Projected left tackle starter never recovered from back injury.
By RICK STROUD
© St. Petersburg Times, published August 28, 2000
TAMPA -- For some reason, it was a plan that they thought was low on risk and high on reward.
Take a guy coming off back surgery who hasn't played in almost a year, sign him to a lucrative deal and ask him to switch positions.
The Bucs thought Jason Odom would be their left tackle for three years. He lasted precisely three practices.
Odom was placed on injured reserve Sunday, meaning he essentially will miss his second straight season.
Having watched him aggravate a back injury in training camp that sidelined him after just three games a year ago, the Bucs decided they could not hold a roster spot for Odom when they reduced their roster by 19 players to reach the NFL's 53-man limit.
|[Times photo: Toni Sandys]
Odom found out he was placed on I.R. when his mom called after seeing the news on TV.
"We felt pretty good about it, especially the value of the position. Left tackle, that makes it, I think, a worthwhile gamble," coach Tony Dungy said. "It didn't pan out this year, but I thought we did the right thing."
The loss of Odom paves the way for the possible signing of Paul Gruber, who has recovered from a broken right leg and has been cleared to begin working out to get into football shape.
"Paul's situation is really no different," Dungy said. "We're going to kind of wait until we get the signal from him and at that time we'll evaluate and see where we are roster-wise, see how the other guys are playing. But we feel good about the other guys right now."
The Bucs also reached an injury settlement with safety Shevin Smith, who dislocated a toe Aug. 20 at New England, meaning he cannot re-sign with the Bucs for at least 10 weeks. Fullback Kevin McLeod, who has an undisclosed heart condition, was placed on the reserve list with a non-football injury.
The loss of McLeod, who complained of chest pains last week and may require surgery, was a blow to the Bucs' plans.
Dungy said they would scan the waiver wire for a fullback or blocking tight end. The Bucs have begun talks with tight end Greg DeLong, who was released by the Ravens on Sunday. The sixth-year veteran started seven games at H-back last season.
McLeod's injury forced the Bucs to carry four tight ends, including rookie free agent Todd Yoder and Blake Spence, who was claimed off waivers from the Jets last week.
"If a big-time fullback came free, we'd look at that," Dungy said. "Or a tight end that would help us move Patrick to fullback if we wanted to run Mike (Alstott) in the fourth quarter."
With safety Dexter Jackson at least two weeks from being cleared to play because of a sprained ankle, the Bucs could still be in the market for a safety. They kept Lemar Marshall, whom they claimed off waivers from the Eagles last week.
Sunday, the club discussed signing safety Eric Vance, who played for Tampa Bay in '98 and was released Saturday by San Diego.
By far the most significant Sunday move was placing Odom on I.R.
Odom knew it was being considered by the Bucs, who discussed it with his agent, Mike Moye. But he didn't receive official word until his mother, Sandy, telephoned him after seeing it on television Sunday night.
"I knew it was an option after Mike talked to me," Odom told The Ledger. "We had talked about that. Nobody could give me a definite time line with the injury and my size. I've dealt with back problems since high school. It was, "We can't give Jason a definite comeback date.' " Odom, who signed a three-year contract worth as much as $10-million, said he will try to play next season. "It's a chance to heal up and see what my back can do," Odom said.
The loss of Odom means the Bucs will turn to Pete Pierson and George Hegamin at left tackle, a pair of veteran backups who have a combined 24 starts in the NFL, 12 at left tackle.
"We're sitting with four tackles (including Jerry Wunsch and DeMarcus Curry) and we feel good about it. We would have loved to have had Jason, but it didn't work out that way," Dungy said.
"It hasn't been uncertain for us. Pete Pierson lined up there the first day and George Hegamin has played in big games.
"I don't see Tony Boselli coming on the waiver wire or Orlando Pace. We're going to look to see who's there but we feel good about the guys we have. They've played in playoff games and I have said that a number of times."
As for replacing McLeod, Dungy said the Bucs might consider trying Rabih Abdullah at fullback.
"That's something that we've talked about as well and we may, during practice, give him some looks at fullback and try to give him some reps there," Dungy said. "We're going to kind of think through it, because Kevin's situation kind of took us by surprise."
All told, the Bucs have added 12 new players to their roster since the end of last season. Included was running back Aaron Stecker, an emigrant from NFL Europe where he was the league's MVP; and free-agent receiver Andre Hastings.
Tight end James Whalen, running back Ketric Sanford and cornerback Earthwind Moreland are candidates to be re-signed to the five-man developmental squad if they clear waivers.
Dungy said the team that begins the regular season Sunday at New England is stronger than the one that lost to the Rams in the last NFC Championship Game.
"I think you always feel like you're stronger or you would like to think that way," Dungy said. "We had some young guys come on that we think if they develop can be very good. Aaron Stecker, for one. Andre Hastings now is our fifth receiver. He caught 70 balls one year and 10 balls in the Super Bowl. So in some areas we feel like we have gotten better."
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