QB Zac Taylor broke most of the passing records at Nebraska
By jumping on the list of coveted prospects who slipped through last weekend's NFL Draft, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have now doubled their 2007 rookie class. Of course, that alone doesn't explain the dozens of young players walking the halls at One Buccaneer Place on Friday, preparing for the first practice of a three-day mini-camp.
After signing eight undrafted free agents on Thursday, the Bucs added two more Friday morning, inking the University of Nebraska duo of quarterback Zac Taylor and tight end Matt Herrian. That group of 10 rookie signees, which also includes Georgia Tech cornerback Kenny Scott and Arkansas linebacker Sam Olajubutu, matches the 10 players Tampa Bay drafted over the weekend.
Those 20 new Bucs form the foundation for this weekend's rookie camp, which is open only to players who have not accrued a single year of NFL free agency credit (thus, some first-year players, like defensive tackle Darrell Campbell, can participate). To flesh out the roster for the purposes of practicing and to get a look at even more potential Buccaneers, the team has also signed 28 undrafted players to tryout contracts for the weekend.
As usual, that list includes several prospects with interesting backgrounds. University of Washington wide receiver Marlon Wood, for instance, is the son of Richard "Batman" Wood, a long-time Buccaneer linebacker who served as part of the foundation of the team's outstanding defenses in the late '70s and early '80s. The list also includes quarterback Pat Julmiste, the former starter at nearby University of South Florida who hails from Miramar.
Perhaps the most intriguing name on the list, however, is that of Olympic sprinter Justin Gatlin, who will try to follow in the footsteps of such former track stars-turned-NFL-receivers as Renaldo Nehemiah and Bob Hayes. Gatlin, who shares the 100-meter world record of 9.77 seconds with Asafa Powell, won the gold medal in that event at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. The 6-1, 183-pound athlete was given a tryout by the Houston Texans last November.
Here is the full list of players who will be participating in this weekend's rookie camp on tryout contracts:
|DT||Jonathan Bailes||San Diego State|
|CB||Gabe Helms||Northwest Mississippi|
|T||Glenn January||Texas Tech|
|QB||Pat Julmiste||South Florida|
|TE||Tabari Lott||Alcorn State|
|RB||Jeremy McCoy||Alcorn State|
|LB||John Mohring||Georgia Southern|
|WR||Dedrick Poole||Arkansas-Pine Bluff|
|CB||Bo Smith||Weber State|
|WR||Charles Spiller||Alcorn State|
|S||Kyle Williams||Kansas State|
The Bucs obviously paid attention to the SWAC in recruiting tryout players, bringing in a total of five players from Alcorn State and Grambling. The search led them all over the country, however, with prospects coming from Yale, Oregon and Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Defensive end Kevin Ryan may come from the least likely source, the Division III Middlebury, a school of 2,300 undergrads located in rural Vermont and more known for its hockey program.
Though many of the above names may be unfamiliar to Buccaneer fans, each arrives at the Bucs' headquarters with a legitimate opportunity to prove himself. Last year, the Bucs brought 30 players in on tryout contracts for the same camp and subsequently signed two of them to the offseason roster – cornerback Reuben Houston and defensive end Moe Thompson. Though Thompson was later released in June, Houston made it to Bucs training camp in Orlando.
In 2005, the Bucs brought in another 30 or so tryout players and ended up dipping into that pool repeatedly for the offseason roster. Eight players in all graduated from tryout contracts to spots on the roster in '05, including quarterback Jared Allen, cornerbacks Carlos Campbell and James Patrick, tackle Kevin Fischer, linebacker Rich Glover, fullback Steve Kriewald and running backs Jacque Lewis and Derek Watson. Campbell and Glover were released during the summer, but the other six made it to training camp, and four of the six (Allen, Lewis, Patrick and Watson) were back on the camp roster in 2006. Watson actually spent the second half of the 2005 season on the Bucs' 53-man roster.
The 20 drafted and signed rookies and the 28 tryout players fill out most of this weekend's roster. The list is inflated to a regular season-like 53 men by five first-year players, all signed last fall or since the end of the 2006 season. In addition to Campbell, that group of five includes wide receivers Levon Thomas and Chad Lucas, linebacker Evan Benjamin and tackle Dennis Roland.
As for the two Cornhuskers who have already signed to the 80-man roster, Taylor was named the Offensive Player of the Year in the Big 12 in 2006 after breaking the Cornhuskers' single-season passing records with 3,197 yards and 26 touchdowns and Herian is one of his former big-play targets. Taylor excelled in three different offensive systems while at Nebraska and came out the other side with a school-record 5,850 passing yards and 45 touchdowns.
Herian is the Cornhuskers' career leader among tight ends in receptions and receiving yards. He made a successful return in 2006 from a broken leg that cost him the 2005 season. He had 22 and 24-catch seasons in Lincoln before suffering his injury eight games into the 2004 campaign, and finished with 65 receptions for 1,243 yards and 12 touchdowns. His career mark of 19.1 yards per catch is stunning for a tight end.