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No early picks give Bucs different feeling

There will be a lot of waiting before GM Rich McKay drafts a player.

By RICK STROUD, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 14, 2002

TAMPA -- Welcome to the NFL draft, where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers now are on the clock.

But by the time it strikes midnight Saturday, they likely will have made just one pick.

That's because the Bucs gave up first- and second-round picks in 2002, a first-round pick in 2003 and a second-round pick in 2004 to pry coach Jon Gruden from Oakland.

As a result, Tampa Bay will spend a lot of time watching other teams improve while it waits until the 21st pick of the third round (the 86th overall pick) to make its first selection.

Most seasons, with so much riding on decisions made in the early rounds, the pressure is on general manager Rich McKay.

In this draft, the person whose job will be most scrutinized by the media and front office is the Bucs' caterer.

"I hope he's ready with the spread," said Ruston Webster, the team's college scouting director. "Guys are already asking, "What time are we coming in?"'

Added John Idzik, vice president of football operations, "We'll need a lot of bonbons."

Some teams, such as the expansion Houston Texans, will get fat off the draft. The Bucs will just get fat.

Only six times have the Bucs not made a selection in the first round. And they never have gone the first two rounds without choosing a player.

"It'll be real different," Webster said. "We have to go about things the same way. It's different, really, with your motivation for first-round players. Watching the first round is not quite the same.

"In the third round, you're not looking at the exciting guy, the guy that jumps out at you. So you're having to do a little more work."

The person most annoyed about what the Bucs had to give up for Gruden is Gruden. Since arriving, he has suggested the Bucs might be able to strike a deal or two to move up into the first two rounds.

But that seems remote. To start, who would they trade for picks?

They have shopped Mike Alstott without a nibble and now are intent on re-signing the Pro Bowl fullback. Despite persistent rumors to the contrary, Warren Sapp is untouchable. The only surplus is at quarterback, and Gruden still is trying to put them in order on the depth chart.

"Going up is tough," Webster said. "Rich has been able to pull off in the past going up or going down. But you have to be willing to have somebody who wants to do that, too. And you've got to have more than the other teams wanting to do the same thing.

"It is a possibility. But we're not loaded with premium picks, so it would be tough."

Mel Kiper, the NFL draft analyst for ESPN, said just because the Bucs don't own a high pick doesn't mean they won't have a chance to improve. In addition to having their pick in rounds three through seven, the Bucs have three compensatory picks in the seventh round.

"That's key," Kiper said. "That's where you can do something. Remember, it used to be a 12-round draft. In the old days, those seventh-round picks were nothing to blow off.

"You're talking about players like Mark Clayton, Leon Lett and Clyde Simmons that went after the seventh round."

Fortunately for the Bucs, this year's draft is deep at several positions of need.

"Particularly tight end, cornerback and safety," Kiper said. "Of course, you can always find running backs and receivers. But if you want a defensive lineman or linebacker, forget it. By the third round, the defensive linemen will all be gone.

"Same thing with the offensive line."

To that end, the Bucs have covered themselves through free agency. The signings of Joe Jurevicius, Keith Poole and E.G. Green take some of the emphasis off the need for a receiver.

Guard Kerry Jenkins will fill the hole left by the retirement of Randall McDaniel. Tight end Marco Battaglia replaced Dave Moore. Linebackers Jack Golden and Chris Jones provide depth at a position thinned by the loss of Jamie Duncan.

"We've done a lot of things to help us through free agency and take a lot of pressure off of us," Webster said. "In the third round, you can't really be picky. If you have a good player at another position but it's not necessarily a need, you need to be able to take that guy.

"And that's what the free agency has allowed us to do."

Projecting which player the Bucs might select first is, at best, a guess even for the scouting department.

They will enter Saturday with a list of 10 players they believe worthy of the selection and hope one of them is there.

Kiper's mock draft has the Bucs taking Portland State receiver Mike Charles in the third round.

But with the unusual number of quality tight ends available, he said he could see them in position to take BYU's Doug Jolley, Sam Houston State's Keith Heinrich or Georgia's Randy McMichael.

The Bucs also have shown interest in Tennessee running back Travis Stephens, who is projected as a sixth-round choice by Kiper.

"We have an idea who we like, and those are the guys we spend the most time with," Webster said. "We end up with a list of eight or 10 guys.

"Even though we don't pick until the third round, we still should get a football player there."

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  • Height becomes latest team fashion statement

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