TAMPA — There was so much importance placed on signing undrafted rookies that Bucs coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht set up their postdraft news conference to occur before the seventh round Saturday night, giving them time to line up calls to potential signings.
The team hasn't released a list, but at least 16 undrafted players have said they're joining the Bucs.
An example of the talent that was still available after 256 picks: Wyoming quarterback Brett Smith, who will compete for a backup job after accounting for 96 touchdowns over three seasons with the Cowboys.
"I really wanted to get drafted. It was a really, really hard day," Smith, who entered the draft after his junior season, said Sunday. "It was rough waiting around."
Smith, 6 feet 1, 205 pounds, has a connection with Bucs quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo, who recruited him to Wyoming in 2011 and was his offensive coordinator for about a month before taking a job at Cal under now-Bucs offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford. Arroyo and Smith traded text messages throughout Saturday, the coach letting his former player know the Bucs were interested if he wasn't drafted.
While in the relative anonymity of Wyoming, Smith had huge games in 2013. He threw for 383 yards and four touchdowns in a 37-34 loss at Nebraska. And in a 59-56 overtime win against Hawaii, he accounted for 640 yards of offense — 498 passing, 142 rushing — threw seven touchdowns and ran for one.
Tampa Bay will reunite him with his top receiver, Robert Herron, who was a sixth-round pick and a training partner of Smith's this spring.
"We talked about this since we first got to college," said Smith, who ran a 40-yard dash in 4.51 seconds at his pro day, 0.1 better than the fastest quarterback at the combine. "So it's pretty amazing we're at the same place."
Undrafted rookies face long odds to make the final 53-man roster. But the Bucs have an interesting group. Linebacker Steven Jenkins led Texas A&M with 96 tackles last season, and Receiver Solomon Patton had a 100-yard kickoff return and six touchdown catches for the Gators. And Eastern Michigan safety Mykal Swaim is 6-3 with a 39-inch vertical leap.
The Bucs had only three quarterbacks on the roster, so Smith is in position to challenge Mike Kafka, who hasn't thrown a pass in the NFL since 2011, for the No. 3 job — presuming the Bucs carry a third quarterback behind Josh McCown and Mike Glennon.
The undrafted group's chance to impress starts Friday, when the Bucs open a three-day rookie minicamp. If they make it that far, training camp with veterans starts in July.
"I take a lot of pride in my work ethic," Smith said. "I want to show them how important this is to me, how much it means to me to be on this team, to fulfill whatever role they want me to."