T Jeremy Trueblood has started 29 games since the Bucs drafted him in the second round two years ago
In the weeks prior to the 2008 NFL Draft, Buccaneers.com will analyze each position on the team in regards to the draft, looking at depth, selection history and available players. As usual, this look at the draft, free agency and the Bucs' roster is not intended to reflect the intentions or strategies of the team's personnel decision-makers. Today we focus on the critical offensive tackle position, where the Bucs essentially have three returning starters.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers used a second-round pick on offensive tackle in the 2006 NFL Draft, signed a proven, big-name veteran at the same position in 2007 and still somehow ended up with an undrafted free agent manning the critical left tackle spot for three-quarters of last season.
Actually, there's little mystery as to how the Buccaneers ended up with that scenario in 2007, and there's no doubt they are better for it in 2008.
The battle-tested veteran was Luke Petitgout, a key acquisition during the 2007 offseason who had been a starter for all of his eight years with the New York Giants. He was to start at left tackle opposite second-year man Jeremy Trueblood, the second-rounder out of Boston College who had been so impressively solid as a rookie.
Instead, Petitgout went down with a season-ending knee injury in the fourth game of the season, pushing the very green Donald Penn into the starting lineup. Penn was coming off an eye-opening training camp, one that had prompted the Bucs to slide former left tackle starter Anthony Davis inside to guard and make the former college free agent the primary backup at tackle. Penn proceeded to prove that his strong summer showing was no fluke, handling the left tackle position like a seasoned veteran.
Obviously, the Bucs had hoped for Petitgout to seal off the left side of the line and provide veteran leadership for a young group up front. The upshot of his unfortunate injury, however, is that the team now heads into 2008 with three tackles who proved valuable in 2007, as Petitgout will be healthy again for his second year in pewter and red. In addition, Davis is still around, even if he continues to focus on interior line work, and the team has two other young linemen in whom they've seen potential.
Here's a look at the state of the position as the 2008 offseason begins.
|**Offensive Tackles Currently Under Contract**|
|**Player**||**Exp.**||**2007 Games-Starts)**||**Career (Games-Starts)**|
|Donald Penn *||3||16-12||16-12|
- Penn is actually an exclusive rights free agent, but that essentially just means he hasn't re-signed yet. Exclusive rights free agents can only negotiate and sign with their current team, as long as that team extends the necessary tender offer at the beginning of free agency, as the Bucs did with Penn.
As such, the Bucs had no offensive tackles hit the market on February 29, when the 2008 free agency period began. Two interior linemen – center John Wade and center/guard Matt Lehr – became unrestricted free agents and signed with other teams, but the Bucs will be able to open camp next year with the same six tackles with which they ended the 2007 season. That includes Denman, a 2007 seventh-round draft pick who spent his rookie year on injured reserve, and Roland, who toiled on the team's practice squad for most of the year, sandwiched around a two-week call-up to the active roster.
Though Petitgout's injury helped uncover a hidden talent on the depth chart, it could just as easily been a disaster. Had the team had a lesser backup than Penn proved to be, quarterback Jeff Garcia's pass protection might have suffered tremendously. Some NFL observers consider the left tackle position to be second in importance only to quarterback.
Thus, despite the returns of Trueblood, Petitgout and Penn, the Bucs are certain to be on the lookout for additional depth at the position. It's instructive to note that the starter before Petitgout and Penn – Anthony Davis – also came to the Buccaneers as an undrafted free agent. Davis held the job in 2005 and 2006; in the three previous seasons, a veteran plucked off the free agent market had manned left tackle. It worked quite well with Roman Oben in 2002-03, but not quite so swimmingly with Derrick Deese in 2004. The last time the Buccaneers plugged one of their own drafted players into the left tackle spot was 2001, in Kenyatta Walker's rookie season. Walker moved to right tackle the very next season.
Here's a look at the Bucs' tackle position in the early weeks of the 2008 offseason:
Offensive Tackle Position Numbers: