Rookie lineman Jeremy Zuttah is learning three positions at the same time this preseason
Training camp can be a strenuous process for an NFL rookie as he tries to make an impression on his teammates and coaches, get settled into unfamiliar surroundings and, most importantly, strive to learn a new playbook and master his position.
For Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie offensive lineman Jeremy Zuttah, the experience has been kicked up a few notches. While most of his fellow first-year players are focusing on learning the ins and outs of one specific position, with maybe a few special teams responsibilities on the side, Zuttah is working to learn three different jobs along the offensive front, including the demanding center spot.
Considering the large amount of information Zuttah is required to digest in order to learn both guard positions as well as center, complete with the multitude of calls that player is required to make at the line, his development thus far has been remarkably smooth.
Head Coach Jon Gruden admits that he has put a lot on his young offensive lineman's plate, but says the versatility Zuttah is displaying will pay off in the regular season.
"It's really hard on him," Gruden said. "He's making a transition from tackle [in college] to the center position. He has played both guard positions [in practice]. But one of the real interesting points of training camp is that you have to have a sixth and seventh offensive lineman available on Sunday that can play either the swing-tackle position, the swing-guard or the backup center position. A lot of teams, like us in the past, have only had seven offensive linemen active on game day. He's competing in there to learn these three positions, and there are going to be some growing pains but we're impressed with him.
"I can't say how pleased I am with him. Again, we don't want to credit these offensive linemen too much publicly, but I do [credit him] for what he's doing, coming in here out of Rutgers where he played the tackle position. One day you'll watch him [and] he's playing left and right guard, the next day he comes out here he's playing mostly at center. All these positions are foreign to him, he's learning a new offense and I really like him a lot."
As for Zuttah, he says the different positions he's playing make it a bit more challenging each day in practice, but it's something he relishes.
"It's going alright," Zuttah said. "I played multiple positions at Rutgers my first year, so it's really nothing new. I'm just trying to get all the terminology and all the calls at center. It's just a little change to make being in control of the whole offense.
"It's more of a challenge, but you've just got to take whatever challenge it is and put in more work. The more you can do, the more valuable you are and the more they can use you, so I take it as a blessing."
Aside from the mental demands Zuttah faces, there is of course the physical challenge every player endures during three weeks of two-a-days in the muggy Florida climate. But Zuttah says the experience thus far has been relatively manageable, in part because he imagined much worse beforehand.
"My mentality is to prepare for the worst and anything else that comes is a blessing," Zuttah said. "I was prepared for two-a-days, full pads, kill everybody on every play, but it's a lot of mental reps, so it's a little different than what I was thinking."
Zuttah is the newest part of a young offensive line in Tampa, as four of the Bucs projected starters are in either their second or third year in the league.
These young teammates are valuable resources for Zuttah as he goes through his rookie season, but he's actually gotten to be quite close to the man he's looking to back up – six-year veteran center Jeff Faine – and is learning directly from the source.
"It's helpful. I'm trying to learn from my roommate, Jeff Faine," Zuttah said. "He's been through it all and is one of the best centers in the league, so that's really the guy I'm trying to learn from right now. His rookie year also wasn't that long ago, so he explains to me what happened to him and what he would have done differently, things like that."
Faine has been bothered by a sore back recently, and fourth-year man Dan Buenning has been getting many of the reps at center with the first-team offensive line. But Zuttah isn't letting it bother him. His focus remains on continuing to improve each and every day and taking things as they come.
"I'm just trying to get more comfortable with the offense every day," Zuttah said. "Obviously there are things that everybody is trying to work on – lower pad level, better footwork, things like that. But I think my main focus is just being more comfortable with the offense.
"I think it's going pretty good, but the goal isn't 'good.' The goal is to be great, so I'm just trying to take it one day at a time and get better every day.
That seems to be precisely what Zuttah has been doing. Even with three courses of study as he learns the different positions, Gruden says Zuttah has been passing with flying colors thus far.
"I can't be more pleased with Jeremy Zuttah, can not be more pleased," Gruden said. "He's unflappable. He's doing an excellent job."