By Jeff Berlinicke
Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden vowed to up grade his offense after last season's debacle, and the team took another step on Thursday, signing veteran wide receiver Ike Hilliard.
Hilliard, who played his college football at Florida, was the seventh player taken in the 1997 NFL draft. He started 15 games last season for the New York Giants, but caught only 49 passes under a lackluster Giants passing game. His average of 8.9 yards per catch was the lowest of any wide receiver with at least 25 catches.
In 1999, Hilliard caught 72 passes and had eight touchdown catches the following season.
Hilliard joins a receiving lineup of Bucs including 2004 rookie sensation Michael Clayton, veteran Joey Galloway, and not much else, especially after the departure of Joe Jurevicius. Charles Lee and Tim Brown are unrestricted free agents and not likely to be back.
Hilliard doesn't have speed to burn, but he's got good hands and is another possession receiver. He signed a one-year deal and said he can be expected to notch 70 receptions and 10 touchdowns a year in the right offense.
His career has been hampered by injuries, but he said he is 100 percent and ready to play.
Far over the NFL salary cap, the Bucs are forced to make a grab for mid-level players, and Hilliard fits the bill. He'll be a role player and replace Jurevicius as the Bucs' third-down receiver.
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