In one season, Charles McRae has gone from the sixth-best player in the NFL draft to maybe the sixth-best offensive lineman on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Having already failed to unseat veteran Rob Taylor at right tackle and after being switched to a position he never played until this season, McRae's next move could be to the bench once several linemen are activated from injured reserve.
Coach Sam Wyche said Monday that Ian Beckles, a two-year starter at right guard who has spent the season on injured reserve while recovering from two knee operations, will practice this week and is "unlikely but possible" to be activated for Sunday's game at Chicago.
Veteran right tackles Tom McHale and Scott Dill also could play, relegating McRae to back up starting left guard Bruce Reimers, according to Wyche.
That's not what the Bucs had in mind for McRae when they signed him to a five-year, $4.775-million contract that included a $2-million signing bonus.
Although Wyche had no part in the selection of McRae, he said Monday the former Tennessee star had not fulfilled the expectations generally afforded the sixth player in the draft. According to Wyche, McRae also is more suited at guard _ where he has started the past two games _ than at tackle, where he starred at Tennessee and was expected to become a fixture opposite Paul Gruber.
"Well, the sixth player (in the draft) is generally a starter, a full-time starter," Wyche said. "And he's not the full-time unapproachable starter. That's not the case, so that's the situation. Since I didn't spend the sixth pick on him, I'm not disappointed. I'm glad he's on our team. I'm happy with him. But generally, the sixth player is playing more uncontested ball than he is.
"We looked at him at guard and tackle now and my personal opinion is he looked a little better at guard than he did at tackle. So somewhere down the road, we may let him and Bruce Reimers substitute a little that way _ especially when we have some more right guards healthy in Dill, McHale and Beckles. We still want to use that platooning of the offensive line as much as we can. We just maybe platoon him with Reimers at left guard."
McRae's career has been a turbulent one from the start. He missed 26 days of training camp as a rookie last season because of lengthy contract negotiations and was rushed into the starting lineup, replacing Taylor the fourth week of the season.
But McRae struggled with pass protection and returned to the bench for the remainder of the season after just four starts at right tackle.
McRae won a close battle during training camp over Taylor this season and started the first three games. But he was penalized for two false starts and struggled in pass protection at Minnesota and was switched to right guard as an emergency fill-in for injured starter Tom McHale in Week 4.
Beckles' quick recovery from two knee surguries could give the Bucs an unexpected lift heading into a tough part of their schedule.
"If Ian was ready to go, for example, it'd be a tremendous boost for us," Wyche said. "He just came up and said, "I feel good. I'm ready to go. I want to try it.' So he's going to go easy Wednesday and see how he feels. But he went out and ran hard Sunday and woke up this morning and was fine.
"I did not anticipate him being ready, but he has that look that it's possible. I would say it's unlikely, but possible. Simply because we'd have to be absolutely sure he was ready to go."
Wyche said the bye week enabled the Bucs to heal some injuries.
"Our offensive line was really banged up, more than I really put importance to," Wyche said. "Gruber was out. He didn't practice two weeks ago. Reimers has been hurting. McHale wasn't back yet. Scott Dill, (Beckles and Randy Grimes) are on injured reserve, Tony Mayberry was recovering from a knee twist and Rob Taylor was recovering as well. Tim Ryan and Mike Sullivan were the only fully healthy guys."
1 draft pick, defensive end Keith McCants, is listed as questionable because of a left knee sprain.
"He's a guy who's had a knee problem for his entire career and always seems to be ready to play on Sunday," Wyche said.