TAMPA — A few hours after the Bucs' charter plane landed home at 3 o'clock Friday morning, linebacker Tyrone McKenzie, defensive end Kyle Moore and a few other players received a career wake-up call more alarming than anything found on their nightstand.
One by one, pro scouting coordinator Shelton Quarles began the task of calling players the team had decided to release, asking them to come to One Buc Place and bring their playbooks.
By Friday, not all of the 27 players the team must cut to reach the 53-man limit by 4 p.m. today had been released.
Coach Raheem Morris said his staff will agonize over some decisions before announcing them today. But already gone were McKenzie, Moore and former Bills No. 1 pick John McCargo as the final roster began to take shape.
"We'll continue to make cuts. We'll continue to rehash it over this weekend," Morris said. "It'll be finalized when we have to have it finalized..
" … I want to be fair to those guys. I don't want to put names out there that may be out there or come into question here just because I want to be fair to those guys."
McKenzie, a former USF star, lost out on the starting middle linebacker job to Mason Foster, a third-round pick from Washington. In Thursday's 29-24 preseason loss to the Redskins at FedEx Stadium, veteran Adam Hayward started at middle linebacker while McKenzie moved to weakside. The Bucs also like Syracuse free agent middle linebacker Derrell Smith, who sustained an undisclosed injury.
"Hayward is kind of Mr. Reliable," Morris said. "He's become my defensive Earnest Graham. He's becoming that kind of guy for us where he can just about do anything for us and dominate special teams for me and then go out and play any position we need him to play to get us out of a game or to start a game like he did last year."
Moore, 24, a fourth-round pick from USC in 2009, was plagued by injuries and never had a sack in 15 career games over two seasons. He played well this preseason and notched two sacks at Kansas City, but the Bucs used their first two picks in the draft on defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers, saw the emergence of Michael Bennett and re-signed free agent Tim Crowder. Linebacker Dekoda Watson also doubles as a pass rusher, and Morris sang the praises of George Johnson, a second-year pro from Rutgers.
"You're really fired up about your left side and the different dynamics you have over there," Morris said of the left-side position Moore played. "A big, powerful guy in Bowers. A smaller, quicker, powerful guy in Michael Bennett. A fast, elite quickness type of guy when you put Dekoda Watson over there and do some different things, so that mix helps your coaches prepare for your game plan."
Part of the plan is to keep only two quarterbacks — starter Josh Freeman and backup Josh Johnson. Rudy Carpenter and Jonathan Crompton are eligible for the practice squad.
Carpenter passed for 211 yards and a touchdown in Thursday's game, but a new rule that removed the inactive designation to the No. 3 quarterback makes it less likely Carpenter will keep a spot on the roster.
"I'm sure his coaches will fight for him," Morris said. "I'm sure his position coach will fight for him, his coordinator will fight for him, his head coach will fight for him. But we'll make the best decision based on what's best for our team in order to go out and win as many games as we can. Rudy Carpenter, there's no secret that he's a loved guy in that locker room. That decision will be made based on the new rule, there's no doubt about it."
There will be other tough calls at receiver. Micheal Spurlock appears safe because of his role as primary punt and kickoff returner. But the team brass has to discuss Ed Gant, a second-year receiver from North Alabama who had two catches for 121 yards, a touchdown and a two-point conversion Thursday. At running back, it might come down to seventh-round pick Allen Bradford against Mossis Madu, who had 61 yards total offense against the Redskins.
"This year is particularly hard, and I'm not going to kid you," Morris said. "I've been saying this for awhile. I knew it was coming. It's just today is reality day. This weekend is reality weekend."
Times staff writer Stephen F. Holder contributed to this report.