Greg Schiano helped Jeremy Zuttah develop into an NFL prospect at Rutgers. Now the two will be reunited in Tampa as Zuttah begins the second phase of his professional career.
On Monday, the Buccaneers announced that they have re-signed Zuttah, who was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on March 13, to a four-year contract. Zuttah, a versatile and valuable offensive linemen, is the first of the team's pending free agents to strike a new deal with the team.
"Not only am I happy to remain a Buccaneer, but also to be back playing for Coach Schiano," said Zuttah, who played at Rutgers from 2004-07 before he was drafted by Tampa Bay in 2008. "I couldn't be more thrilled about this opportunity."
Originally a third-round pick in '08, Zuttah has so far filled a role akin to a super-sub in baseball, playing multiple positions well and thus ending up in the starting lineup more often than not. Schiano and General Manager Mark Dominik obviously feel comfortable with the fifth-year player performing at several different spots on the offensive line.
"Mark and I agreed keeping Jeremy on our football team was one of our priorities this offseason," said Schiano. "He is a young, talented player who we both know very well. We are pleased we could get this deal done and secure Jeremy for years to come."
With 58 games played and 44 starts, Zuttah has thus far opened 30 games at left guard, nine at center and five at right guard. In 2011, he was the team's primary left guard, playing in 15 games with 14 starts at that spot.
This marks the fourth time in the past three years that the Buccaneers have re-signed one of their starting front five to a new deal. Pro Bowl left tackle Donald Penn got a new long-term deal just before the start of training camp in 2010, and both Pro Bowl right guard Davin Joseph and right tackle Jeremy Trueblood inked new contracts last July. The Buccaneers believe that young franchise quarterback Josh Freeman will be the key to their success for many years and obvious are serious about providing him with good protection up front. In addition, Schiano arrives in town with a plan to emphasize a power rushing attack.
Schiano also arrives with a very good feel for Zuttah's talents, having served as his head coach at Rutgers from 2004-07. Zuttah started 40 games in four seasons for Schiano's Scarlet Knights, earning first-team All-Big East honors as both a junior and senior. Together, the two helped Rutgers to bowl game appearances in each of Zuttah's last three seasons, with two victories, an impressive feat for a program that had previously played in only one bowl game in its history.
Zuttah started at right guard on opening day of his rookie season with the Buccaneers, filling in for an injured Joseph. After four games in that role, he stepped into a reserve role, later starting one more contest at left guard. He made a career-high 16 starts the following year, holding down the left guard spot for the entire 2009 campaign.
In 2010, Zuttah started half of the season at center in place of an injured Jeff Faine, with one four-game stint at midseason and another to finish the year. Including a single start at right guard, Zuttah was in the lineup for the last five games of 2010, as the upstart Bucs put together a 4-1 finish leading to a 10-6 record that only missed the playoffs on a fourth-level tiebreaker.
In fact, Zuttah has been involved in some of the most prolific offensive performances in franchise history, including a 466-yard outing against Indianapolis on Monday Night Football in Week Six of last season that ranks as the team's sixth-highest yardage mark ever. He has now been on the field for five of the 15 most prolific offensive outings in team annals. Zuttah opened this past season in a reserve role but was promoted back to the starting lineup at left guard by Week Two.
As a rookie, Zuttah was part of an offense that recorded the most total yards (5,456) and the second-most total points (361) in team history. In 2010, the Bucs recorded the best average gain-per-play (5.61), best average rush-per-play (4.64) and best average pass play (7.21) in team history. This past season, Zuttah started in 14 of the 15 games he played, helping the team record the fourth-best average gain-per-play (5.29) and third-best average rush-per-play (4.21).