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Undrafted players such as Derrick Roberson find bigger roles with Tampa Bay Buccaneers

It was a mismatch, pure and simple. Like David vs. Goliath, the Miracle on Ice or bug vs. windshield.

Derrick Roberson, 24, a free agent from Rutgers playing in his third NFL game, lined up against Falcons Pro Bowl receiver Roddy White on fourth and goal with the outcome on the line.

Despite good coverage, White won the battle, catching a 5-yard slant pass with 23 seconds left in the Bucs' 20-17 loss to the Falcons last week.

In some ways, that play illustrated the disparity of depth and talent at some positions between the Bucs and the rest of the NFL.

The Bucs have 18 undrafted free agents on the roster, roughly a third of the 53-man squad. A few, such as fullback Byron Storer and punter Dirk Johnson, are on injured reserve.

But others, such as second-year cornerback Elbert Mack and return specialist Clifton Smith, play big roles on the team. Roberson is the latest example.

"Not being drafted, you're coming in through the back door," Roberson said. "That's the hard road. But it allows you to appreciate everything that's going on now.

"It's great to come in and play for a guy like Raheem (Morris), who wants to see what you have. It's great to play for guys like that because they trust you. And that's the first time for me in three years that I was able to play. So it's been a journey. I've learned a lot. I've been in four different organizations — the Texans, Ravens, Minnesota and now the Bucs. It feels good to finally get out there and play, to make my mistakes and learn and grow as a professional athlete."

Morris said he was unaware the number of undrafted players on the roster was so large. Seven have been signed this season by general manager Mark Dominik, who is credited with discovering Smith, a Pro Bowl kick returner, and left tackle Donald Penn.

If handled right, the free agents can be a boost to the team. The unbeaten Colts have 17 undrafted free agents on their roster.

"It's a large number, I guess, and it's a credit to (the) scouting department," Morris said. "It's a credit to the people that have come in, been hungry and tried to make it. It's a credit to that rookie minicamp we had around here the last couple of years, finding a couple of jewels, a couple gems. Elbert Mack came in here during that type of program, (as did Demar) Dotson and some of those other guys. It's a credit to some of those guys coming in here and being able to make the football team. But at the same time, it's definitely a large number."

Morris, a defensive back from Hofstra, which dropped its football program last week, has always been a champion of the underdog as a defensive backs coach.

"There's no doubt about that. I've always been like that, even as a position coach and as a head coach," Morris said. "I want to play the guys with potential, the guys who can go out there and play and can do it. I have no fear of playing any undrafted (free agent), late-round (pick) — it doesn't matter. … I've always had that mentality in the secondary, and it's just carried over being a head coach, and obviously I'm on the same wavelength as Mark Dominik."

The Bucs are high on the 5-foot-10 Roberson, who figures to play an even more prominent role today against Carolina if starter Aqib Talib (hamstring) is unable to go.

Roberson says he will benefit from experiences like last week's last-second loss and the two-minute drill at Miami that led to the Dolphins' come-from-behind victory.

"It will help me; it's experience," Roberson said. "I've been there before, so I'll know how to handle the situation once I'm in it. I'm just looking forward to being out there and contributing.

"It doesn't matter where you start; it's where you finish. That's how I'm looking at it. I've always held the short end of the stick, scratching for every little bone I get. And I appreciate every little bone they throw me."

Undrafted players such as Derrick Roberson find bigger roles with Tampa Bay Buccaneers 12/05/09 [Last modified: Saturday, December 5, 2009 4:32pm]
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