Bucs, hurting at running back, sign ex-Raider Crockett

Updated: October 10, 2007, 7:24 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers added veteran free agent Zack Crockett to their depleted running back corps on Wednesday, signing the 12-year veteran to a one-year contract.

Zack Crockett

Crockett

Tampa Bay has lost two running backs, Mike Alstott and Cadillac Williams, for the season because of injuries. Ten-year veteran Michael Pittman, who assumed the starting job after the season-ending knee injury to Williams, could miss up to two months after suffering a severe ankle sprain in last week's loss at Indianapolis.

Crockett, 34, auditioned for Bucs' coaches and personnel officials last week. He is well known to coach Jon Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen, having played for them in Oakland, and he knows the offense well, so should be able to contribute quickly.

"We're happy to have him. He's got to learn a lot of things quick and get reacquainted with what we do here," Gruden said. "But he's a NFL veteran player who's played fullback and halfback and contributed on special teams. He does have some system background here, so we're going to try to make him a quick study and get him ready to play."

The Bucs have worked out a number of tailback candidates over the past two weeks, and on Tuesday auditioned a group that included Kevan Barlow, Tony Fisher, Ciatrick Fason and Shaud Williams. The staff felt that Crockett was the best alternative for bolstering a running back situation that has become dire.

"It's just getting back and learning the terminology right now," Crockett said. "It's good when you come to a system which you have been a part of and been successful in for years. ... I feel great about things. I'm excited about it."

Fourth-year veteran Earnest Graham, who has never started a regular-season game, has been elevated to the top of the depth chart. His backup is Kenneth Darby, a rookie who was on the practice squad a week ago. The Bucs had attempted to acquire Minnesota backup tailback Mewelde Moore, but were rebuffed by the Vikings.

"I feel like Earnest Graham is a very good football player," Gruden said. "Ken Darby's going to get an opportunity. For a young back, at this stage of his career, it's a great challenge. Opportunity only knocks so many times, and you've got to answer the door."

In addition to Crockett, the team signed tailback Lionel Gates, who had been in training camp with Tampa Bay and played for the Bucs during the preseason, to its practice squad.

Ther team had cleared out a roster spot for Crockett when it placed quarterback Chris Simms on injured reserve, ending his season.

Crockett can play both tailback and fullback and, at one point earlier in his career, was one of the NFL's best short-yardage and goal-line runners. During one four-season stretch with the Raiders, 2000-2003, he averaged seven rushing touchdowns per year, most of them from short range.

The former Florida State standout was a third-round choice of the Indianapolis Colts in the 1995 draft. He has played for the Colts (1995-98), Jaguars (1998) and Raiders (1999-2006). In 174 games, Crockett has carried 509 times for 1,701 yards and 36 touchdowns. He also has 96 receptions for 680 yards and two touchdowns.

Crockett has never rushed for over 300 yards in a season and, since 1997, has not logged more than 60 carries in a season.

Details of Crockett's contract were not immediately available, but it is believed to be for one year, at the league minimum base salary.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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