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Pittman's closer to coming aboard

The Bucs are expected to announce his signing soon, addressing a lack of depth a running back.

By ROGER MILLS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 24, 2002

TAMPA -- The Bucs are 11 days from their first minicamp and one concern of new coach Jon Gruden has been the lack of depth at running back.

Help is on the way. The Bucs are close to adding Cardinals running back Michael Pittman to the mix, perhaps by Monday.

Pittman, a 6-foot, 218-pounder who gained 846 yards last season, is the back the Bucs want and he apparently wants to play in Tampa Bay. The Bucs are expected to have an announcement after they iron out final contract details with Pittman's agent, Kendall Kremer.

What is certain is that the running game is a mystery. Gruden and his offensive staff are eager to find the best way to use Pro Bowl fullback/running back Mike Alstott, and reserve Aaron Stecker is mostly unproven. Those factors, coupled with the departure of running back Warrick Dunn to Atlanta, makes Pittman coveted.

Gruden said Pittman's hard running style and ability to catch the ball out of the backfield makes him a good fit. He also said the Bucs aren't too concerned about Pittman's past legal problems. He was suspended for a game last season after twice being arrested on domestic abuse charges stemming from altercations in Tempe, Ariz., with his estranged wife.

With Pittman all but signed, the Bucs no longer will pursue veteran free agents Ricky Watters or Dorsey Levens.

Ruskell stays put to work on draft

Bucs director of player personnel Tim Ruskell had been eager to take on new duties as Atlanta's general manager. But the hesitation of Falcons owner Arthur Blank to make a decision and Ruskell's close ties to the Bucs made Friday's decision to suspend talks an easy one.

"I'm excited to be here and looking forward to the draft and to the upcoming season," Ruskell said Saturday. "It's over and done with. I'm moving on. I'm from here. I'm a Buc and I'm going to be a Buc. I'm not sitting around here and waiting."

Given the freedom to pursue the Atlanta job, Ruskell became increasingly concerned by the slow-moving search process. In the meantime, Ruskell said, the interview process was a distraction to preparations for free agency and the April 20-21 draft, two of his primary responsibilities.

"(General manager) Rich McKay and I are fully committed to preparing for the new season and my plan is to continue to look at free agents and continue to help put together our team," Ruskell said.

"If they call again, I will take the call. But I wanted to make it clear that it was time to move on."

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