Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Senior Week

The Bucs happily accepted an opportunity to send their coaching staff to the 2005 Senior Bowl, where they will get a first-hand look at some of the nation’s top draft prospects

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S Will Allen, the Bucs' fourth-round draft pick in 2004, played in the Senior Bowl a year ago

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn't have to provide one of the two coaching staffs for the Senior Bowl.

They wanted to.

The most valued of the post-bowl stretch of college all-star games, the Senior Bowl is played each January in Mobile, Alabama. Dozens of senior draft prospects are split into North and South squads, each of which are run by the entire coaching crews of two NFL teams. In a coincidental 'rematch' of Super Bowl XXXVII, the 2005 Senior Bowl will be coached by the staffs of the Buccaneers and the Oakland Raiders.

Now a week of work in Mobile and another round of practices, meetings and game-planning might not be high on the post-holiday wish lists of many NFL coaches, but this was an assignment the Bucs gladly accepted.

It would be hard to find a better way to get an up-close look at some of the best draft-eligible talent in the nation than to spend a week putting through their practice-squad paces. The Bucs have 11 picks in next April's draft, which could prove to be a crucial weekend for the team's near future.

"We feel that's a great opportunity to look at some of the young talent," said Buccaneers General Manager Bruce Allen on Thursday. "Having these extra draft picks, we really wanted to do that. [Head Coach Jon Gruden] was working on his Senior Bowl game plan this morning."

For years, the Senior Bowl was coached by the AFC and NFC squads that came closest to the playoffs that season without qualifying. The selection method was recently changed; now, the assignment goes to the two teams who finished with the league's lowest win totals that year. However, the duty is not mandatory and teams can opt out for legitimate reasons, such as coaching staff changes. San Francisco (2-14), Miami (4-12) and Cleveland (4-12) are all in the midst of head coach changes.

Under the previous selection method, the Buccaneers coaching staff worked the South sideline for the 1999 Senior Bowl. A few months later, the team used its first two draft picks on players from that South squad – defensive tackle Anthony McFarland and quarterback Shaun King.

Coincidentally, the opposing coaching staff in that game was also the Raiders. Gruden led the North squad to a victory in his first Senior Bowl assignment. Norv Turner, the current Raiders head coach, previously won two Senior Bowls while with the Washington Redskins.

Gruden is pleased to be going back to Mobile.

"The Senior Bowl is very beneficial, especially when it comes to spending time with the players," he said. "During our last experience in 1999, we were able to get some great players on our team after having hands-on experience. With our 11 draft picks, this is a unique opportunity to work closely with the best prospects in this year's draft class."

More than 550 former Senior Bowl players were active in the NFL in 2004, 28 of whom will be playing in this year's Pro Bowl. Included in that group are Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb, New York Jets running back Curtis Martin and Indianapolis defensive end Dwight Freeney.

Among the players committed to this year's Senior Bowl are USC defensive end Shaun Cody, Oklahoma wide receiver Mark Clayton, Alabama offensive linemen Wesley Britt and Evan Mathis and Southern Miss linebacker Michael Boley. The complete North and South rosters will be released on January 23.

Four of last year's first-round draft picks played in the Senior Bowl: quarterbacks Philip Rivers and J.P. Losman, tight end Ben Watson and wide receiver Michael Jenkins. Two of the Bucs' 2004 draft selections appeared in the game: fourth-round safety Will Allen and fifth-round guard Jeb Terry. Other 2004 Senior Bowl participants who went on to notable rookie seasons in the NFL included, among others, Mewelde Moore, Jake Grove, Darnell Dockett, Michael Boulware, Tatum Bell, Julius Jones, Ricardo Colclough, Nate Kaeding, Keary Colbert, Nick Hardwick, Shane Olivea and Alex Stepanovich.

In addition to coaches, the Buccaneers and Raiders will provide the rest of a football team's support staff, including video, training and equipment personnel. This year's Senior Bowl will be played on January 29, with kickoff set for 3:00 p.m. ET.

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