With no playoffs, Tampa Bay Buccaneers to look at young players

Mossis Madu carries the ball eight times for 25 yards Sunday in his NFL debut. The undrafted rookie out of Oklahoma will be among the Bucs’ younger players who will see increased playing time in order to evaluate the roster for next season.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Mossis Madu carries the ball eight times for 25 yards Sunday in his NFL debut. The undrafted rookie out of Oklahoma will be among the Bucs’ younger players who will see increased playing time in order to evaluate the roster for next season.

TAMPA — Just learning of Mossis Madu's arrival with the Bucs would've taken some effort.

The running back's name was buried in a list of 16 undrafted free agents signed by Tampa Bay in July, a routine, annual exercise teams go through hoping to find a keeper or two. Such transactions rarely make headlines and certainly aren't accompanied by expectations.

But Madu came in with intentions and ambitions. Now, for Madu and players like him, opportunity is presenting itself.

"I'm as ready as I'll ever get," said Madu, who made his debut Sunday against Carolina and could see more action down the stretch.

"I feel like my head is in the playbook, and I'm in a good place. I know my stuff, and I'm ready to go out there and produce."

With many of the Bucs' goals unreachable thanks to the current six-game losing streak that has left them at 4-8, coach Raheem Morris intends to turn an eye toward next season by finding out what kind of talent is hidden deep on his roster.

Already, defensive end Da'Quan Bowers has emerged the past few weeks after playing sparingly for most of the season.

But Bowers was a second-round pick, hardly a long shot. Morris wants to see the upside of players such as Madu, cornerback Anthony Gaitor and safety Larry Asante.

"People are getting opportunities to play," Morris said. "Some of those are coming because of injuries. Some of those are coming because they (earned) it in practice. It's time to check them out and evaluate them."

The idea is simple: When the offseason arrives and the task of forming next season's roster begins, the team hopes to have a better handle on what these players are and — more important — what they might become.

These players, while young, understand the value of precious playing time.

"This is what I've been waiting for," said Gaitor, a seventh-round pick out of Florida International in April who before Sunday against Carolina had played only on special teams.

"When that opportunity comes, you just better be ready to play. There's no more talking about you're a rookie or whatever. You didn't have an offseason (because of the lockout)? Whatever. You have to go out and play."

Said Asante, a standout at Nebraska signed off the Browns' practice squad last season: "I'm just praying the Lord makes a way to get me out there on that field. I know what I can do. I just need a chance. That's basically what I'm waiting for; to go out there and have a real shot; to be able to be out there long enough to get comfortable. I've never really gotten a chance to do that."

It's much too early to know what future role, if any, Madu, a standout at Oklahoma, can play.

"He's done some good things throughout the year in practice situations," offensive coordinator Greg Olson said of Madu, who rushed eight times for 25 yards Sunday. "And he's done some things in the game that we've liked.

"I think he definitely has the abilities to be a third-down back, at a minimum. He's very good out of the backfield. He's got very good hands. He's a smart guy. He understands (pass) protections. I think that would be a good start for him."

Whether Madu and the other young players assume larger roles in the future is mostly up to them.

"You're going to get some of these guys back and continue to build for the future," Morris said. "To watch a guy like Madu go out there and make a couple of plays, to be a part of the rotation, that is what we're looking for."

Stephen F. Holder can be reached at sholder@tampabay.com.

With no playoffs, Tampa Bay Buccaneers to look at young players 12/08/11 [Last modified: Thursday, December 8, 2011 10:12pm]

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