Dudley, Stephens among Bucs' cuts

Updated: August 31, 2003, 5:58 PM ET

TAMPA, Fla. -- Injured tight end Rickey Dudley and second-year running back Travis Stephens were among seven players released Sunday by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Quarterback Jim Miller, still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, was placed on the reserve-physically unable to perform list.

Dudley, a key component in coach Jon Gruden's multiple tight end sets last season, suffered a high left ankle sprain in the final preseason game and would have been sidelined for six to 10 weeks.

The Bucs reached a four-week injury settlement with the eighth-year pro, who immediately becomes a free agent eligible to sign with any team. The Bucs, however, cannot re-sign him for 10 weeks.

Dudley joined Tampa Bay as a free agent last September and had 15 receptions for 186 yards and three touchdowns in 14 regular-season games. In three playoff games, he had two receptions for 19 yards and one TD.

Dudley's departure creates more playing time for backup Todd Yoder and, possibly, rookie Will Hester, one of 11 players added to the roster since the Bucs' 48-21 victory over Oakland in the Super Bowl.

Stephens was a fourth-round draft pick in 2002 and spent most of his rookie year on injured reserve. He caught one pass for six yards in the season opener and did not play again before being lost for the season in November with a dislocated left big toe.

Gruden increased competition for jobs at running back by trading for Thomas Jones, who had an outstanding training camp. Starter Michael Pittman and reserve Aaron Stecker also were ahead of Stephens on the depth chart.

Just two players remain on the roster from last year's draft. The Bucs didn't have a first- or second-round pick because of the deal that brought Gruden to Tampa Bay from Oakland after the 2001 season.

Marquis Walker, last year's third-round pick, was traded to the Arizona Cardinals in exchange for Jones. That leaves safety Jermaine Phillips and cornerback Tim Wansley as the only 2002 picks still with the Bucs.

There were no surprises among the remaining cuts: defensive tackle DeVone Claybrooks, defensive end Corey Smith, linebacker Justin Smith and receivers Fabian Davis and Charles Lee.

"This is always a tough process," general manager Rich McKay said. "There are a number of players who we have waived who can certainly play in the National Football League. We will continue to work the roster and don't be surprised if a few of the players released return at some point."

Five of six members of this year's draft class -- defensive end Dewayne White, quarterback Chris Simms, and offensive linemen Lance Nimmo, Austin King and Sean Mahan -- made the team. The sixth, cornerback Torrie Cox, was placed on injured reserve during training camp.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index