Sixth-round pick aims for fresh start after leaving school early

TAMPA, Fla. -- Rather than dwell on the past, Geno Hayes insists on talking about the future.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' sixth-round draft pick had some off-field troubles in college at Florida State, but sees no reason why they should hinder him from becoming a successful NFL linebacker.

Hayes says his problems are behind him and he's eager to make the most of his opportunity with the Bucs. He is not out to prove other teams made a mistake by not selecting him.

"Everybody says they are going to come in with a chip on their shoulder. I don't do the chip thing. I'm happy to be here," Hayes said during the team's weekend minicamp for rookies. "If you play with anger, you're going to mess up some kind of way."

At 6-foot-1, 226 pounds, the former Seminoles star lacks the size some clubs prefer in linebackers. Nevertheless, he's viewed as a nice fit for the Bucs' Tampa Two defensive scheme, which thrives on speed and quickness rather than bulk.

The 20-year-old might have been drafted earlier if not for headlines he made off the field, most notably an arrest in September 2007 when police used a Taser to subdue Hayes during an incident outside a Tallahassee nightclub.

Even though Hayes was Florida State's second-leading tackler and a first-team all-Atlantic Coast Conference selection last year, some scouts felt he could have benefited by returning to school rather than declaring for the draft.

Despite being picked much lower than he anticipated -- No. 175 overall -- Hayes doesn't second-guess leaving college.

"I felt like I was ready to make that decision to make that jump. I felt like I had the tools and had everything I needed to be a great NFL player," he said.

He still feels that way. Especially in Tampa Bay, which plays a style of defense similar to the one he excelled in at Florida State.

And, another former Seminoles linebacker, 10-time Pro Bowl selection Derrick Brooks, will help him make the transition to the pro game.

"We talked after the draft. And since I've been here, we've talked a little. He's been giving me good pointers and helping me out here and there," said Hayes, adding he's also eager to learn from Tampa Bay's other starting linebackers, Cato June and Barrett Ruud.

So, what's the biggest piece of advice Brooks has offered?

"Just to be humble," the rookie added. "Stay focused."

Hayes made a good impression during the rookie minicamp. The Bucs think he has a chance to contribute on special teams and are eager to see how well he can pick up the defense and compete for playing time behind Brooks at weakside linebacker.

Florida State has a good track record of producing solid NFL linebackers, but no one is ready to make comparisons between Hayes and the team's defensive leader.

"He has athletic ability. He's what's advertised," Bucs coach Jon Gruden said. "He's going to be a good contact player, I think, when we start putting the pads on. He's instinctive. He has good functional speed. He appears natural and comfortable in this defense. We're excited by that. ... But for all these guys, it's a big learning curve."

Notes: South Florida receiver Amarri Jackson and Miami center John Rochford were among four undrafted college free agents signing contracts with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Tuesday.

The Bucs also added Fresno State running back Clifton Smith and Troy defensive tackle Chris Bradwell to the roster. All four had tryouts during Tampa Bay's rookie minicamp last weekend.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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