Bucs Select RB Travis Stephens In Fourth Round

April 21 - With their fourth round draft selection (119th overall) in the 2002 NFL Draft, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers addressed the offensive side of the football again by selecting Tennessee running back Travis Stephens. The smallish Stephens is a change-of-pace back who will compliment Mike Alstott and Michael Pittman, the Bucs' big, physical backs.

After drafting Michigan wide receiver Marquise Walker in the third round, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers continued to add depth and competition to the offense with the selection of Tennessee running back Travis Stephens with their fourth round pick (No. 119 overall).

"It feels real good. I have a good opportunity to go down there and help the team out," Stephens said of being drafted by Tampa Bay. "I'm just very excited about coming down there and getting that opportunity."

Stephens (5-foot-8, 191) appears to be a Warrick Dunn clone, but displayed better tackle-breaking ability as the featured runner for the Volunteers in 2001. Stephens, who set a Tennessee single-season record for rushing yards with 1,464 yards and 10 TDs last year, is a short back, but powerfully built, according to new Bucs running backs coach Kirby Wilson.

"He's a power runner, but he's short, not necessarily small," Wilson said. "He's got some strength to him and some ability to make them miss like Warrick had. He'll be a good compliment to our backfield."

"My size is a concern to everybody else," said Stephens. "When I'm out on the field, my size is not an issue. I wouldn't say that I'll be compared to Warrick Dunn. I feel like Coach Gruden will use me the same way as he used Charlie Garner and Napoleon Kaufman. Warrick and I are similar in size and in athletic ability, but the running styles are totally different."

Stephens certainly reminds Gruden of Garner, who was a quick, smallish running back he had at Oakland last year. Interestingly, Garner and Stephens are both products of the University of Tennessee.

"He's (Stephens') a guy who isn't real tall but he's thick and extra quick and he's a guy who will add versatility to our football team," said Gruden. "He's a very good, instinctive runner. We want to work, obviousley, on some of the subtleties in his game and we think he can be a contributor here."

Tampa Bay already has two big, physical backs in Michael Pittman and Mike Alstott, but Stephens was drafted to bring a change of pace to the offense. He'll contribute quickness, speed, good balance and vision to the Buccaneers, and will likely start his pro career as a third-down back and contributor on special teams.

"I believe I can be a good kickoff returner," said Stephens. "I returned some kicks in college at Tennessee. I believe I can fit in good as far as returning kicks."

Stephens is a good receiver out of the backfield and logged 27 catches for 200 yards with one touchdown at Tennessee.

While he didn't show blistering speed in post-season workouts, timing a 4.6 in the 40-yard dash, he plays faster with the pads on and displays good cutting and open-field rushing ability.

Stephens burst onto the scene his senior year after primarily being a backup to the likes of Jamal Lewis and Travis Henry at Tennessee. His biggest game came against Florida when he rushed for 226 yards on 19 carries with touchdown runs of 6 and 35 yards. Stephens also went over the 200-yard mark against Arkansas, rushing for 206 yards on a school-record 41 carries, including a 3-yard touchdown. In all, Stephens had five 100-yard rushing games his senior season.

"I felt I could wait as long as the guy in front of me is getting the job done," said Stephens. "I didn't mind waiting. It's not something that I wanted to do, but it's something I just had to do, and it worked out."

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