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Undrafted players try to impress Bucs at minicamp

The new guy: Aqib Talib, the team’s first-round pick, works out during Day 1 of the rookie minicamp at One Buc Place.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

The new guy: Aqib Talib, the team’s first-round pick, works out during Day 1 of the rookie minicamp at One Buc Place.

TAMPA — Aqib Talib took the field as a Buccaneer for the first time Friday, the first day of rookie minicamp. Naturally, all eyes were on the first-round pick.

But while it was a big day for Talib, he can rest somewhat comfortably on the fact he'll be given every chance to succeed.

Guys such as Sam Keller do not have that luxury.

The former Nebraska quarterback is one of many players at this weekend's camp on so-called tryout contracts, meaning this might be their best — if not only — shot at making an impression on NFL coaches.

It can be a nerve-racking experience.

"Throughout the NFL, roster spots are at a premium," coach Jon Gruden said. "They're hard to get. I'm sure there is some pressing going on. At the same time, they're learning a brand-new system. They're meeting a lot of new faces.

"This is tough. There's no question."

Among others on tryout contracts: former Florida State safety (and Tarpon Springs High standout) Anthony Houllis and former Troy defensive lineman Chris Bradwell, a one-time Seminole.

Keller certainly was aware of the stakes.

"It's the biggest moment of my life as a football player so far," he said. "It's the pinnacle so far to be able to work with Coach Gruden. When you're out here on the field, it's all business. But then I'll go home and say, 'Wow, I just went through practice with Jon Gruden.' "

Keller finished 2007 with 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, completing 63.1 percent for 2,422 yards in an offense similar to the Bucs'. Nebraska was coached by Bill Callahan, a former Gruden assistant with the Raiders.

UNDRAFTED ROOKIES SIGNED: The Bucs signed five undrafted players: tackle Chris Clark (Southern Miss), cornerback Jonathan Hefney (Tennessee), cornerback Elbert Mack (Troy), fullback Carl Stewart (Auburn) and tight end Tyrice Thompson (Arizona State).

Mack, in particular, is an interesting prospect. He tied for the national lead with eight interceptions in 2007 playing opposite Leodis McKelvin, drafted 11th overall by Buffalo. Though the Bucs have a good stable of cornerbacks, they could have competition for the No. 5 spot.

"He was a little overshadowed by McKelvin, for obvious reasons," Gruden said. "But this young guy can make plays, and in a zone scheme like ours, he can be very effective."

Hefney was a first-team All-SEC pick for the Volunteers in 2007. Clark started his final 38 games at left tackle for Southern Miss. Stewart ranks third all-time among running backs at Auburn with 612 receiving yards, and Thompson, a former walk-on, starred on special teams.

FIRE DRILL: Rookie camps can be something of a fire drill as players with no history of playing together try to get on the same page with one day of preparation. Those who pick up things quickly stand out.

"To try to get 42 or 44 new faces on the same page, understanding the snap count and getting the center-quarterback exchange, can be challenging," Gruden said.

Undrafted players try to impress Bucs at minicamp 05/02/08 [Last modified: Friday, May 9, 2008 12:33pm]
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