T Todd Steussie believes he can cap his career more successfully with a move back to left tackle
It was the obvious choice and yet still one certain to create a buzz at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' training camp. Seeking help at an offensive tackle position suddenly plagued by injuries and defections, the Buccaneers re-signed 12th-year veteran Todd Steussie on Sunday.
Steussie suited up in his familiar #75 jersey and stepped right into a sizeable chunk of reps Sunday morning, as the Bucs looked to ease the workload on young left tackle Anthony Davis. To make room for Steussie on the roster, the team waived second-year wide receiver Adrian Madise.
It was the second day in a row that the team had brought back a tackle released before camp, having re-signed Jeff Hatch on Saturday. However, Steussie's return caused more of a stir, as he had been, as Head Coach Jon Gruden said on Sunday, a "lightning rod" for some of the criticism the team took during a disappointing 2004 season.
In its current situation, though, Steussie is just what the team needed. He had been released on the day the team reported to camp last Thursday, but he was able to step back in with little advance warning on Sunday.
"You know how to ride a bicycle even if you haven't been on it for awhile, and you ride it pretty well," said Offensive Line Coach Bill Muir. "Obviously, Todd over the years has always been self-conditioned and self-trained. There's never been a question about whether he would be in shape or strong enough. He was just waiting to see how things would develop here or elsewhere, and all the time that he was waiting he was training. Coming here today, from a standpoint of physical conditioning, it was as if he had been here from the start.
"He also knows how to play the position since he's played it so long, and obviously having a year in our system certainly benefits him. As I said, the transition is a very smooth, very easy one."
Last year, the Bucs signed Steussie after his release by the Carolina Panthers and attempted to move him to right tackle. That experiment failed as he was replaced after three games by former and current starter Kenyatta Walker. However, Steussie had an exemplary record at left tackle for 10 seasons with the Panthers and, especially, the Minnesota Vikings, and it is that position he is being asked to shore up now.
"He understands the position, he's played it for a decade and I think he'll help us," said Gruden. "He'll give us a good leader in the clubhouse. I like this guy, I like this guy a lot. It didn't go like he wanted it to go last year – he took reps on the scout team, for crying out loud, and busted his butt. He's the backup left tackle at this stage. We'll put him back in his comfort zone and assist him. I think he has a pretty good understanding of it, and we'll see what happens."
What had appeared to be the end of his stint with the Buccaneers didn't go as Steussie had hoped, either. A two-time Pro Bowler and a hard-working team player throughout his career, Steussie wanted to finish his career on his own terms. His return to Bucs camp might give him that chance.
"In the end it basically came down to where I felt like I had some unfinished business here," he said. "I didn't like how things ended last year from a team standpoint or a personal standpoint. I wanted to get a chance to show the coaches and my teammates what they saw last year wasn't really the guy that I am."
Steussie believes the switch back to the left side will help him accomplish that goal.
"That's always been my comfort zone," he said. "Last year I was trying to do something that I thought would work and it never quite took the way I was hoping it would. So it's nice to be on the other side and to hopefully get a chance to show my teammates and my coaches what I'm capable of [when] playing my natural position."
Gruden appreciates Steussie's motivation and his willingness to return to Tampa, especially considering the reduced salary the Bucs were forced to offer. No matter the stir that his return may have caused outside the locker room, Gruden is certain the team is happy to have Steussie back.
"He showed our football team a lot by coming back in here, at a salary that probably isn't what he's accustomed to making, to redeem himself and show Buc fans and our football team he can play and help us."
Steussie's willingness to return at a lower salary was helpful for the Buccaneers, who were not surprisingly having a difficult time finding an available left tackle option a week into August. The need was considered urgent, because Davis had been taking too many reps and the team didn't want to convert any of its guards to the outside and ruin the line's continuity and camp progress.
"Fortunately, Todd wanted to come back at the minimum," said General Manager Bruce Allen. "We explored all options, including trades, but no one wants to trade an OT right now. There's not a supplemental draft coming up so, yes, we signed Todd.
"As he said, he didn't finish the job and he wants to finish the job. That's a healthy attitude, a little similar to Chidi Ahanotu last year. He didn't like the way he had left the team and he was willing to come back and help out because he was familiar with the system."
A Will to Play
Despite the Bucs' eagerness to keep the various linemen in their primary positions, the team does value versatile players, particularly on defense. A defensive line swingman like Ellis Wyms or a three-position linebacker like Jeff Gooch can help the team fill out its depth chart with fewer bodies.
The defense is trying to fashion another versatile player out of second-year safety Will Allen. Even as Allen battles veteran Dexter Jackson for the starting free safety job, he is also actively learning another position: nickel back.
On Sunday morning, the Bucs practiced without newcomer Juran Bolden, who is expected to be the third corner in nickel situations this year (starting corner Ronde Barber generally moves into the nickel position when the third corner comes on). While that would sometimes mean extra work for Ronyell Whitaker and the other young cornerbacks, on Sunday it was an opportunity to get Allen some work with the starting defense. In this case, a full-team drill midway through practice, Barber stayed in his right corner position and Allen went into the slot to cover the extra receiver.
Allen obviously has good cover skills to be considered for the role, but the team's motivation for giving him double duty is his intelligence and instincts for the game. The former Ohio State standout doesn't mind the extra work because he feels it makes him more prepared for anything that might come up.
"It really just started in this camp, but I've been learning it off and on during the offseason," said Allen of the nickel-back opportunity. "[Defensive Backs] Coach [Mike] Tomlin is just preparing me in case he needs some bodies. I mean, Ronde Barber's going to end up the nickel back, obviously, and we have Ronyell Whitaker. But just in case those guys aren't up or something happens, we need somebody to be ready.
"I've got to learn everything, and that's helping my game. I'm just taking it and trying to get better on everything and keep working."
After Allen's nickel sequence in the team drill, Tomlin waved him back onto the field at safety without a breather or a chance to review his changing set of tasks. No matter. Allen immediately broke up a short crossing pass to wide receiver Michael Clayton on the next play.
"I'll say this: Will Allen is having a great camp," said Gruden. "He's making a lot of plays in the passing game and the running game."
Because the Buccaneers' two safety positions are largely interchangeable, Allen has also seen snaps at strong safety, where Jermaine Phillips is set to start. At free safety, he is waging a strong competition against Jackson, the returned Super Bowl star. Gruden has been pleased with the play of all three safeties, and it's a good bet they'll all see significant playing time this season, in one capacity or another. Basically, it appears as if the Bucs are looking for ways to make sure Allen is on the field.
"I hope so," said the second-year man when confronted with that notion. "I've just got to go out there and be consistent and make plays. I want to show consistency and performance and keep working hard. I've just got to work on the little things and be more focused when I'm in there. You have to keep working hard because you never know what's going to happen."
Despite the long rest afforded by Saturday's single-practice schedule, there was little change in the Bucs' injury situation on Sunday. Defensive tackle Damian Gregory returned to action, but the majority of the team's relatively short injury list remained intact.
As mentioned above, that list included offensive tackles Deese and Walker. In addition, guard Dan Buenning (strained calf) missed another day of work but the team is hopefully that the promising rookie will be back in action on Monday. Allen's additional workload had a bit to do with a mild hamstring issue for Jackson, who was in and out of practice all morning.
Bolden's issue is a slight abdomen strain that has periodically put him out of action in August, and linebacker Marquis Cooper missed his second day in a row with a lower back strain. Both Bolden and Cooper are expected to miss only a little practice time. Fullback Rick Razzano, who suffered a hamstring strain on the second day of camp, was running well on the sidelines Sunday but was still not suited up.
Despite the offensive line issues, Gruden knows the Bucs' training staff could be a lot busier.
"We're pretty fortunate right now in terms of injuries," he said. "Kenyatta is going to be able to play, we're just being smart with him right now in the two-a-day grind. Buenning is going to be back hopefully tomorrow; Derrick Deese, I'm told, will be back some time next week; Scott Jackson's been out with a broken hand. That thing has been fitted for a cast and hopefully once the swelling goes down in the next 48 hours he'll be back. So we expect to have a good rotation for the first game."