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Bucs are ready to get physical

Players with strength and the ability to hit hard highlight Tampa Bay's selections in Rounds 4-7.

By RICK STROUD

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 23, 2001


photo
[AP photo]
Kenyatta Walker, an offensive lineman from the University of Florida, steps to the podium with a Buccaneers jersey and cap after being the 14th pick of the first round.
TAMPA -- It already seemed as if they held the winning ticket in the lottery that is the NFL draft by picking Florida offensive tackle Kenyatta Walker on Saturday.

So the second day for the Bucs was like revealing the prizes they might claim in a scratch-off game.

"I think the success of the draft, measured in the first 24 months, will totally be based on the success of Kenyatta Walker," general manager Rich McKay said. "That's usually the way it is for good teams. That's the way it happens when you're a pretty good team, because you're not drafting these guys to play.

"When you get down the road four years from now, then you're going to look back and say, 'Okay, was (third-rounder) Dwight Smith a good pick? Did he come in there and play?

"Quite frankly, if you don't get that side of the equation right, then you've got big problems."

The Bucs concluded the NFL draft on Sunday by selecting seven players -- four on defense and three on offense -- including Yale safety Than Merrill, a seventh-rounder who becomes the first Ivy League player in team history.

"We're excited about some of the guys we were able to get," coach Tony Dungy said. "We were able to fill some holes on our roster and fill some needs at positions on the second day.

"The code word was probably 'physical' on the second day."

The Bucs began the second afternoon of the draft by selecting Colorado State safety John Howell.

The 5-foot-11, 196-pound Howell patterns his play after his idol, Bucs safety John Lynch. That shouldn't be a stretch for Howell, whose system at Colorado State was borrowed from Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. It so happens that Kiffin's son, Chris, is a redshirt freshman with the Rams.

"John Howell comes out of a system where every call, every code word, every number system (is the same)," McKay said. "Anything the Buccaneers do, the Colorado State Rams also do."

Looking to improve depth on the offensive line, the Bucs took Nebraska guard Russ Hochstein with their fifth-round pick.

In the sixth round, the Bucs selected Illinois fullback Jameel Cook and Mississippi State defensive lineman Ellis Wyms. Veteran Tyoka Jackson is testing the free-agent market, and the Bucs think Wyms is versatile enough to play tackle and end.

The Bucs had three selections in the seventh round, using two on defense.

They began by picking North Carolina tight end Dauntae Finger, primarily a run blocker who played opposite Alge Crumpler, a second-round pick by Atlanta.

"That's what we felt we needed when we lost Patrick Hape," McKay said. "We needed ... a tight end that won't be asked to catch the football. He'll be asked to block at all times, and that's what he did at North Carolina."

Merrill, who originally enrolled at Stanford as a quarterback, transferred to Yale, where he was an All-Ivy Legaue safety.

"Lynch went to Stanford and thought he was going to be (John) Elway," Dungy said. "Merrill went to Stanford, and I'm not sure whether he thought he was going to be Elway or Lynch."

The final Bucs pick was Arizona defensive end Joe Tafoya, an All-Pac-10 selection who could provide depth on the defensive line.

"If you get any impact out of these guys this year, that's all upside," McKay said. "With the exception of Walker, we may not. We'll see. But we like the guys, we see them having a fit for us into the future. We see them as guys who can help us. How many of these guys make it? It would be hard to predict. If you picked five or six to make it on the 53-man (roster), that would be a pretty successful draft, and then allow the others to go to the practice squad. "You have to allow rookies on your team every year. If you don't, you'll have a salary-cap crisis."

If the Bucs had a draft weakness, it was their inability to find a big, physical receiver. Only five receivers are under contract and the Bucs would like to take at least 10 to training camp.

The Bucs are expected to sign around 15 undrafted college free agents, including several receivers.

"We kind of got in there thinking we'd draft a wide receiver late because we need the numbers for training camp and we weren't able to do it," McKay said. "Based on the players on the board, we decided to take those players and fight for the wide receivers in free agency.

"We were trying to look for the bigger receiver to give us a different dimension and we weren't able to find him."

Bucs draft class

(No., Player, Pos, College)

14 Kenyatta Walker, T, Florida

84 Dwight Smith, CB, Akron

117 John Howell, S, Colo. St

151 Russ Hochstein, G, Nebraska

174 Jameel Cook, RB, Illinois

183 Ellis Wyms, DL, Miss. St.

205 Dauntae' Finger, TE, UNC

223 Than Merrill, S, Yale

234 Joe Tafoya, DE, Arizona

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