CB Ronyell Whitaker spent all of 2004 on the Bucs' practice squad after appearing in four games as a rookie late in 2003
The end of the 2004 season brought an immediate termination to the contracts of Tampa Bay Buccaneers practice squad players Jon Bradley, Scott Jackson, Robert Johnson, Derek McCoy, DeAndrew Rubin, Ronyell Whitaker and Kevin Youngblood.
Those seven were not out of work long.
On Monday, the Buccaneers announced the re-signing of Bradley, Jackson, Johnson, McCoy, Rubin, Whitaker and Youngblood to 2005 'futures' contracts. There are no practice squad or injured reserve designations during the offseason, so those seven join the Bucs' regular roster for the upcoming months.
Most of the players re-signed Monday spent a good portion of the 2004 season on the Buccaneers' practice squad. Bradley was on the active roster for six weeks (and the practice squad for four), and Whitaker spent the final month of the 2003 season on the Bucs' 53-man crew.
During the season, practice squad players can, as the name suggests, practice with the team during the week, but they are not eligible to play in games unless they are promoted to the active roster. NFL teams use their practice squads for two purposes: To help weather injuries to other players while on the practice field and to get a developmental look at young, unproven players.
It is this second purpose that makes the practice squad a promising option for young players. Those re-signed on Monday have a good chance to make it to training camp with the team next summer, and that in turn will give them a chance to compete for a spot on the active roster in 2005. The 53-man roster with which the Bucs finished the 2004 season included several players who had previously spent time on the team's practice squad, including DT Chartric Darby, T Anthony Davis, RB Earnest Graham, CB Corey Ivy, TE Nate Lawrie, RB Ian Smart, K Jay Taylor and DT Keith Wright.
Practice squad contracts immediately end upon the conclusion of a team's season, whether it be in the regular season or the postseason. In other words, the Bucs' practice squad players became free agents after the season finale in Arizona, but practice squad players in San Diego and Minnesota, for instance, are still under contract.
Practice squad players always retain their eligibility in terms of other teams' active rosters. That is, a practice squad player may be signed away by another team during the season if it is for that team's 53-man crew. Former starting Buccaneer safety Damien Robinson is a good example of that principle; the Bucs signed him off Philadelphia's practice squad early in his rookie season.
Bradley first joined the Buccaneers as a practice squad player on October 20, but was promoted to the active roster just two weeks later. He appeared in six games as a reserve defensive tackle and recorded six tackles and his first career sack. On December 17, the Bucs waived Bradley and activated defensive tackle Keith Wright from the practice squad, then signed Bradley back to the practice squad a few days later. The Arkansas State product entered the NFL as a rookie free agent with Philadelphia last April.
Jackson, a 6-4, 300-pound center, and Whitaker, a 5-9, 196-pound cornerback, have an interesting distinction – they are the only players to spend all 17 weeks of the 2004 season on the Bucs' practice squad. That unit sees frequent turnover during the season as the Bucs look to address positions on the active roster that have been thinned by injuries.
Jackson signed as a rookie free agent with the Bucs after the 2004 draft. He started for two seasons at Brigham Young and was both an honorable mention all-conference choice and an academic all-conference selection.
Of these seven players, Whitaker has been with the team the longest. He signed with the Bucs as an undrafted free agent in 2003 and spent eight weeks on the team's practice squad before being promoted to the active roster in December. Whitaker appeared in four games with one start and recorded nine tackles, three passes defensed and two special teams stops. At Virginia Tech, he started 32 of 43 games and racked up 190 tackles and seven interceptions.
Johnson only joined the Bucs on December 15, after a season-ending injury to tight end Will Heller. An imposing figure, the 6-6, 270-pound Johnson signed with Atlanta after the 2003 draft but spent most of the season on a reserve list with the Chicago Bears. He did appear in one game late in the season but was released at the end of this past preseason. At Auburn, Johnson caught 59 passes for 758 yards and 10 touchdowns over three seasons.
McCoy joined the Bucs' practice squad on October 27, when the team activated Graham to the 53-man roster. A 6-3, 210-pound rookie out of Colorado, he joined the league with St. Louis in April and eventually had brief stints on the practice squads in Arizona and Tennessee before coming to Tampa. At Colorado, he finished fifth on the school's all-time receiving lists with 134 receptions for 2,038 yards, and tied the school's career record with 20 receiving touchdowns.
Rubin, a 6-0, 180-pound receiver, might be more familiar with Buccaneer fans, as he grew up in St. Petersburg and played his college ball at the University of South Florida. He is trying to follow former long-snapper Ryan Benjamin as the only USF Bulls to play for the hometown team. In four seasons at USF, Rubin played in 42 games with 18 starts and caught 91 passes for 1,306 yards and 14 touchdowns. He also proved to be a serious threat as a return man, averaging 16.4 yards on 64 punt returns and 26.0 yards on 59 kickoff returns. Rubin also scored five times on returns (four punt, one kickoff), including three times in his 2002 senior season.
Youngblood, who stands 6-5, 215, is the third receiver re-signed by the Bucs on Thursday. He first entered the league as an undrafted free agent with the Atlanta Falcons last spring. He finished his career at Clemson with 142 receptions for 1,713 yards and six touchdowns. Youngblood first spent one week on the Bucs' practice squad in October, then re-signed with the team on December 1 and finished the season in Tampa.