Russian Safety (age 23) to join Bucs practice squad!
"Russian Player to Join Bucs Practice Squad
Jul 04, 2008 - The National Football League has set a firm limit of 80 players per team for training camp this season, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will actually bring 81 men to their camp later this month.
The Buccaneers' extra man is a result of the NFL's continued efforts to develop American football talent overseas, even after the termination of NFL Europa last year. The 81st Buccaneer will be Russian safety Sergey Ivanov, a product of the recently-expanded NFL International Practice Squad Program.
The program, which was founded in 2004, annually brings a handful of international players to the United States to serve on the practice squads of a rotating selection of NFL teams. During its first fours years, the program included eight players per season; this year it has been doubled to 16 participants.
The Bucs have been matched with Ivanov, a 6-3, 218-pound veteran of NFL Europa who may also get a look at wide receiver. Ivanov hails from Moscow, Russia and has been involved with the NFL since he attended a four-day NFLE mini-camp for national players held in Tampa in the winter of 2005.
As a product of the international program, Ivanov will remain on the Buccaneers' practice squad for the entire season but he is not eligible to be promoted to the active roster. That rule exists to avoid giving an unfair advantage to the teams that are participating in the program.
Ivanov does not count against the Bucs' 80-man camp limit, nor will he count against the 53-man regular-season roster. He will occupy a ninth practice squad spot in addition to the eight players teams are usually allowed to carry on that crew. Even with his relatively limited experience, Ivanov can be an asset to the Buccaneers in 2008.
"He's a really good athlete," said Buccaneers Director of Pro Personnel Mark Dominik. "He's shown the ability to play receiver as well as safety, and he has the desire to be productive on special teams. So in those roles for us he's going to be able to give us a lot of good looks on the scout team. We'll see what he can do at receiver and decide where he best fits in camp."
Ivanov speaks English and will have no problem communicating with coaches and teammates during practice. He actually has a roundabout connection with the Buccaneers, having recently worked with coach Tom Pratt in a series of player development camps in Europe. Pratt is a former Buccaneers coach, having tutored the team's defensive line in 1995, Warren Sapp's rookie year.
"The league is still working to develop teams from overseas, and [Pratt] is part of that program," said Dominik. "We understand that Sergey is a great kid, very coachable, willing to do whatever the coaches want in order to get better. I think he'll get a lot out of this opportunity, and it will help us during practice, too."
The decision to expand the practice squad program was made during league meetings in May. Fully half of the league's teams will be working with an international player this year, as the 16 participants were assigned to the teams in the NFC South and West and the AFC North and West.
Since the program’s inception in 2004, 22 players have participated, including 11 last year and nine that have participated twice. One player, guard Rolando Cantu of Mexico, graduated from the International Practice Squad Program to see action in the NFL the following season. Cantu spent 2004 on the Arizona Cardinals’ practice squad before being elevated to the active roster by the club in 2005. Cantu played in one game that year, the club’s season finale against the Indianapolis Colts, and was on the field when kicker Neil Rackers connected on his record-setting 40th field goal of the season, the most in a season in NFL history.
Cantu is now retired from football and serves as the Cardinals’ manager of international business ventures.
Ivanov is trying to follow the same path towards a long career in the NFL. A former European Junior Champion with Russia in 2002, he took his first step in that direction by attending the aforementioned mini-camp in Tampa in '05. A good showing at that tryout landed him a spot on the NFLE's Berlin Thunder, for whom he played in 2005 and 2006 even though he was only 20 years old for his rookie campaign. Primarily a reserve safety and a special teams player, Ivanov played for the Amsterdam Admirals in 2007, the final season of NFL Europa. In his three NFLE seasons, he registered 14 tackles on defense and another 14 on special teams."