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Bucs target free agent receivers

By ROGER MILLS

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 23, 2001


TAMPA -- Draft pundits had predicted the Bucs were going to select a receiver this weekend, but that didn't happen. Now, the team will turn its attention to signing a number of them in free agency.

Tampa Bay has Keyshawn Johnson, Jacquez Green, Reidel Anthony, Karl Williams and Frank Murphy on its roster.

"That would be (a concern) from a numbers standpoint," coach Tony Dungy said. "We have five receivers on our roster and we'd like to go to camp with 11 or 12. So that means finding some free agent guys and we're working on that now. That would be the one thing that we didn't come out of the draft with. We had chances to take a few receivers but it just seemed that at every pick other guys rated a little more highly."

Part of the reasoning behind the reluctance to use a pick on a receiver was the improved play of Murphy, who began last season on the practice squad, and what general manager Rich McKay described as little difference between later-round picks and free agents.

"When you get past, in this instance, the middle of the second round, it's a different level of receiver," McKay said. "It's more of a chance guy, a trade guy.."

LOOKING AHEAD: With Randall McDaniel entering his 14th season, the Bucs have started thinking about the future. Nebraska right guard Russ Hochstein, a fifth-round pick, might factor into those plans.

A 6-3, 288-pound "drive blocker" who thrived in the Cornhuskers' run-oriented offense, Hochstein said he knows he has to improve as a pass protector.

"That is exactly one of the areas I need to work on, my strength, and a lot of it is pass protection," Hochstein said. "Of course, I came from the University of Nebraska, which isn't very well-known for pass protection. I have to continually improve that. It's definitely a weakness that I will have to improve on as I get older. Of course, my strength has to come along with it."

The Bucs aren't ready to anoint Hochstein as McDaniel's heir apparent but said he has the potential to be that kind of player.

"In two years from now, if Randall decides not to play, then we would like to think that somebody will step in and this kid's got as much a chance as anyone," offensive line coach Chris Foerster said.

"To say a guy that you take in the fourth round is going to replace Randall seems a bit of a stretch, but we think he has that potential. He possibly can step up. He's on that list of guys we thought could do it."

A TALL ORDER, BUT: Even with four No. 1 picks on the defensive line and a former starter on the bench, no Dungy draft would be complete without the selection of at least one defensive lineman. Enter Mississippi State's Ellis Wyms and Arizona end Joe Tafoya.

Wyms, a 6-2, 280-pounder played end and tackle and finished a four-year career with 120 tackles and 10 sacks.

"I like to play end better, but I definitely think I'll be able to come in and contribute either way," Wyms said. "Tackle or end or special teams or whatever they want me to do."

The arrival of Wyms could spell the end of unrestricted free agent Tyoka Jackson, who made a career with the Bucs bouncing from end to tackle.

"With Tyoka Jackson and his status (unsigned), we needed a guy who could play both (positions) and that's what he did at Mississippi State," McKay said.

And what's it like to be joining such a celebrated group of linemen?

"It's going to be a learning experience," Wyms said. "It's going to help my career down the road."

PLACES ARE LIMITED: By the end of the draft, the Bucs added nine names to the roster. McKay said it would be virtually impossible for all of them to make the opening day roster but added that having that many picks has its value.

"We like (picks)," McKay said. "People want to differentiate between the sixth-rounders or seventh-rounders ... these guys are all rated the same. The more of those guys you can get, the better off you feel. These are guys who have a chance, given the right situation. We're a team that says take them, keep them, try to get those picks, don't trade them away."

Although the team has solidified its starters and also stockpiled depth at virtually every position, McKay said it makes business sense to keep few rookies in the fold.

"You have to almost make slots for some of these players based on salary cap," he said. "Not so much for this year, but for next year. You have to allow rookies on your team every year because, if you don't, you'll have a salary cap crisis (later on). Every year you have to create some rookie depth. It doesn't mean they're going to play, because you only dress 45 plus the emergency quarterback, but it does mean they're on the 53-man roster.

"You've got to know that nine guys are not going to make it, but you have to hope some of them get on the practice squad."

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