No waiting to test prospects
By ROGER MILLS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 16, 2003
TAMPA -- Starting Tuesday night at the NFL combine in Indianapolis, members of the Bucs personnel staff will begin the process of interviewing, timing, testing, poking and prodding the top college players eligible for this year's draft.
While the Bucs don't make a choice until the end of the second round, the 64th overall selection, director of player personnel Tim Ruskell said they will not ignore top talent.
"It does eliminate you from some of the obvious very high picks, but even there, you have to cover yourself and watch those guys and have a grade on them because you just don't know what could happen," Ruskell said.
Last year, the Bucs did not have a selection until the third round (86th overall) and used it on Michigan receiver Marquise Walker, who spent the season on injured reserve.
"We're looking at it like we're moving on up," Ruskell said.
That said, the Bucs likely will make a few critical moves during the free-agency period, which starts Feb. 28, shortly after the front office returns from the combine.
"You have to be ready," Ruskell said. "If you have a bad draft or a bad free-agent crop, you can go down as fast as you were up. You can't rest. You can't sit back. You can't take a year off. You strive for the highest possible batting average."
While the team added 10 free agents on offense, nine of whom started at least one game, the Bucs aren't likely to be as busy this offseason because the team does not have many holes to fill.
But unlike past years, Ruskell said the Bucs will not necessarily have to initiate many discussions.
"More players are going to want to be interested in the Buccaneers because of the warm weather, grass stadium, great team, Super Bowl contender," Ruskell said. "Players in the NFL know Jon Gruden's pedigree. They know he likes veterans and is veteran-oriented for the most part. They know Jon coaches hard, our staff coaches hard. They know we look like we're having fun out there. A lot of passion on our team and the players around the league see that."
THE RING THING: One of the pleasantries associated with being the Super Bowl winner is the design and purchase of the championship ring. The Bucs solicited advice of the past five Super Bowl winners with regard to what procedures they used and how they can stay within the NFL's guidelines of the ring.
"There are a lot of guys who are not in charge but claim to be in charge," general manager Rich McKay said. "There's a process. The design of the ring you leave to the experts, but the final picking of the ring, you bring it (to the players). So what we'll do is we'll get a bunch of different looks at it, we'll get players to look at it and then we'll come to a head. It's not as easy a process as I thought."
Bucs executive vice presidents Joel, Bryan and Ed Glazer, along with McKay, Gruden and team captains, likely will help decide what the ring finally looks like.
"I want Warren (Sapp) to design it. He knows a lot," cornerback Ronde Barber said. "I've seen his watches. I've seen his rings. I've seen all of his jewelry, (I want) anything that looks like that. I think he has something big in mind, so hopefully he's pushing those guys real hard. I want it big and diamondy with a red flag, that would be right. I don't know how big is too big, but you can't be too greedy."
While the ring is a memento of the title, quarterback Brad Johnson said it's not the most important thing.
"It all depends on how you look at it," Johnson said. "It's to say that you were there and accomplished something. The feeling is something that means a lot more to me than the ring. The ring is a piece of jewelry. I'm not a jewelry wearing kind of guy. I probably would never wear it. ... I don't think I need to. Those things aren't bought, they are earned. But it should look nice because you may never get another one. It should be done right."
ON THE MEND: Barber was among the players who had knee surgery the past two weeks and said he expects a full recovery by the middle of March. The big question is when did he injure the knee? Barber said it happened Dec. 15 against the Lions, and he played out the season and the playoffs ignoring the discomfort.
"I remember when I broke my hand, I said (to the trainers), 'You have six hours to decide what you're going to do, but I'm practicing on Wednesday,' " Barber said. "You get used to it. I wasn't the guy I was in August or September, but it wasn't enough of a problem where I wasn't productive."
AND ON THE MOUND: In addition to dropping the ceremonial first puck at Monday's Lightning game against the Capitals at the St. Pete Times Forum, Gruden also will try out his arm on the baseball diamond. Gruden and McKay will throw the ceremonial first pitches of the Yankees' spring training opener on Feb. 27, then do the same for the Devil Rays' regular-season home opener against the Red Sox on March 31.
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