Hilliard Knows His Role With Bucs

After a long career with the New York Giants, Ike Hilliard prepares for a new role in Tampa Bay

By Jeff Berlinicke

BUENA VISTA, Fla. - Ike Hilliard isn't going to run many 60-yard flies down the sideline. He knows his limitations.

What Hilliard can do as well as anyone is make the tough catch over the middle, bracing just before some angry defensive back takes out some serious anger management. He's entering his ninth year in the NFL after eight years with the New York Giants. After signing a free agent deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in May, Hilliard finally got a chance to come back to Florida where he thrilled Gators fans for four years in The Swamp.

Hilliard never got the chance to be the go-to guy in New Jersey and he won't get the chance in Tampa either. The Bucs already have speedy Joey Galloway and rookie sensation Michael Clayton, but the Bucs lost Joe Jurevicius as a free agency to Seattle and were in the market for another Jurevicius-like possession receiver to pick up the key third down yards.

It's a situation Hilliard is comfortable with.

"I don't know how much I'm going to play,'' Hilliard said after Tuesday's morning practice at Walt Disney World's Wide World of Sports Complex. "I'm not going to play that much. Joey Galloway, Michael Clayton, those guys are all starters as far as wide receivers. I don't know how it's going to be handled but I am going to prepare as a pro. I'm going to be a significant part of the game.''

Hilliard was the No. 7 overall pick by the Giants in 1997, and was consistent if not spectacular, starting 92 of the 98 games in his Giants stint, but he got off to a slow start, suffering a neck injury in the second game of his rookie year. The Giants are a traditional running team, but Hilliard put up decent numbers catching at least one pass in all but two games in his career.

Still, Hilliard watched as the Giants grinded it out week after week and he was allowed to leave as a free agent. One of the few quality receivers in the 2005 free agent crop, it didn't take long to sign with the Bucs.

He signed knowing his role, but he also likes the idea of serving as a mentor to Clayton.

"I want to be out there with the younger guys, not necessarily to line them up or help them, but jut to be there to guide them through, if I can a game situation. There are a lot of young guys here and it will be interesting seeing if they can get it done in a game situation.''

Hilliard has made a smooth transition from the Giants to the Bucs. Hilliard said the Bucs playbook is similar to the one used by the Giants during their Super Bowl season of 2001. He'll get a chance to show how quickly he's picked it up in Friday's pre-season opener against the Houston Texans. As Clayton continues to recover from his off-season surgery, Hilliard should get a few touches in limited time.

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