By RICK STROUD, ROGER MILLS
© St. Petersburg Times, published August 22, 2000
TAMPA -- If the Bucs lose quarterbacks Shaun King and Eric Zeier to injury this season, a rookie may have to step up and guide the offense.
Joe Hamilton, a seventh-round pick from Georgia Tech, unofficially won the job as Tampa Bay's No. 3 quarterback Monday when the Bucs released veteran backup Scott Milanovich.
Hamilton, who impressed coaches with his poise and production in the preseason, finds himself in a similar position to King's a year ago.
The 23-year-old King has only played in eight NFL games -- including two playoff contests. Zeier, who was injured most of last season, has started one game since October 1998. But the Bucs apparently are comfortable with an inexperienced Hamilton in the third quarterback role.
Milanovich was not surprised to be released. He was outplayed in the preseason opener by Hamilton, who threw for a game-winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter on fourth-and-10.
"It's never easy to take, but it wasn't totally unexpected. I've been around long enough to know how things work. So I was prepared for it," Milanovich said. The Bucs released 12 players to get their roster to the NFL minimum of 65 players by today's 4 p.m. deadline, excluding players with NFL Europe exemptions.
Also waived were center defensive tackle Brad Culpepper, center Eric DeGroh, wide receiver Tavarus Hogans, defensive end Aaron Humphrey, linebacker Antony Jordan, defensive tackle Damonte McKenzie, cornerback Terrance Parrish, punter John Shay, linebacker Kinnon Tatum, fullback John Waerig and wide receiver Michael Williams.
Milanovich played in one preseason game, completing 3-of-8 passes for 9 yards with an interception against the Redskins.
Milanovich spent the summer playing for the Berlin Thunder of NFL Europe, passing for 1,399 yards, 11 TDs and six INTs. He said his arm never returned to full strength during training camp.
"It wasn't at 100 percent, but I don't think it was weak to a point where it was an excuse," said Milanovich. "I think they were doing me a favor. They knew, unless somebody was going to get hurt in this game, that I was going to be gone.
"With guys going down here and there, they were giving me a chance if somebody did make the call."
Milanovich was left unprotected in the expansion draft last year and selected by Cleveland. But he was released by the Browns before training camp and spent the first three months of the NFL season coaching quarterbacks at Sickles High School.
When Trent Dilfer sustained a broken collarbone, the Bucs re-signed Milanovich on Dec. 1 and he served as the inactive third quarterback the rest of the season.
An undrafted free agent from Maryland, Milanovich served as the Bucs third quarterback from 1996-98. He played in only one game as a pro in 1996, completing 2-of-3 passes for nine yards.
SMITH OUT: Safety Shevin Smith sustained ligament damage in his left big toe and is out indefinitely.
Smith was injured in the second quarter of the Bucs' 31-21 win against New England on Sunday on a play that produced a 58-yard touchdown run by Patriots running back Kevin Faulk.
"Shevin is going to be out quite awhile," coach Tony Dungy said. "He's got a turf toe with some ligament damage in there, and it's going to be an indefinite period of time for him."
Dungy indicated the team would wait at least a week to decide whether Smith is a candidate for the injured reserve list.
Smith's injury, more serious than anticipated, leaves the Bucs short-handed at free safety.
Starter Damien Robinson, who has missed nearly all of camp after aggravating a hamstring strain, is expected to return to practice today. Backup, Dexter Jackson, severely sprained his ankle on the first play of a 15-13 loss at Miami. He could miss at least two more weeks.
That leaves John Lynch, sixth-round pick David Gibson and rookie free agent Jeff Popovich as the only healthy safeties. Cornerback Ronde Barber could play safety in Friday's game against Kansas City.
"Dexter Jackson is coming along pretty well but is still going to be a few weeks," Dungy said. "Damien Robinson should be back at practice, so right now we have four healthy guys and we'll see if that's enough to get us through the week. We'll have to wait and see (on Smith). We've seen some of these that can really be long-term but it's still a little too early to tell. But, it's not going to be a one- or two-week deal."
Defensive backs coach Herman Edwards said the team might wait until next week before signing another safety. Former Buc Charles Mincy, recently released by the Raiders, would be a logical candidate, Edwards said.
"If you're a safety who's been cut, you're calling us today," Edwards said. "It's unbelievable. It's like there's a cloud over us at that position. We'd like to just get through one game without someone getting injured."
Ravens safety Bennie Thompson, who played for Edwards for two seasons at Kansas City, also is available. But Thompson, 37, is primarily a special-teams player.
Edwards said Robinson might start the Sept. 3 opener at New England, but it's unlikely he would play the whole game. "He's not in football shape," Edwards said.
GOOD PROTECTION: Whatever struggles King is having finding receivers, it's not for a lack of protection. The offensive line has yielded three sacks this preseason.
"Yeah, three (sacks) and we'll take that," Dungy said. "That gives you 16 for the season and any offense will take that. It's good for the amount of times that we have thrown and our quarterbacks understand where people are and are able to get rid of the ball. And for the most part, we've done a good job protecting."