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Players may have a ring of their own

By RICK STROUD, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 22, 2003

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Bucs could become the first Super Bowl winner to produce two championship rings: one for players and one for members of the organization.

A players committee that includes defensive tackle Warren Sapp, linebacker Derrick Brooks, safety John Lynch and cornerback Ronde Barber will offer input and select from several design proposals for the Super Bowl XXXVII championship rings.

A BAD RAP: Coach Jon Gruden clearly prefers veterans, but he says his reputation for not playing rookies is undeserved.

"I've been accused of not liking rookie players, I don't know why," Gruden said. "I like rookies. If the rookie is ready to play, the rookie is playing.

"It's not like we say, 'Hey, you're a rookie, you're not playing for three years. If you're a rookie and you're good enough to play, you're playing. Last year, we didn't have a first- or second-round pick. Marquise Walker was a third, he got hurt in training camp and that was pretty much it. (Fourth-rounder) Travis Stephens, hopefully he can play. Hopefully, he can make our football team and give us an element that we need -- speed and quickness.

"How many rookies come in and start on any team? Forget my team. How many guys start? If you have three or four rookies come in and start, you're probably not a very good team. That's just been my opinion over the years. But you've got to have young players. They're the lifeblood of your team.

"We hope Jermaine Phillips and Travis Stephens and some of these young players can explode onto the scene this season. That remains to be seen, but that's why we're here, to add some young, exciting prospects to our nucleus."

O LINE SHAKE-UP: Center Jeff Christy might not be the only player missing from the Bucs offensive line in 2003.

Gruden said the team will use the draft and free agency to improve the unit.

"It'll always be an area that we look at and scrutinize carefully," Gruden said. "We feel like Cosey Coleman can play better than he did this season. He came off an injury and missed the majority of training camp. I still like the upside of his. But again, we're going to look to find big, explosive guys to come in and help us.

"We've got to get Roman Oben re-signed. He played well for us. Roman started 19 games for a Super Bowl championship team. He's a detail guy, he's a good football player. We think Kenyatta (Walker) can play better. He played good at times but we need him to be a dominant-type player."

GOODBYE, JOE: The Bucs will not tender a contract to restricted free-agent quarterback Joe Hamilton, who spent last season on injured reserve after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament while playing in NFL Europe.

QUOTABLE: Gruden, when asked about the Ohio State Buckeyes' undefeated season and national championship: "It was a great year for the Bucs, you know what I mean? I watched the Milwaukee Bucks make a big trade (Thursday) night."

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