Veteran T Derrick Deese was one of 21 players released on Saturday
One of the most difficult days of the year is over for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. By releasing 21 players and putting one more on injured reserve, the Bucs got down to the NFL's regular-season roster limit by Saturday's 6:00 p.m. ET deadline.
The construction of the 2005 roster is not necessarily over; in fact, that process usually continues throughout the season. But the Bucs are down to the necessary 53 players after beginning the day at 75 (the 76th player on the roster, S Claudius Osei, is exempt and will remain as a ninth practice-squad player, ineligible to play in games). There were, obviously, some very difficult decisions made on Saturday.
Most notable among the 22 players removed from the active roster were veteran tackle Derrick Deese, third-year tight end Will Heller and linebacker Jeff Gooch, who was placed on injured reserve. Of those 22, 16 were either rookies or first-year players. However, in a series of moves that reflects well on the team's college scouting, 11 of the 12 players drafted by the Buccaneers in April made the team. That means over one-fifth of the current roster is comprised of rookies.
Here's how the Bucs met the 53-man limit:
|Derrick Deese||T||14||Termination of Vested Veteran|
|Jeff Gooch||LB||10||Placed on Injured Reserve|
While the younger players were simply waived, Deese was terminated as a vested veteran. The primary difference between those two categories is that Deese is not subject to the waiver-claim process as are the rest of the players; he immediately becomes a free agent.
Saturday's moves were about securing places on the roster, not necessarily starting spots or other specific roles. However, at least one move revealed the winner of a particular job. By waiving France, the team tabbed Bryant as its kicker for 2005. This was a job won by Bryant, not lost by France, as both kickers were outstanding during the preseason and most of training camp.
Whether or not it factored into the final decision, the Bucs went with the more experienced kicker. Bryant held the New York Giants' kicking job in 2002 and 2003, making 80% of his field goals over that two-year span. He also had brief stops in Miami and Indianapolis during the regular season last fall. During the preseason, which was completed with Thursday's win over Houston, Bryant made four of his five field goal tries, including a 52-yarder against the Texans and an overtime game-winner against Tennessee.
The other position that had drawn a lot of interest over the last six weeks was wide receiver, where the team had a solid top three followed by an intriguing group of young receivers. Among the young candidates were three 2005 draft choices, fifth-rounder Larry Brackins and seventh-rounders Paris Warren and J.R. Russell. Brackins didn't play much during the preseason due to a June hamstring injury, but Warren and Russell saw a lot of action and definitely had their moments. Russell led the team during the preseason with 11 catches and 139 receiving yards, and Warren snared a team-high two touchdown passes while averaging 24.7 yards per catch.
In the end, the Bucs found a way to keep all of their drafted receivers, giving them seven total heading into the regular season. While the team might more commonly keep six receivers among its 53, the coaches had hoped to get more special teams contributions out of the offensive skill positions this year, primarily at receiver and running back. The Bucs also kept six running backs, three each at the fullback (Mike Alstott, Jameel Cook, Rick Razzano) and tailback (Carnell Williams, Michael Pittman, Earnest Graham) positions.
Shepherd, originally an undrafted free agent out of San Jose State in 2002, is on an opening-day active roster for the first time in his career, though it is an achievement that might have come a year earlier if not for an injury. Shepherd was having an outstanding camp in 2004 before a foot injury in the preseason opener pushed him to injured reserve. At the time, he seemed like a good bet to make the final roster. This year, considering the youth of the other receivers kept by the team, he appears to have the inside track at the fourth receiver spot, which would keep him on the 45-man active list on game day.]
One of the less recognized but perhaps more intense battles was at tight end, where first-year player Nate Lawrie has apparently unseated Heller. Lawrie was a sixth-round draft pick in 2004 while Heller made the team as an undrafted rookie in 2003 and has made some important contributions over the last two years. Both players finished the preseason strong on Thursday, Heller by catching three passes for 45 yards and Lawrie by hauling in a 20-yard touchdown pass. With the free-agent signing of Anthony Becht and the drafting of Alex Smith in the third round in April, the Bucs will start 2005 with a completely different tight end corps than it had to begin 2004.
Often, the decisions made on the final cut-down day do not fully shape the opening-day roster, in part because cuts across the league occasionally lead to interesting players hitting the waiver wire on Saturday night. In 2003, for instance, the Bucs kept rookie tackle Lance Nimmo at the cut-down to 53, but released him a day later in order to pick up veteran tight end Tony McGee. However, four days after that, and before the season opener, the team released McGee and signed TE Daniel Wilcox, a strong special teams player, instead.
It is also wise to pay attention to the practice squad moves the team makes in the next few days. Each NFL team is allowed to form a practice squad of up to eight men; these players may practice with the team during the week but are not eligible to play in games. During that same period in 2003 described above, the Bucs signed wide receiver Edell Shepherd, tackle Anthony Davis and cornerback Blue Adams to the practice squad. Now, all three are on the active roster to open 2005 and Davis is the starter at left tackle.
Davis took over the left tackle spot early in training camp when Deese was sidelined by a difficult-to-diagnose foot injury. Deese returned only briefly during one day of practice and did not play in any of the preseason contests; fortunately, Davis has performed well at that critical position. The team also kept veteran tackle Todd Steussie, who returned to the team during camp and looked sharp back at his natural position.