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Whitaker and Smart are released

By RICK STROUD, Times Staff Writer
Published August 30, 2005

TAMPA - Ronyell Whitaker was flagged for late hits in each of the last two preseason games, costing the Bucs 30 yards on kickoffs.

The penalty Whitaker may have paid for those mistakes is his job.

Whitaker and running back Ian Smart were among the players released by the team in an effort to reach the NFL's 65-man roster limit by 4 p.m. today.

Although the Bucs will not officially announce cuts until this afternoon, Whitaker was among 10 uninjured players who did attend practice Monday. Coach Jon Gruden later confirmed Smart had been released.

The list of potential roster cuts included quarterback Jared Allen , receivers Chris Davis and Kevin Youngblood , fullback Steve Kriewald , guard Phil Bogle , receiver Derrick Lewis , guard Sam Wilder and defensive end Bryant McNeal .

The 5-foot-9, 196-pound Whitaker had 13 tackles in three games this preseason. He played in four games with one start in 2003 before spending the 2004 season on the practice squad. But he was assessed an unsportsmanlike penalty for a hit out of bounds that negated a 42-yard kickoff return by DeAndrew Rubin on Aug. 20 against the Jaguars. On Saturday, Whitaker lost containment in kickoff coverage and hit Dolphins returner Wes Welker out of bounds, resulting in a 15-yard penalty.

Smart, a 5-foot-8, 192-pounder, faced an uphill battle to earn a roster spot at running back, particularly with the performance of Earnest Graham , who leads the Bucs with 142 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries. Smart rushed 13 times for 38 yards and caught three passes for 9 yards in the preseason. He played in four games last season for the Bucs, rushing twice for 26 yards. He also returned eight kickoffs for 167 yards.

"We feel like he did get a lot of reps on the practice field, we feel like we did play him extensively in the first couple games," Gruden said. "He's a good back. Hopefully, he catches on with another team. You can't deny the fact that No. 33 (Graham) has looked very good here. We drafted Cadillac Williams , Michael Pittman has been a productive back here, Derek Watson is still in the mix, so when you couple that with the fact that Mike Alstott is also going to play the tailback position, we felt it was good for Ian Smart to look elsewhere. Hopefully, someone else takes a look at him."

The Bucs have 11 roster exemptions, meaning they have to release 15 players by today. They could opt to place tackle Derrick Deese (foot) and running back Charlie Garner either on injured reserve or the physically unable to perform list. The final cut to 53 players is Sunday.

BOOGER RETURNS: Defensive tackle Anthony McFarland returned to practice for the first time in more than two weeks after the death of his mother, Nancey , Aug. 16.

McFarland is expected to play in Thursday's game against the Texans.

"He's a very popular guy on this team and well thought of. He's been here a long time," Gruden said. "He's got a lot of close friends on the team and on the staff and in the organization. I'm sure he's getting a lot of support from people. It's very unfortunate. He's not the only one that's had to go through this and we just try to help him the best we can."

CLAYTON CALLS HOME: Receiver Michael Clayton said he checked on his family in Baton Rouge, La., and they were fine after the state was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.

"Everybody is fine in my home, so I'm thankful for that," Clayton said. "A couple tree branches and stuff, which is normal for hurricanes. They had a power outage, but nothing serious."

Clayton said his mother went to Mississippi to take care of his grandmother. His brother, father, and 3-year-old daughter, Madison , remained in Baton Rouge.

"I have a daughter back at home and that's my main concern," Clayton said. "I know my parents and my brother is older, they can basically fend for themselves. But my daughter is only 3 years old, that's a harder challenge to take care of a child in situations like that, especially if something goes wrong. It is a load off your mind, now."

NECE READY FOR RETURN: Ryan Nece said he is better prepared to be a starting linebacker than he was two years ago, adding his demotion last season behind Ian Gold was frustrating.

Nece became the starter at strongside linebacker when Jeff Gooch suffered a severe calf pull in Saturday's 17-14 preseason loss at Miami. Gooch is out indefinitely.

"That was difficult. Any time you're in a job, whether you're a doctor or lawyer, and they bring somebody else to do your job and demote you, that can be frustrating," Nece said of Gold, who signed in the offseason with the Broncos. "It was frustrating as a linebacker that they wanted to go a different direction. But you've got to keep working and improving and now I have another opportunity to play."

"He's a very fast, much more physical, complete linebacker now than when he was a starter a couple of years ago," Gruden said of the 6-foot-3, 224-pound fourth-year player out of UCLA. "He's done a real good job and I don't want to discount the fact that Jeff Gooch is a key member of this team and we'll miss him until he comes back."

INJURIES: Guards Jeb Terry (knee) and Matt Stinchcomb (back) and safety Dexter Jackson (Achilles') returned to practice. Tackle Kenyatta Walker (knee) did not practice.

[Last modified August 30, 2005, 02:45:28]

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