TAMPA — The Bucs, seeking to improve their depth at receiver, Thursday signed Derel Walker, a college teammate of Mike Evans at Texas A&M who ranked among the Canadian Football League's top receivers the past two seasons.
Walker, 6 feet 2 and 185 pounds, finished second in the CFL in catches (109), receiving yards (1,589) and touchdowns (10) last season, his second with the Edmonton Eskimos. In his first year, he caught 89 passes for 1,110 yards and six scores, and was named the league's top rookie after helping Edmonton win the Grey Cup.
Walker (his first name is pronounced dah-RELL) worked out for eight NFL teams and had another three workouts lined up, his agent said, but the Bucs stepped up and won him over, with the chance to play with close friend Evans and a better chance to make their final roster. Evans and Walker were QB Johnny Manziel's top receivers at Texas A&M in 2013, with Walker catching 51 passes for 818 yards and five touchdowns.
The Bucs signed Walker to a futures contract, which takes effect on the first day of the new league year in March. The Bucs also Thursday signed former Texas A&M G Jarvis Harrison, a 2015 draft pick of the Jets who has not played in an NFL game.
MUCH IMPROVED: When Dirk Koetter took over as the Bucs' coach last year, one of his priorities was taking fewer penalties. Tampa Bay tied for the NFL lead in total penalties in 2015 and ranked second worst in penalty yards.
The Bucs accomplished that goal this season, not only reducing their penalties but drawing more from their opponents. Under Koetter and defensive coordinator Mike Smith, the Bucs made the biggest gains in the NFL in penalty differential, especially in penalty yard differential, improving by a net 29.4 yards per game.
Last season, the Bucs had 336 more penalty yards than their opponents, a margin that ranked 30th in the 32-team league; this season, they had 135 fewer penalty yards than their opponents, which ranked sixth, for a net improvement of 471 yards. The Browns (plus-444) were the only team to come within 100 yards of that improvement.
In penalty differential, the 2015 Bucs were the NFL's worst team, getting 39 more flags than their opponents. In 2016, they had 12 fewer flags than their opponents. That's a net change of 51 penalties. The next closest in the NFL is Detroit at plus-30.
IRONMEN: In a season in which so many Bucs missed time due to injury, LT Donovan Smith and RG Ali Marpet were the only players to play in all 1,075 offensive snaps over 16 games.
Smith has yet to miss a snap in his two NFL seasons. He and QB Jameis Winston were the only two to play on all 1,089 offensive snaps in 2015. Winston missed a total of 15 snaps this season to play in 98.6 percent of them.
"It's a huge achievement. I'm really proud of it," Marpet said. "It's something that I want to do, and it's also a testament to how Koetter approached the season. It's all been about keeping our bodies fresh. I told him I appreciated it. It's awesome."