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McElroy doesn't make top 60

Bucs cut 20, and the free-agent running back is a casualty.

By RICK STROUD

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 26, 1998


TAMPA -- Guess this ends Leeland McElroy's Hall of Fame career with the Bucs.

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Just 24 days after his splashy debut for Tampa Bay in the NFL's preseason showcase game at Canton, Ohio, McElroy was dumped rather unceremoniously Tuesday.

Despite making an instant impact with a spectacular touchdown run in the Hall of Fame Game against the Steelers on Aug. 1, McElroy led the list of 20 players released. The Bucs also placed quarterback Jeff Brohm on injured reserve to reach the NFL's 60-man roster limit. The Bucs will have to cut seven players by 4 p.m. Sunday to arrive at their final 53-man roster.

McElroy was among three proven veterans cut. On the strength of their performance in Monday night's 41-7 win at Oakland, the Bucs decided on keeping rookie running back Rabih Abdullah over McElroy; on second-year receiver Brice Hunter over 10-year veteran Robb Thomas; on second-year tight end John Davis over fifth-year pro Andrew Jordan; and on rookie Brian Kelly over seven-year vet Tyrone Legette.

By far, the player least favored to get a pink slip was McElroy, claimed off waivers July 2 from Arizona. He would have earned $550,000 this season.

"We could've done another week, and yeah, Leeland is probably one of the 60 best players," coach Tony Dungy said. "But at this point it would be best to give him a chance to maybe hook on with someone else, and he had such an impressive preseason, we're hoping for him for that to be the case."

The Bucs had considered trying to sneak Abdullah through waivers and re-signing him to the practice squad. But they apparently decided to keep him on the final roster based on his performance in the Raiders game, in which the former Lehigh star rushed for 107 yards and a touchdown.

McElroy, a second-round draft pick out of Texas A&M; in 1997 by the Cardinals, was explosive in three preseason games. He rushed 27 times for 121 yards and a TD. But McElroy's specialty is returning kickoffs, and the Bucs have a lot of talent in that area with Reidel Anthony, Karl Williams and Warrick Dunn.

Abdullah could help the Bucs in kick coverage as well as provide a backup for Dunn.

"(Monday) night solidified things more from a special-teams standpoint than anything else," Dungy said. "We really worked around a lot of different combinations on special teams to see what guys could do.

"Some of the performances last night -- (defensive end) James Cannida, Rabih Abdullah -- just kind of confirm that you're right. You see that in practice, and you see it the games. You just have a feeling now, after three or four games, it's not a fluke, that you had the right idea."

Hunter solidified his spot at receiver Monday with two special-teams tackles.

But the Bucs likely will release one of their six receivers by Sunday, leaving veteran Horace Copeland to squirm another week on the hot seat.

At 6 feet 3, Copeland is the biggest target. But he does not play any special teams and still is trying to regain the form he had before a season-ending knee injury in '96.

Hunter most likely will take over Thomas' role this year.

"We see him as the guy who can play several different positions, who can do a good job on the coverage unit on special teams," Dungy said. "Brice is a guy who catches the ball very, very well, and when he's had a chance to do that, he's done it in the games."

Thomas called the two seasons he spent in Tampa Bay the best of his career, which included stops in Kansas City and Seattle.

"I just think this team is blessed with just an incredible amount of talent at wide receiver. That's just the way it worked out," he said. "I think I'll probably be more appreciative of the last two years being here than anything else in my career.

"I was telling them inside I'm going to miss not being able to see that ship shoot the (footballs) into the stands (at Raymond James Stadium)."

Of the players released, only two were '98 draft picks -- Florida State safety Shevin Smith (sixth round) and defensive end Chance McCarty (seventh round).

If they clear waivers as expected, both likely will be re-signed to the five-man practice squad, which will be established after 4 p.m. Monday.

Interestingly, any team can sign a player from another team's practice squad, provided the player is promoted to the signing team's active roster.

Dungy considered delaying for another week a decision on Brohm, who tore tendons in his right (passing hand) thumb in the Hall of Fame Game. By being placed on injured reserve, Brohm will miss the season but remain under contract for next year.

"We like Jeff. We want to keep him here," Dungy said. "We think he has a future here. That was the biggest reason for doing it."

The Bucs won't have to wait long to decide on their final roster. They play at New Orleans on Friday in their preseason finale, a game in which starters traditionally don't play beyond the first quarter.

"I think what we've got to do now with the next seven decisions we have to make is make some smart calls on how we're going to break it down from here and maximize the talent we've got," Dungy said. "If we do that, I think we'll have a roster good enough to compete with the elite teams."

Rookie safety Eric Vance, a training camp phenom who intercepted two passes, recovered a fumble and tackled Steelers punter Josh Miller to set up a field goal, put Tuesday's cuts around the NFL into perspective.

"Football is a bottom-line game," said Vance, who was released. "You either make it or you don't. There's no partial payment. I've still got to pay my rent, I've still got to make my car payment. It's a bottom-line game."

 

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