Does Derrick Ward's release help Clifton Smith?
Clifton Smith has not been among the Bucs' standouts this preseason, but that's more because of misfortune than underperformance.
Because he had been battling what appears to be gout (inflammation) in his knee area since the middle of the summer, Smith got back on the field only last Saturday after missing most of training camp and the first two preseason games. As a result, he has been a bit of a forgotten man and is fighting off receiver Micheal Spurlock for the right to be the team's primary return man.
But now that the Bucs have released Derrick Ward, it's worth asking whether the move impacts Smith, who is, of course, also a running back.
Unfortunately, the answer isn't clear. We know the Bucs are obviously thinner at running back now that Ward is gone. But Smith has yet to prove he is a reliable option at running back, largely because of his tendency to fumble the ball (strangely, he rarely mishandles the ball on special teams, his fumble the other night on a kickoff being a rare exception).
I'm inclined to conclude that Ward's release doesn't assure Smith anything, really. His odds are probably a bit better now, but Smith doesn't seem to factor into the running back equation very much, meaning the release of Ward probably has very little impact on whether Smith makes this team.
The decision on keeping or releasing Smith will be based mostly on how much the Bucs value him as a returner. We know he's very valuable in that regard, but how much is his value lessened by his inability to help the Bucs on offense? That's a question for Mark Dominik and Raheem Morris -- one they are going to have to answer in the next few days.
Final cuts are due on Saturday.