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Poole not last move for Bucs

© St. Petersburg Times
published March 24, 2002

TAMPA -- Behind the scenes, new coach Jon Gruden has repeated his mantra that the team's pressing needs are at running back and receiver.

Whether it is in the draft or through free agency, the Bucs are likely to add another receiver and another running back before training camp begins in late July.

So, considering Gruden's reputation for being willing to take a chance on a long shot a few years removed from his best season, Friday's decision to sign Keith Poole, released by the Saints and Broncos in successive seasons, should not be surprising.

Poole, known for his speed, has a good chance to find a spot but will have to prove to the coaching staff that his modest numbers the past two seasons were the exception, not the rule.

"There were a lot of factors coming together (that explain) why he struggled the past two seasons," Poole's agent, Tom Mills, said. "The difference between 1999 and 2000 (with the Saints) was a shift in coaching and management philosophy. The Saints brought in free agents like Joe Horn and Willie Jackson and Keith didn't get the opportunity he had under (former coach Mike) Ditka."

Poole will learn a third offensive system in as many years, but everyone else on the Bucs also will start from scratch.

"We thought about that," Mills said. "Coming in now, he'll be there at the start of the offseason conditioning program and will be learning from Day 1."

RUNNING BACK BY COMMITTEE: In Oakland, he had Tyrone Wheatley and Napoleon Kaufman, then Wheatley and Charlie Garner. Last season the Raiders used all five running backs on the roster.

It seems that could happen again. Don't expect the Bucs to go into the April5 minicamp with only Aaron Stecker and Mike Alstott on the roster. Cardinals free agent Michael Pittman is close to signing and the Bucs could add another running back as late as June.

The fact that they are willing to interview Curtis Enis and Byron Hanspard, neither of whom played in the NFL last season, is an indication that Gruden wants more competition in the backfield.

DEFENDING A TITLE: The Ravens lost several stars, including tight end Shannon Sharpe, from their 2001 Super Bowl team because of salary-cap constraints. As a result, this is expected to be a rebuilding year, which coach Brian Billick said is merely a sign of the times.

"We have a Super Bowl ring on our finger, but now you have to kind of pay the price," he said. "We think we're in a position where we can recoup ourselves very quickly, even beginning next year and be in excellent cap situation. But right now, we got old and we have cap issues."

So, does winning the Super Bowl justify the team's current salary-cap mess?

"This business is about winning and the way we conducted ourselves. Over the past three years, a team that never had winning seasons in succession has been to the playoffs twice; has the second-best winning record over those three years; and we have a Super Bowl ring," Billick said. "So, did we conduct ourselves properly over the last three years? Yeah, I think so. ... The cap is real and at some point you're always going to have to account for it."

Billick said he isn't surprised teams have been slow to sign high-price free agents such as Sharpe, Redskins receiver Michael Westbrook and Lions receiver Johnnie Morton. Morton visited the Bucs on Friday but may price himself out of their range.

"Now the days of the free-spending, high-money free agents has maybe gone the way of the whales," he said. "Nobody is taking that approach anymore because it was counterproductive."

IMITATING THE RAMS: With the immediate success Rams defensive coordinator Lovie Smith had turning the defense into one of the league's leaders last season, Titans coach Jeff Fisher said to expect other teams to copy the Rams' scheme.

Fisher said the scheme's simplicity makes it easy to duplicate if a team has the right personnel.

"It's one that can be installed and the Rams proved this year that from one year to the next that you can have success quite easily," Fisher said. "It might be the defense that people move to because of the turnover (in personnel) we've seen. Teams are having turnover year after year and this is a system that may allow you to handle turnover."

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