TAMPA — Coach Raheem Morris says Erik Lorig often jokes with him around One Buc Place, asking, "What position am I playing this week, Coach?"
Considering the rookie's versatility, it's a fair question.
Lorig, a seventh-round pick as a defensive end out of Stanford, has been used as a tight end and fullback the past several weeks. It has been an adventurous season for the 23-year-old, who was released last month, re-signed the next day and put on the practice squad, then placed on the 53-man roster Sept. 28 before playing fullback against the Saints on Oct. 17.
His number has changed from 97 to 44. For one week, Lorig donned a plain white jersey with no number in practice, reflecting his spot in limbo.
"It was a funny process," he said with a grin.
There's a chance the Bucs could call Lorig's number at fullback again Sunday against Atlanta if Earnest Graham (hamstring) can't play, continuing Lorig's unusual transition.
"At this level, it's very unique," running backs coach Steve Logan said. "Mostly, in the NFL, if you want a fullback, you go get a fullback. But Erik was drafted on athletic ability and strength and explosiveness, and the defensive coaches like him. So this has been a bit of an experiment on management's part, and we're going to try to make it a success."
"Nobody works harder," Morris said. "I see him in the building constantly, he's probably in here more than me; it's ridiculous. He loves playing football, and he loves moving around."
Lorig, 6 feet 4 and 275 pounds, said the position switching began in the first few weeks of the season. Having played some tight end in college, he was open to joining the offensive backfield. He said he's getting more comfortable every week, the big key being learning, and executing, the proper pass protections.
"It's been really fun, a challenge, and mostly an opportunity," he said.
"There's a saying in the NFL: The more you can do, that really enhances your chances of hanging around," Logan said. "So certainly he's got some tight end capabilities, rush end capabilities and fullback capabilities. We're just trying to find out."
MEDICAL MATTERS: The Bucs practiced at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg on Thursday morning without C Jeff Faine (quad), RT Jeremy Trueblood (knee) and Graham.
Faine returned on a limited basis Wednesday after a three-week absence, but it was just an attempt to test the muscle. Morris said he's encouraged by Faine's progress but is unsure of his status for Sunday. "We're not going to rush him," Morris said.
Trueblood's knee injury kept him out against the Cardinals last week, and he's still iffy for Sunday. Graham has a hamstring injury he has had off and on for a few weeks. DT Gerald McCoy, a day after missing practice because of a neck injury suffered in the weight room, was back at practice and is fine.
WAIVER WIRE: Morris acknowledged the Bucs put in a waiver wire claim for former Chargers LB Shawne Merriman, who was awarded to the Bills on Wednesday. "Any time you get a chance to go out there and make your team a little better and increase your pass rush, and look at a guy like that, a 26-year-old, you go pursue him," Morris said. "And we definitely put in a claim for him and didn't get him. I wish I could talk more about him today, but unfortunately he's under contract with another team."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.