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With receiver Poole, Bucs get back some lost speed

Since taking over on Feb. 18, coach Jon Gruden has watched, with some anxiety, as the Bucs lost two receivers and a running back to free agency. Friday, Tampa Bay dipped into the talent pool and replaced some of that lost speed.

The Bucs signed receiver Keith Poole to a one-year contract worth about $600,000. Poole, 27, is the first receiver added to the roster since the free agency market opened March 1.

A five-year veteran out of Arizona State, Poole (6 feet, 193 pounds) was considered a deep threat when the Saints made him a fourth-round pick in 1997. Two years later, he had his best season, 42 catches for 796 yards and a team-high six touchdowns. He was second on the Saints in receptions and led the league (among players with at least 40 catches) at 19.0 yards per catch.

Poole spent last season with the Broncos but a nagging hamstring injury limited him to five games before he was released in December.

"He was injured some during the last season and didn't get enough playing time and he views this as a chance to get back to the level he knows he can play," Poole's agent, Tom Mills, said. "We know that Keyshawn (Johnson) is the only proven guy they have down there, the only guy with experience, and for Keith we anticipate he will have a chance to compete for the third position."

Poole visited and signed after his agent had worked out the bulk of the deal. Poole only needed to pass a physical.

The Bucs might pursue other free-agent receivers. The Lions' Johnnie Morton visited One Buc Place Friday.

The Bucs also officially announced the signing of former Browns and Florida State defensive end Greg Spires, who signed a three-year, $2.4-million contract to replace Steve White.

The Bucs likely will continue to look at running backs after bringing in free agents Michael Pittman, Robert Holcombe, Byron Hanspard and Curtis Enis this week. Though Pittman appears the top choice, the Bucs likely will bring in Ricky Watters and Dorsey Levens early next week.

In other news, director of player personnel Tim Ruskell, a leading candidate for the vacant general manager position in Atlanta, has become tired of waiting. So Ruskell and the Falcons agreed to suspend talks until after the draft.

Ruskell essentially pulled out of consideration to focus on helping the Bucs prepare for the April 20-21 draft. But the door isn't closed. If the Falcons do not hire a GM by then, Ruskell and Falconsowner Arthur Blank can resume talks.

"I appreciate Arthur's interest in me and have enjoyed all of our discussions," Ruskell said in a statement. "I think this is the right decision for both of us and our organizations. (Executive vice presidents Joel, Bryan and Ed) Glazers, (general manager) Rich McKay, Jon Gruden and all of our people have been supportive. I am now eager to totally focus on the tasks at hand on behalf of the Buccaneers."

Blank, who had an instrumental role in the signing of free-agent running back Warrick Dunn to a six-year, $28-million deal, has interviewed a number of candidates. He met three times with Ruskell, the latest Tuesday in Orlando.

Blank has said that he plans to be patient in his approach to hiring a GM but said stringing along candidates was not in the best interest of either team.

"Our experience with Tim has been tremendous. He is talented, personable and highly regarded," Blank said in a release. "However, both organizations need to focus their attention right now on preparing for the draft, so we made the decision to end our talks with Tim and to reassess the Falcons' search activities after the draft is complete."

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