Cuts come with many on bubble
By ROGER MILLS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 1, 2002
TAMPA -- By NFL rules, the Bucs must shave the 72 players on their roster to 53 by 4 p.m. today, and they may have made the bulk of the decisions Saturday.
But because of injuries on the offensive line and some unanswered questions, the Bucs waited until today to announce the cuts.
For a number of players on the bubble, the waiting period could not have been easy. The staff likely has a strong grasp of who will make the team, but several players had opportunities to make a final pitch Friday in Houston.
And there were some missed opportunities.
Punt returner Aaron Lockett, a rookie who is a long shot, didn't help his cause by calling for a fair catch inside the Bucs 5 on his only return attempt.
"I'm not sure (worrying about it) is going to make much of a difference," Lockett said after the game. "I didn't know I backed up that far. But I'm going to make it in this league. I thought I did well. I came in and progressed every game and caught the ball well and showed some of my abilities to make a play. A lot of people fair catch and don't get a lot of opportunities. I got nine (chances to return kicks) in the preseason and tried to make the most of them. That's all you can ask for."
With the Bucs facing injuries and inconsistent play on the offensive line, the coaching staff may be inclined to keep an extra body. That likely will limit the number of players in certain skilled positions, namely receiver.
Teams usually keep five receivers, with another on the practice squad. Locked in are Keyshawn Johnson, Keenan McCardell, Joe Jurevicius and rookie Marquise Walker. That leaves veteran Karl Williams and third-year player Frank Murphy in a battle for the last spot.
"I can't worry about it," Williams said. "The decisions are up to the coaches, they are not up to the players. You have to do what you can with the opportunities you get. The good thing about it is that other teams are watching too. You can't really let it bother you."
Murphy, who seemed a lock to make the team after he returned the first kickoff of the preseason for a 95-yard touchdown against the Dolphins, could not play against the Texans because of a sore left hamstring.
"I'm a firm believer that I work hard and God has his hands on me, so I'm just going to go out there and try to do the best I can with what opportunities I have," Murphy said. "I think I had an excellent preseason. There was a lot of learning, but I thought I did well in a lot of areas. Of course, there are a lot of areas I need to improve, but there are a lot of receivers who have areas to work on."
QUARTERBACK QUANDARY: Coach Jon Gruden will not name the No. 2 quarterback until later this week. Rob Johnson and Shaun King have been No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, but the Bucs indicated last week that shuffling the order was a possibility.
Gruden said he would not rule out announcing a No. 2 quarterback and switching later.
"It possibly could (happen)," Gruden said. "We're going to try to stimulate those two guys the best way we can. We have to get one guy ready to start the ballgame, one guy ready to be the primary backup."
SAFETY VALUES: The Bucs are intrigued by the play of their safeties and may keep more than the usual four. Starters John Lynch and Dexter Jackson had solid preseasons, and Gruden has showered praise on backups John Howell, David Gibson and rookie Jermaine Phillips. "We're not going to let any good players get out of here," Gruden said. "Whether we've got to keep five safeties or six safeties, if we have that many good safeties they're making the team. They'll contribute at some point in time throughout the special teams or some creative defensive package."
OTHER INJURIES: Right guard Cosey Coleman (left knee), middle linebacker Shelton Quarles (right calf strain) and fullback Jameel Cook (left knee, ankle sprain) are expected back in practice this week.
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