Hefney hopes to be a Buc

After taking one for the team by playing three years at safety for the University of Tennessee, he wanted to hook up with an NFL team in need of cornerbacks.

So, you've got to wonder what Jonathan Hefney was thinking when he recently signed as an undrafted free agent with the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They're not exactly hurting at corner.

Hefney appeared to be a rising star as a Vol rookie in 2004, earning second-team Freshman All-America recognition after starting 12 of 13 UT games at cornerback. After proving his skill, he proved his team spirit by unselfishly agreeing to play out of position at free safety in 2005, 2006 and 2007.

Though undersized at 5-8 and 185 pounds, Hefney acquitted himself reasonably well at safety in 2005 and 2006. In fact, he ranked among the Southeastern Conference leaders in tackles (96) and interceptions (5) as a junior in '06, earning second-team All-SEC recognition.

Tabbed a preseason All-American heading into 2007, Hefney struggled mightily last fall in a UT secondary that also featured two freshmen (Eric Berry, Brent Vinson) and sophomore Marsalous Johnson. As Hefney's effectiveness slipped, so did his stock among NFL scouts.

Throughout the disappointing '07 campaign, Hefney kept his chin up and looked forward to the day he would return to his natural position at cornerback. He'll get that chance with the Bucs but it isn't exactly the chance of a lifetime.

Tampa Bay boasts one of the NFL's premier cornerbacks in All-Pro Ronde Barber. He's 33 years old but should have another two or three good seasons in him.

The Bucs' other corner prospects are:

Phillip Buchanon, who was a first-round NFL Draft pick in 2002

Sammy Davis, who was a first-round pick in 2003

Torrie Cox, whose value is greatly enhanced by the fact he was a Pro Bowl alternate in 2006 for special-teams play

Agib Talib, Tampa Bay's No. 1 pick in the recent NFL Draft.

Marcus Hamilton, a seventh-round draft choice in 2007 who missed all of last season on injured reserve.

Elbert Mack, who tied for the NCAA lead with eight interceptions as a senior cornerback at Troy last fall.

Given how much money the Bucs will be investing in Talib, the former University of Kansas star is going to make the team's 2008 roster even if he's a colossal bust. Cox's special-teams ability assures him a roster spot, too. That means Hefney's hopes of sticking with Tampa Bay may hinge on beating out one of the former Round 1 draft picks, Buchanon and Davis.

Hefney's ability as a punt return specialist could work in his favor with some NFL teams. Tampa Bay does not appear to be one of those teams, however. The Bucs' free-agent signees also included Clifton Smith, who averaged 16.6 yards per punt return at Fresno State with five runbacks for touchdown.

Hefney is a team player who has a positive impact on a locker room because of his determination, his bubbly attitude and his zany sense of humor. I would not be surprised to see him make an NFL roster as a reserve cornerback but I would be surprised if that roster is Tampa Bay's.

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