TAMPA — The tough decisions for the Bucs didn't end with Saturday's roster-reduction deadline.
KR/RB Clifton Smith, a 2008 Pro Bowl selection, was released Sunday as the Bucs continued to tweak their roster heading into the season opener against the Browns on Sunday.
Smith was one of two casualties, along with OL Derek Hardman, allowing the team to use the roster spots to claim OL Ted Larsen (Patriots) and RB Kregg Lumpkin (Packers) off waivers.
Smith ranked seventh in the NFL last season in kick-return average (29.1 yards), but the Bucs have a surplus of options in the return game (Sammie Stroughter, Preston Parker and Micheal Spurlock) who contribute in other capacities.
Smith, 25, missed the first two games of the preseason while battling knee pain related to gout, and he didn't stand out after returning to the lineup in the third preseason game. Smith went on injured reserve last season after suffering the second of two concussions.
The Bucs' other options in the return game have an advantage over Smith in that they are considered more legitimate options as position players, with Stroughter, Spurlock and Parker each able to contribute as receivers. Smith has not had success as a running back and did not figure to be a factor in the offense. He has gained a reputation as a fumbler, which did not help his case.
Smith was not oblivious to his situation, telling the St. Petersburg Times last month, "My spot is not locked up. That's why I'm going to go out there and give it everything I've got, so at the end of the day, if it doesn't work out for me, at least I can say I gave it my all."
The Bucs won't necessarily see a dropoff in the return game.
Stroughter ranked one spot ahead of Smith — sixth in the NFL — on kick returns last season, averaging 29.5 yards (on 20 fewer attempts). Among his returns was a 97-yard touchdown.
Smith became an inspirational story in 2008 when he joined the Bucs as an undrafted free agent, missed final cuts then went to the practice squad. He eventually was promoted to the active roster, replacing disappointing rookie Dexter Jackson, then became just the third rookie free agent to make the Pro Bowl.
It's not clear who will be the Bucs' primary return man, though Spurlock seems to be the most likely possibility. Though a skilled returner, Stroughter is expected to start at flanker and likely won't be subjected to such a heavy workload. But coach Raheem Morris has suggested that Stroughter might be called upon to return kicks or punts in certain situations.
But Smith's release was prompted by the team's needs in other places. Larsen, a sixth-round pick of the Patriots in April, will serve as the primary backup to starting C Jeff Faine. The Bucs needed security there because backup Jeremy Zuttah backs up both guard spots as well.
Lumpkin, meanwhile, is a big back (5-11, 228) with receiving ability who adds depth. He has played sparingly in the NFL since coming out of Georgia in 2008, seeing action in just two games with Green Bay that season. During the preseason, Lumpkin rushed for three touchdowns with the Packers.
Practice squad: The Bucs began assembling their eight-man practice squad, signing S Vince Anderson, DE George Johnson and TE Ryan Purvis — each of whom was released Saturday.
Another practice squad signing: Bengals sixth-round pick Dezmon Briscoe, released Saturday. The Bucs outbid others for Briscoe, agreeing to pay him roughly the rookie minimum. Briscoe, 6-2 and 210 pounds, had a 50-yard touchdown in the Bengals' preseason finale Thursday.
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at [email protected]