TAMPA — Raheem Morris gets excited when he thinks about adding players through the NFL draft. He's intrigued by the prospect of nearly 500 free agents hitting the market. But Morris probably would be willing to take a pass on both if he could just get all of his players back from the injured reserve list.
Tampa Bay had 11 players finish the season on IR, a lineup that combined to miss a total of 108 games last season.
Surgeons have been busy this offseason. In Week 12 at Baltimore starting safety Cody Grimm broke his leg and Pro Bowl guard Davin Joseph fractured his foot against the Ravens. The following week at Atlanta, cornerback Aqib Talib sustained a season-ending hip injury and center Jeff Faine was lost with a triceps injury. Seven days later, defensive tackle and No. 3 overall pick Gerald McCoy tore his left biceps and linebacker Quincy Black broke his arm.
Three games, six productive starters lost for the season.
Of course, the list was bigger than that. Defensive tackle Brian Price, a second-round pick from UCLA, played only five games before shutting it down with a stress fracture in his hip. Starting defensive end Kyle Moore was inactive for the final eight games with a shoulder injury. Running back Kareem Huggins tore an ACL and missed 11 games. The same injury took out tackle Demar Dotson in the preseason.
"I got a whole draft class coming back when you think about it, and that's pretty exciting," Morris said. "I got two or three first-rounders (McCoy, Joseph, Talib), a second-rounder (Price), a starting center (Faine), my starting safety (Grimm) who was playing lights-out. And don't forget about a guy like Demar Dotson, who was all the talk in the preseason.
"We think all those guys will be back and ready to go, if not by training camp, certainly by the start of the regular season. They're all doing well."
That the Bucs went 10-6 with so many starters — especially on defense — missing significant time is remarkable. Remember, Tampa Bay went 3-1 the final quarter of the season without Grimm, Joseph, Talib, Faine, McCoy and Black.
McCoy, who had surgery to repair his torn left biceps, was cleared to begin workouts last week with renowned trainer Joe Durkin in San Diego. He already has dropped 13 pounds from his rookie season, going from 310 to 297. Progress might be slow at first, but his focus will be to increase the strength in his upper body.
Here's what Morris sees when he scans the list:
• Talib: Shutdown cornerback who had six interceptions despite missing the final four games. He tore a tendon near his hip against the Falcons but didn't require surgery.
• Grimm: Seventh-round pick had become a force in the running game before breaking the fibula in his leg blocking on an interception return by Talib, missing the final five games. He still finished with 51 tackles, a forced fumble and two interceptions. He will be ready by training camp and has begun working out.
• Faine: Played in only eight games due to a quad injury, then a torn triceps forced him to miss the final month. Jeremy Zuttah did a nice job in place of Faine, who still is among the Bucs' top linemen.
• Joseph: Missed final five games with a broken foot. He'll be an unrestricted free agent, but re-signing him is a priority for the Bucs.
• Arrelious Benn: The receiver and second-round pick from Illinois was playing his best ball when he tore his ACL vs. Seattle, missing the regular-season finale at New Orleans. His surgery went well, but it's normally a nine-month recovery.
• Moore: Starting left defensive end produced 18 tackles in seven games. He'll be ready for training camp.
• Price: Played in five games to finish with three tackles. He had a screw inserted into his hip and could be ready for training camp. If healthy, Price could be a force playing next to McCoy.
• Huggins: Change-of-pace back finished with four carries for 11 yards.
• Black: Missed final five but finished with 53 tackles, two sacks, one interception. He is an unrestricted free agent.
• Dotson: Missed all 16 games. Can play both tackle positions and should be ready for training camp.