TAMPA — When it comes to pilfering players from a variety of sources, the Bucs have arguably set the NFL standard the past two seasons. Displaying the acumen of their personnel department, they've worked the waiver wire, poached from practice squads and scooped up street free agents.
About this time last year — just after the league deadline for final roster cuts — the Bucs acquired their leading rusher (LeGarrette Blount), starting left guard (Ted Larsen) and arguably the third-best receiver on this year's roster (Dezmon Briscoe).
Now things are different. And that's the way the Bucs prefer it.
Tampa Bay's front office likely won't be as busy ahead of Sunday's opener against Detroit because there isn't nearly as much room for outside talent. When the Bucs set their 53-man roster Saturday, they didn't expect the rapid-fire turnover seen in the past two years because they believe there's more talent worth keeping.
"We obviously won't be as active," coach Raheem Morris predicted last week, before the team whittled down its roster.
"(General manager) Mark Dominik is up there looking at people right now. He's evaluating everybody's roster. That's the beauty of what they do. (But) we don't have as much room to do that as we did last year. That's a sign that we're getting better as a team. You may see some transition. You may see some claims. But for the most part, we don't have as much room."
The Bucs have been so active acquiring players through different methods the past two years that the organization has, among some, gained a reputation for being a bit too aggressive. They outbid other teams to get Briscoe on their practice squad. And Tampa Bay has made the relatively unusual move of raiding other clubs' practice squads with abandon, likely making some enemies.
In 2009, the first season under Morris and Dominik, the Bucs consistently churned their roster, either by calling up players from the practice squad or signing young journeymen.
But there was a reason that team started 0-7 and finished 3-13. An overall lack of talent made the team appear desperate sometimes to get new players.
The upside to 2009 is this: Some of those moves yielded hidden gems. Defensive end Michael Bennett was claimed off waivers in October. To begin this season, Bennett is slated to start at defensive end.
Tim Crowder, another defensive end, was signed by the Bucs in September 2009 after his release from the Broncos. Crowder has made 13 starts the past two seasons, including four in his first season with Tampa Bay. Last month, the Bucs re-signed him to a two-year contract.
Safety Corey Lynch also found his way from a practice squad to the Bucs' active roster in 2009 and has been a key backup, starting five games last season.
The 2010 additions, like Blount and Larsen, had even more meaningful impacts. Blount surpassed 1,000 rushing yards despite playing sparingly in the first five games. Larsen became a fixture at left guard. Both were claimed off waivers after final cuts.
But it's much less likely players off the street now could have a transformative influence, the way Blount did with his violent running style. The fact that precious few jobs were open for competition during training camp is an indication of that.
"I like my guys," Morris said.
This year, there have been only two post-cut moves, including Monday's signing of tight end Zack Pianalto (see box at right). Zac Diles, signed Sunday after being waived by the Rams, could wind up as rookie Mason Foster's backup at middle linebacker.
The evolution will be complete once competitors start acquiring players let go by the Bucs.
And they will, Morris said, "if they're smart."
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at [email protected]
Bucs make final moves
The Bucs appear to have put the finishing touches on their roster Monday by claiming TE Zack Pianalto off waivers, a day after he was cut by the Bills.
Tampa Bay had sought a third tight end since releasing three of the five on the training camp roster Saturday. Pianalto, a rookie free agent from North Carolina, will be No. 3 behind Kellen Winslow and rookie Luke Stocker.
The Bucs failed in two attempts to claim tight ends off waivers Sunday, when New England castoffs Lee Smith and Will Yeatman were awarded to the Bills and Dolphins, respectively.
Pianalto and LB Zac Diles, signed Sunday, forced the Bucs to create two roster spots. DE George Johnson and CB D.J. Johnson were released. The Bucs also completed their eight-man practice squad: S Ahmad Black, T Will Barker, QB Rudy Carpenter, TE Collin Franklin, WR Ed Gant, TE Daniel Hardy, RB Mossis Madu and LB Derrell Smith.
Stephen F. Holder, Times staff writer