WR Frank Murphy played 11 games for the Buccaneers in 2001 and gave the 2002 season a memorable beginning
Frank Murphy is about to add another leg to his travels in search of a roster spot in the NFL, and this one will take him overseas.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have announced plans to allocate six players to NFL Europe for the league's 2004 spring season, and Murphy is among them. The raw but talented receiver, who played 12 games for Tampa Bay in the 2000-01 seasons, will join G Kevin Breedlove, C Ben Claxton, CB Lynaris Elpheage, K Carlos Martinez and DE Corey Smith in the six-team NFLEL this year.
Smith re-signed with the Bucs toward the end of the 2003 regular season and appeared in one game, while Breedlove and Claxton finished the '03 campaign on Tampa Bay's practice squad. Elpheage, Martinez and Murphy all signed with the team as 'reserve/future' free agents on January 14.
Each of the NFL's 32 teams allocates roughly five to 10 men to the NFLEL each spring, many of them young, unproven players looking for a chance to shine. NFL Europe offers these players an opportunity for actual in-game playing time, something that can be difficult to gain on an NFL roster. Current Buccaneers who displayed their talents in the NFLEL before eventually winning a spot with the parent team include DT Chartric Darby, CB Corey Ivy and RB Aaron Stecker. QB Brad Johnson was well established by the time he joined the Buccaneers, but he too had a positive European experience before his breakout season with the Minnesota Vikings in 1996.
In February, the six players allocated by the Buccaneers will be placed on one of the half-dozen NFLEL teams – the Amsterdam Admirals, Berlin Thunder, Cologne Centurions, Frankfurt Galaxy, Rhein Fire or Scottish Claymores. In March, the entire league will hold its training camp in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area before heading across the pond for the 10-game NFLEL season.
Of the six players allocated by the Buccaneers, Murphy and Smith are the only two with meaningful regular-season NFL experience so far. Murphy played 11 games for the Bucs in 2001 after making a one-game cameo in 2000 and Smith made the team as a rookie free agent in 2002 and played in six games before finishing the year on injured reserve. Smith resurfaced with the Bucs last December and saw action in the season finale at Tennessee.
Though he owns eight regular-season receptions and even a touchdown, Murphy probably had his most memorable moment as a Buccaneer on August 12, 2002.
On the first play of the first preseason game of 2002 – the first play ever with Head Coach Jon Gruden on the sideline, Murphy returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown against the Miami Dolphins. Though the Bucs' 14-10 win that day had nothing to do with the eventual standings, it was the beginning of the team's Super Bowl Championship ride.
Murphy didn't make the Bucs' active roster that season, and he ended up spending much of 2002 with the expansion Houston Texans. Murphy also went to training camp with the Texans at the beginning of the 2003 season, marking his fourth straight summer in an NFL camp. In 2000, he signed as an undrafted free agent with the Chicago Bears before eventually landing on the Bucs' practice squad and then the active roster for one game in December.
Breedlove started his NFL career in San Diego as an undrafted free agent this past spring. He was waived on September 1 by the Chargers, but that only began seven weeks of roster jumping in San Diego. He was twice signed to the Chargers' practice squad, and twice signed to the active roster, spending no more than 10 days in any given situation. On October 21, Breedlove was waived from San Diego's practice squad, his last transaction before joining the Buccaneers' practice squad on December 22. At Georgia, he set the school record for starts by a non-kicker, opening 47 games for the Bulldogs.
Claxton joined the Buccaneers' practice squad on December 16. He was a fifth-round draft pick of the Denver Broncos in April, and he appeared on practice squads for the Cleveland Browns and Miami Dolphins before landing in Tampa. At Mississippi, Claxton played in 44 games with 37 starts, helping the Rebels hold opponents to just 50 sacks over his four collegiate seasons.
Elpheage signed with New Orleans as an undrafted rookie last year after three outstanding seasons at Tulane. Among his contributions for the Green Wave in those three years were 171 tackles, 14 interceptions and 56 passes defensed, including a stellar junior season that produced 68 tackles, eight picks and 28 passes defensed. He was a Conference USA first-team selection after that 2002 season, during which he became the first player in NCAA history to score touchdowns by interception return, fumble return, kickoff return and punt return. Elpheage played his high school ball in New Orleans, where he was a quarterback and return specialist.
Martinez first signed with Philadelphia last April after a brief stint in 2002 with the Fresno Frenzy of the AFL2 (Arena League football). At Buena Vista University in Iowa, Martinez kicked 48 field goals, the second most ever in Division III football. He was a three-time all-conference selection and the MVP of the 2001 Aztec Bowl. Born in Iowa, Martinez went to high school in Nebraska (Papillion-LaVista) and, besides being a state-champion wrestler, he holds the state high school record for career field goals (28).