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Rick Stroud, Greg Auman and Matt Baker

Bears free agent DT Amobi Okoye on the Bucs' radar



okoye_217309a.jpgGiven the Bucs’ investment in defensive tackle the past few seasons, the position was expected to have been among the team’s strengths by now.

But injuries to Gerald McCoy and Brian Price the past two seasons have, at times, reduced the interior of the defensive line to a weakness, resulting in the desperate signings of Albert Haynesworth, John McCargo and others.

But the Bucs have a chance to avoid this problem by augmenting the depth – and thereby increasing the competition – at defensive tackle.

One option: Bears free agent tackle Amobi Okoye, a former first-round pick of the Texans who has started 59 games in his five season and had four sacks in 2011 – including one against Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman.

We’ve learned the Bucs are interested in signing Okoye, interest that is said to be mutual.

But Okoye has other suitors, too, including the Broncos, Bengals and Bears. It does not seem a resolution is imminent, though that could change quickly.

A return to the Bears seems less likely if you believe Chicago general manager Phil Emery, who was quoted in the Chicago Tribune saying, “Right now, Amobi is trying to decide which direction he is going. We've had conversations with him. So far, we have not been able to work out a deal. Amobi is probably going in a different direction.”

Okoye, if acquired by the Bucs, would fit nicely in a three-man rotation at defensive tackle. He would provide an upgrade over the current third tackle, Roy Miller, and would take some of the load off of Price, who struggled in 2011 to fight through his ongoing pelvic and hamstring issues.

Another reason Okoye is appealing: The native Nigerian is just 24, but has a full five seasons of NFL experience. He’s considered a disruptive force who gets off the line of scrimmage with quickness, providing an interior pass rush.

Currently, the Bucs have five defensive tackles on their 80-man offseason roster: McCoy, Price, Miller, McCargo and Frank Okam.

General manager Mark Dominik has repeatedly responded to queries about additional free-agent signings by saying the team is focused squarely on the draft. But Dominik did not rule out further roster moves between now and the draft, either.

Okoye played under a 1-year contract for $1.382 million last season. His current contract demands are unknown.

[Last modified: Thursday, April 5, 2012 5:44pm]


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