Dan Hardman … James Lee … Jeremy Zuttah … Ted Larsen.
Who are those guys?
You may recognize the color of the jerseys, but these days, the numbers are confusing. A couple of the names may sound a bit familiar, but then again, so do the names in that new law firm you saw on a commercial. And yet, as the Bucs' offensive linemen gathered before the snap, those were the players who were expected to discover daylight.
Al Woods … Alex Magee … Tim Crowder … Michael Bennett.
Where did they come from?
There is a reason the Bucs sell new programs every week. Suddenly, these are the players logging time on the defensive line on a team that is being held together with duct tape and a little spackle. They are players without pedigree, unheralded, unknown and, in most cases, undervalued. These days, they are responsible for stopping traffic.
Corey Lynch … Myron Lewis … Elbert Mack … E.J. Biggers.
And do you suppose they make quarterbacks nervous?
In a secondary that has been stripped bare, they are much of what is left. They started the season as afterthoughts and backups. These days, they are Ronde Barber's playmates, and it is their job to protect the end zone.
The Bucs' season has come to this, to an assortment of B-teamers and second-chancers trying to keep the improvement going as starters continue to limp away. They are former waiver-wire warriors and practice-squad graduates and late-round draft picks and other teams' leftovers.
These days you have to wonder if even general manager Mark Dominik has to refer to his depth chart before he recognizes some of the Bucs on the field.
In his two seasons on the job, this is what Dominik has done best. Time after time he has sifted through the rubble to find this player and that one to add to the Bucs' roster. Week after week he has studied the practice squads of other teams and sorted through waivers and pondered free agents. He has studied files from the draft, and he has watched preseason tapes, and he has claimed and tinkered and fallen upon available talent as if it were another team's fumble. From time to time, it has been.
He claimed LeGarrette Blount as the Titans tried to sneak him onto their practice squad, and he snatched Larsen away from the Patriots, and he ticked off the Bengals by grabbing receiver Dezmon Briscoe. And on and on.
And this week, after losing two more key players, Dominik was at it again. Once again the Bucs were hiring, and every player on every practice squad might as well have been a candidate. After all, Dominik came through the ranks as a pro personnel director. Most general managers seem to come from the college side or the contract-negotiating side. Why not evaluate all possibilities?
Consider this (and keep in mind that players can be on more than one list): Of the 52 players on the roster (with one spot to be filled), the Bucs have 20 players who have been on a practice squad in their career. Twenty-seven players have been on waivers at some point in their career. The Bucs have 19 who were not drafted and 14 who were drafted in the fifth round or later. They have only nine players who went in the first two rounds of the draft.
In other words, a lot of unsung players have a lot of singing to do if the Bucs are to be successful.
No, the '85 Bears were not built this way. Yes, this is too much flux for comfort. For the Bucs, a team that did not draft well in the years before Dominik took over, it has become standard.
"For us, this is a tool and a resource,'' Dominik said. "It starts with our college evaluations and goes from there. Our guys put a lot of work in what we call the value rounds (of the draft), fourth round and later. You look at the guys you like, and you see where they go and who they're competing with. We put an alert on them and follow them. It's a collective effort with Dennis (Hickey, the college personnel director) and Shelton (Quarles, the pro personnel director.)''
In general, the idea is to obtain depth with the hope that one day a player can grow into a Donald Penn (the offensive tackle signed from Minnesota's practice squad in 2006). Blount has already made an impact as a running back. Larsen looks like he can be a player. Maybe Briscoe. Maybe Will Barker at tackle. Kregg Lumpkin may get a strong look next season at running back.
The problem is that too many of the players have been forced to play so soon because of injuries. The Bucs have now lost eight starters from their opening day lineup, not including the then-suspended Aqib Talib.
For the Bucs, there isn't much choice but to play the Unknowns. They have lost two of their best offensive linemen (Jeff Faine and Davin Joseph), their best corner (Talib), two strong safeties (Tanard Jackson and Cody Grimm) and one of their prized draft picks (defensive tackle Brian Price).
The result is that the season, much of it, is now in the hands of players whose faces you do not know.
Wish them luck, won't you?
Whoever they may be.