squad in 2005 are not on the 2006 active roster: linebacker Antoine Cash, safety Kalvin Pearson and wide receiver Paris Warren. Warren actually spent half of the 2005 season on the active roster, but Cash is the embodiment of the player who proves himself in practice. A rookie who had gone to camp with Atlanta in 2005, He joined the Bucs in midseason and was so impressive on the practice field that the team felt comfortable in skipping the position during the 2006 draft. Cash was probably the biggest underdog who made the Bucs' active roster this week and the team expects him to be a valuable contributor on special teams. Other current Bucs who were one-time practice squad contributors in Tampa include Anthony Davis, the starter at left tackle, as well as safety Blue Adams.
Bennett's return means the Bucs have kept eight of their 10 draft picks on hand. Davin Joseph, Jeremy Trueblood, Maurice Stovall, Alan Zemaitis, Julian Jenkins and Bruce Gradkowski all made the active roster while T.J. Williams will spend his rookie season on injured reserve. Bennett started 22 of his last 23 games at Clemson and turned in 27.5 tackles for loss during those two seasons.
Bryant is one of the Bucs' 2005 draft picks, a massive (6-3, 336) defensive tackle with surprising quickness. He made the active roster as a rookie sixth-rounder last year and appeared in four games, contributing two tackles. At Alabama, Bryant played in 48 games with 15 starts.
Gessner was one of the surprise standouts of training camp, a big (6-4, 215) and physical receiver who also showed the ability to get deep. An undrafted free agent who originally entered the league with the New England Patriots in 2003, Gessner was a two-time Walter Payton Award finalist at Brown.
Jackson started the 2005 season on the practice squad, too, but earned a promotion to the 53-man roster by Game Five. A two-year starter at BYU, Jackson backed up center John Wade last year but made a successful switch to offensive tackle during this summer's training camp.
Like Bryant, Razzano was a late pick in the 2005 draft, a seventh-rounder out of Mississippi. A very rugged blocker, Razzano made the active roster to start the 2005 season but bounced between that, a reserve list, the practice squad and the waiver wire. At Mississippi, the thickly-built (5-11, 250) fullback played in 43 games with 24 starts and rushed 50 times for 143 yards.
Gates was a seventh-round pick of the Bills out of Louisville in 2005. He spent his entire rookie season on the inactive roster but was inactive for 15 games and did not play in the game for which he dressed. At Louisville, the 6-0, 223-pound runner spent most of his career in a backfield rotation with Henry Miller, Eric Shelton and Michael Bush but did lead the team with 817 yards on 141 carries (5.8 avg.) as a junior in 2003.
The 6-9, 325-pound Roland came to the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent out of Georgia this past spring. As a Bulldog, he earned a starting offensive tackle job late in his sophomore season and went on to open 24 games over the next two years, helping lead Georgia to a 10-3 record during his senior campaign.