QB Joe Hamilton was one of four quarterbacks to make the Bucs' active roster on Sunday
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers released some long-awaited news late Sunday afternoon, announcing the roster moves that would get the team down to the regular-season limit of 53 players.
However, those 18 moves seemed to create more questions than they answered, at least outside the inner sanctum at One Buccaneer Place where the decisions were made.
Who will back up at guard and center in the opening game at Dallas? How will the Bucs get by with two tight ends? Is there sufficient depth on the interior defensive line? Can the team really keep four quarterbacks when there are injury issues dotting the depth chart.
Head Coach Tony Dungy took some time after the moves were announced to explain the Buccaneers' motives. Most notably, he admitted that the team's depth chart is not necessarily finalized, as a re-evaluation of player injury status on Wednesday may force the Bucs to go to contingency plans.
As to what those plans are, Dungy was coy and, frankly, that's to be expected with 30 other NFL teams still giving their own rosters some finishing touches. Since there are so many seemingly unresolved issues, and since it would be unwise to speculate as to how the Bucs' brain trust will approach them, it seems best to let Dungy's Sunday words speak for themselves.
Following are the questions thrown Dungy's way on Sunday after the cuts were announced and how he responded.
With James Cannida, Dwight Smith, Jeff Christy, Ellis Wyms and Russ Hochstein all likely to miss some time, were the Bucs' final roster decisions this weekend more injury-driven than in previous seasons?
"We have some difficulties because we've got three or four guys that may not be ready to play for a couple of weeks. You not only have to think about the long run and 16 weeks, but how you're going to practice and how you're going to play until those guys get well. That probably caused most of the discussion."
Would you have expected, heading into the summer, that you would end up keeping all four of your quarterbacks?
"That's unusual, but I try not to ever put it in a box and encapsulate it. You're going to look and see what's best. We felt that was the best thing for us to do. We went a little bit light at tight end, but that was probably the only other surprising thing.
"We toyed with the idea last year when we picked up Ted White.
"We just thought it was best for the team in the long run. We've got guys we're happy with, so it's a strong position for us right now."
Could it have been Ryan Leaf's uncertain health status that prompted you to keep both him and a healthy Joe Hamilton?
"Not really. We just thought that those four guys gave us the best team at this time."
You mentioned going light at tight end, where only Dave Moore and Todd Yoder remain. Should we expect that, if the team finds another tight end it likes, one of the four quarterbacks will be released to make room on the roster?
"No, probably not. I'm not going to say it couldn't happen, but that's not our mindset. The possibility of keeping four quarterbacks, I guess we probably started talking about it after the first game. It was never etched in stone, but it wasn't something we said we couldn't do. Some of the injuries made it a little tougher, but we kept four quarterbacks because we liked them.
"I would not say it's sure that everybody will be here for 16 weeks. Every week, you've got to make decision on what's best for the team. I wouldn't say that if we have to get an offensive lineman then a quarterback's going to go. I don't think that's our plan, but you can't predict what's going to happen down the road. Right now, our best roster is with four quarterbacks. That may or may not be the case Week 16."
Which quarterback, Leaf or Hamilton, will primarily run the scout team in practice?
"It will depend. This week, we had both of them doing it because we were preparing for Michael Vick and Chris Chandler. I would say our first few weeks we'll have a good chance of having Joe Hamilton back there, getting ready for Quincy Carter and (Donovan) McNabb and (Daunte) Culpepper."
With only Moore and Yoder at tight end, is long-snapper Sean McDermott going to get a look at that position, which he played in college?
"That's kind of the plan right now, that he's going to practice some at tight end and play in some of the short-yardage packages. That was one of the reasons behind going to two tight ends."
Is it also possible that fullback Mike Alstott could be used as a tight end, if necessary?
"Mike has played there, especially in the three-wide receiver sets and passing sets. He can play there. Mike's versatility was another factor in that (decision)."
With Jeff Christy recovering from a knee sprain and Todd Washington the only healthy center currently on the roster, how will the Bucs' address that position for the Dallas game?
"We don't know that yet. We're going to wait and see what happens with Jeff. We haven't ruled him out (of the Dallas game) yet. I guess by Wednesday we'll know where we're going to classify him – probable, doubtful or whatever. We are just going to play that one out and wait to see what happens.
Is it possible that the team could look at Christy as the emergency backup in Dallas even if he's not 100 percent recovered at that time?
"That's one idea. I don't know if we'll do that. Either he'll be good enough to play or not. That's one of the things that we have talked about. We'd like to see where he is before we make a decision on how we're going to go."
So, then, who will back up Washington at center in Dallas if Christy is unable to go?
"That's the contingency plan. When we figure out that Jeff can't go, you'll be able to figure out what the plan is. We'll have contingency plans."
Right now, injured rookie Russ Hochstein is the only backup guard remaining. Considering his run of fractures (foot, hand, foot again), did he get enough of an opportunity to show you what he could do?
"Not really. Russ did some good things in our mini-camp. We liked him coming in, but he just never got a chance to be on the field and get in a rhythm. Hopefully that will happen. Hopefully, he'll be back in 10 days or so and get that chance."
Rookie free agent Leon Hires was the player backing up Washington before he was released. What was your evaluation of his performance?
"Leon did a good job. There was definitely some sentiment to keep him, based on our injury situation, but we just felt like this was a better way to go right now."
Another lineman, T George Hegamin, was the most experienced player cut by the Buccaneers. Did his absence of several days during the early part of camp hurt his chances to make the team?
"Not really, no. He missed a couple days of practice in there, but George Hegamin's a good ballplayer. He's going to play football, I'm sure, for someone. That's the tough part of it, when you have to let good players go. But that didn't really have an impact on it."
Cornerback is another position that looks thin, with only three players until rookie Dwight Smith returns from his foot injury. Five safeties were retained, however. Is there a plan to play any of the safeties at cornerback if an injury occurs to Donnie Abraham, Ronde Barber or Brian Kelly?
"We've got some contingency plans there, too. Again, we'll probably know a lot more on Wednesday, in terms of injured guys, who's likely to play and who isn't. Then we'll either go to those contingency plans or not. (Safety) Dexter Jackson would be one person who's done that and could do it if we have to."
Is Smith definitely out for the opener?
"It looks like it right now but, again, Wednesday is probably the day we'll have our plans, based on all the doctors' reports at that time."
Given this variety of injury issues, at what position would you say you are most concerned as the season opens?
"Probably nose tackle right now, just the way our injuries are. Right now, Anthony's kind of lonely in there. It will (be tough to practice), and we've got to work some guys in there as his backup. He can't take all the reps and we have to get somebody ready to play that spot.
"Nobody's looking forward to it. It might be a matter of talking some guys into it. It could be Ellis Wyms, Steve White, Marcus Jones, Chuck Darby – we'll just have to look at what's going to be the best for us and what's going to cause the least chaos.
"I would think Marcus would be one of the last options, but it's an option."
Did first-year free agent DE Ron Warner make the team due to strong play in the last two preseason games?
"Ron has played pretty well all year and done a good job. With James Cannida being hurt and Ellis Wyms being a little banged up, at this point he was one of our best 53."
Will these injuries play a major role in how the five-man practice squad is formed?
"Definitely. Once we find out who's going to be able to go and who isn't, we'll be able to supplement those positions on the practice squad. That will have a bearing on who comes back and who doesn't.
"A lot of it, again, is based on injuries. We talked to probably seven, eight, nine guys. Depending on how our injury situation shakes out, that will tell us which one of those guys comes back.
"We have generally liked to go with the guys that have been with us. We'd hope that all five of our practice squad guys would come from out list, but you have to look on the wire. Last year, Frank Murphy became available and that was a guy that we liked. You really don't know for sure until you see who all is available, but if we have a chance we'd like to go with the guys that we've trained and worked with."
Former Carson-Newman linebacker Marq Cerqua was the only undrafted rookie to make the team this year, despite his struggles with a shoulder dislocation late in camp. What did you see in him?
"That just speaks to our coaching staff. Those guys work with the guys we have. They don't have any preconceived ideas and the guys who play well end up coming to the top. Marq did that. He played well and did a good job on special teams. He's very similar to a lot of our guys, probably similar to Jeff Gooch when he came in. He caught everybody's eye with his speed and tenacity, and that's what we like. I think he's going to be a lot like Jeff where he's just going to learn his way through the defense, but he's got a lot of speed and attributes we can use.
After missing about four weeks with a knee sprain on his kicking leg, veteran Mark Royals finally punted on Friday in Atlanta but looked a little rusty. Did that performance make it more difficult to cut first-year punter Andrew Bayes?
"Mark punted pretty well during the week and didn't punt as well during the game. Whether that was because it was Astroturf, because there was a live rush, because it was his first time, I don't know. But (Head Trainer) Todd (Toriscelli) and Mark both tend to think it's not the injury that's causing it. But we'll look at it, and Mark knows he's got to punt better than he did in that game. Had he not punted well during the week, we'd be a little bit more concerned right now."
On the other end of the kicks, the Bucs used rookies Dwight Smith and Robert Kilow almost exclusively on kick and punt returns during the preseason. Now, Smith is injured and Kilow has been waived. Who is going to return kicks?
"We're going to have to see who active. It will probably be our veteran guys - Karl, Jacquez or Reidel.
"Karl's done a ton of it. We put Reidel back there in a playoff game in Lambeau his first year when he hadn't returned one all year, so those guys can do it if we need to."
Presumably, all 31 NFL teams are now scouring the waiver wire to see if any of the cut players can help them. Will you have a plan as you look at the wire tonight?
"You're just looking for good players. We won't look and say we've got to get this position or that position. If there's a guy that we really like that's a good player, we'll look at him, regardless of what position he plays."
Looking back to the offseason, are there any players that made this 53-man roster that you would have considered long shots at the time?
"It's dangerous to evaluate at the mini-camp, it's dangerous to evaluate after the draft. You get guys here and see how they play, how they adjust to things, how quickly they pick up things, how they do in practice, how their attitude is. I used to get surprised when I was 25 or 26, coaching. Now I try not to have those ideas."