New C Jeff Faine hopes he has gotten in at the start of something good in Tampa
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offensive line got a large amount of press over the offseason, based largely on the notion of potential.
The common belief is that the Bucs' front line is loaded with young, emerging talent, and a strong training camp by those up-and-comers only fueled that buzz. Head Coach Jon Gruden – who doesn't exactly disagree with the notion – eventually began trying to quiet the hype in post-practice media sessions.
That's going to become increasingly difficult to accomplish if the Bucs' offensive line continues to play as it did Sunday night against the New England Patriots. It's still the preseason, and the starting line has played less than a full 60 minutes so far, but it is becoming increasingly clear that the attention was warranted.
The Bucs' starting five played for the entire first half in the team's 27-10 win over the Patriots Sunday night and put together a dominant body of work in run blocking, pass protection and overall mistake-free football.
Through two games, the first-teamers have still yet to allow a sack or commit a penalty. The Bucs are also still turnover-free, and while the behemoths on the O-line aren't the ones handling the ball, they greatly reduce the chances of a giveaway by keeping the quarterback clean and unhurried.
"Anytime you go out there, you're still playing the game," center Jeff Faine said of the group's play thus far in the preseason. "It still counts, especially when you're getting those hits on the quarterback. So it felt great to be able to do that against a quality defense that is definitely one of the top ones out there.
"Minimizing mistakes is definitely something we've focused on this camp. That was a huge deal from Coach Gruden and it's one of those things he keeps constantly harping on. It's something that we really need to build on and hang our hats on. It gives you a huge advantage. That's one of the biggest statistics that really sways the game is turnovers, and even penalties as well. For us to be able to hold onto the ball and play smart as well is huge."
The Bucs offense came out of the gates in rhythm on Sunday, putting together a 17-play touchdown drive to start the game. Those extended marches down the field, especially ones that put points on the board early in a contest, are huge tempo-setters.
"We felt pretty good, especially after that first drive," Faine said. "I don't even know how many plays it was, but it felt like we were out there forever. It's those drives that you really feel good about where the offense is going."
Throughout the first half, the Bucs' passers had ample time to find open targets and the team's runners routinely found gaping holes to charge through. At the half, the Bucs had put up a whopping 114 rushing yards.
"They did a tremendous job," running back Michael Bennett said of his blockers. "Each and every week they keep getting better and better. They are the guys that are going to take us all the way, so we have to ride them and keep riding them until the wheels fall off."
Quarterback Brian Griese, another beneficiary of the starting offensive line's outstanding first half performance, also had high praise for the group.
"I don't think I got hit at all," Griese said. "Our offensive line is going to continue to get better and better as the year goes on. I don't know if they are going to face a better defensive line than what they faced tonight and they did a great job."
Griese's point about the opposing line was a valid one, considering the talent level of the Patriots' defense. The league's fourth-ranked unit in 2007 was an excellent test for the Bucs, one they eventually passed with flying colors. Four members of the Patriots' starting back eight – two linebackers and two safeties – were held out of the game, but the D-line of Richard Seymour, Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren was intact.
"I thought we played pretty well against them," Faine said. "They were still missing some key players and it is still the preseason. I'm just looking forward to this as the next step toward the regular season and it was a good step."
Added tackle Donald Penn: "Every week is going to be a test, but that was a good test because the Patriots are a great team. Their defense has played together for a long time, so we went in there and wanted to get that test and we did pretty good. Now we're going to go in on Tuesday and fine-tune everything, fix our mistakes and learn from our mistakes and just try to keep getting better."
That desire to continue to grow and to continue to improve is another trademark of this offensive line. The group may have looked impressive thus far, but the Bucs' regular season record still reads 0-0.
"I thought we played real good," Penn said. "I thought we exceeded our expectations out there. We're still learning, we're still playing together. Last week was a starting point for the new O-line. Basically, we've got to fix some things up and fine-tune it, but I thought we looked real good out there. I felt good and I think everybody else did.
"It's something we've got to build on and keep working at and keep getting better. That's one good thing about us – we hold each other accountable. So we're going to keep working hard and try to build on that and try to get better every week."
Faine concurred with his young teammate's assessment.
"I thought we played well tonight," Faine said. "We're jelling, but I still think there's room for improvement and the high side of our potential still hasn't been reached.
"It's a close-knit group and that's something that I'm very excited about. These are guys who love to work and guys that are dedicated to their craft. I'm excited to be a part of this group and see where it goes."