"He's a versatile back that has good size and speed," Gruden said. "He's elusive, sure-handed and can play in any set. We got better today."
Buccaneer Magazine first reported the team's interest in Pittman on March 14, and he has since been considered the front-runner to fill the vacancy at tailback created by Warrick Dunn's departure to Atlanta in free agency. His visit to One Buc Place on Tuesday, March 19, went extremely well and only furthered the Bucs' interest in acquiring the 26-year old rusher, who is entering his fifth NFL season out of Fresno State.
Pittman (6-foot, 218) was selected by Arizona in the fourth round of the 1998 draft. He played in 58 games for the Cardinals with 29 starts, including 26 of those starts in the last two years when he beat out 2000 first-round pick Thomas Jones. Pittman has rushed for 1,945 yards and 11 touchdowns on 518 carries. He also has 131 receptions for 1,039 yards and two scores.
"Michael Pittman is a young, productive player who definitely upgrades us at the running back position," said Buccaneers general manager Rich McKay. "Michael is a hard-nosed runner with excellent receiving skills. We're pleased to add him to our football team."
Pittman brings speed and tackle-breaking ability to Tampa Bay, along with great receiving ability, as evidenced by his career-high 73 catches for 579 yards and two TDs during the 2000 season. He also rushed for 719 yards (3.9 avg.) and four scores that season. In 2001, he rushed for a career-high 846 yards (3.5 avg.) with five scores, and caught 42 passes for 264 yards.
One source said that the Bucs are hoping that he has a breakthrough season the way Priest Holmes did in Kansas City after producing sporadically in Baltimore for his first three seasons. Holmes rushed for 1,008 yards as a rookie in 1998, then rushed for 506 and 588 yards the next two seasons. In 2001, his first year with the Chiefs, Holmes led all NFL rushers with 1,555 yards. Pittman has yet to rush for 1,000 yards in a season, but both he and the Bucs hope that changes in 2002.
Pittman joins Aaron Stecker as the only other true tailback on the Tampa Bay roster that also features fullbacks Mike Alstott and Jameel Cook.
The Bucs had some minimal interest in Seattle's Ricky Watters as well as Green Bay's Dorsey Levens, but not to the level that was reported and speculated on by the national media. Injuries and age played a factor in passing on the two veteran free agent rushers as Watters is 33 and Levens will be 32 in May.
MACKENZIE SIGNS: The Buccaneers announced the signing of former Colorado State defensive tackle Mike Mackenzie on Monday.
Mackenzie, who was a college teammate of Bucs FS John Howell, was signed as an undrafted free agent last spring and injured an ankle in the preseason that led to his release. Mackenzie signed an injury settlement with the team was not eligible to be signed by Tampa Bay until the 10th week of the 2001 season.
At 6-foot-2, 269 pounds, Mackenzie is a bit undersized to play defensive tackle in most schemes, but at Colorado State, he played in a defensive system that closely parallels Tampa Bay's, which makes him an attractive lineman for the Bucs.
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