The Bucs thought Robinson had the look of a starter even when he was on Philly's practice squad
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced Monday that they have re-signed S Damien Robinson, a restricted free agent. Robinson, who started all 16 games at free safety for the Bucs in 1999, agreed to the one-year tender offer that was extended to him at the beginning of the NFL free agency period in February. The transaction occurred just one day before the team was set to begin four weeks of NFL-sanctioned voluntary practices.
Robinson's signing was not unexpected, particularly after the April 10 deadline for him to negotiate with other teams passed. "We kind of assumed this would take place," said Buccaneers Head Coach Tony Dungy, "but it's still great when it happens. Now we can continue to plan for the future."
It is another instance of Robinson's career developing according to plan, as it has since he joined the team in 1997. Robinson's signing on September 17 of that season was a relatively low-profile event during the team's breakthrough season, but even then he was seen as a potential starter. The Buccaneers plucked Robinson off Philadelphia's practice squad, where he had landed after being drafted by the Eagles in the fourth round that spring. Any NFL practice squad player can sign with another team provided he is inked to that team's active roster. Tampa Bay did just that with Robinson, then kept him on the active roster throughout the rest of the season, even though he was designated as an inactive each week.
As early as that inactive '97 season, the Bucs were projecting Robinson as the eventual free safety and he came into 1998 with an expanded role. Primarily a special-teamer, he began to assume some of starter Charles Mincy's playing time and was impressing coaches with his work. In the season's eighth game, however, Robinson ran into his first career glitch in Tampa when he fractured his right arm while providing a block on a Jacquez Green punt return. Robinson landed on injured reserve and Mincy finished the season as the starter.
The following February, however, Mincy was released and the Bucs inserted Robinson into the starting lineup. He took to the role splendidly, opening all 16 games and racking up 95 tackles, two interceptions, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and 11 passes defensed. The Tampa Bay pass defense, which ranked second in the league in 1998, earned that same ranking again in '99.
Robinson did his best work down the stretch as Tampa Bay won eight of its last nine contests. During that span, Robinson had eight of his 11 pass breakups, posted a game-turning two-interception performance in a win over Green Bay (12/26) and had a pair of nine-tackle efforts. "Damien really got in a groove by midseason last year," said Dungy. "We expect him to continue to take off."
Meanwhile, a host of other Buccaneers were arriving in Tampa as the team prepares for its first of 14 organized summer workouts. Weight-room sessions will begin as early as 6:30 a.m. on Tuesday, May 16, with the first team meeting starting at 8:30 a.m. A series of meetings and on-field work will conclude by 11:45 a.m. This will be the typical schedule for the three workouts this week, four the next (Monday – Thursday), three the next (Tuesday – Thursday) and four the next (Monday – Thursday).
The 'organized football activity', as worded by the NFL in allowing permission for the practices, is important not only because it allows for more concentrated scheme work but because it may be attended by rookies. Other than the three-day, post-draft mini-camp held in April, NFL rookies were not allowed to join their new teams until this week, and later if their specific schools have not yet finished the spring session.
Thus, varying schedules will result in the 20 Tampa Bay rookies, including five April draft choices, will arrive in stages over the next month. Among the players likely to be in Tampa by Tuesday are QB Joe Hamilton (Georgia Tech), S David Gibson (USC), CB Earthwind Moreland (Georgia Southern) and WR Chris Daniels (Purdue).
According to Dungy, it is the rookies that will get the most out of the coming workouts. "The big thing for us is to continue to get the offense up to speed," said Dungy. "Number two, everything was new to the rookies (in April). In three days, they had everything thrown at them. Now we can re-introduce it to them bit by bit and make sure they are all confident in their assignments by training camp."
Tampa Bay's training camp opens at the University of Tampa on Sunday, July 23. All players report on that date, with the first practice occurring the following morning, on Monday, July 24.