Tampa Bay Buccaneers

In the Middle of the Action

New Tampa Bay center Jeff Faine has stepped into an O-line rebuilding project that he believes is about to pay big dividends…It was the Bucs' young talent up front that drew the free agent to Tampa

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C Jeff Faine believes he can mesh well with the Bucs' young and rising offensive line

Jeff Faine was the first player the Tampa Bay Buccaneers targeted in free agency this offseason and perhaps – though the team doesn't release salary figures – the one to whom they have diverted the most funds. However the numbers and years add up for the Buccaneers' new center, the team has clearly made a significant investment in its offensive line.

The Bucs acted fast when free agency began, but they didn't act impetuously. This was no sudden stab into a market the team has never explored before. Nor is Faine a million-dollar Band-Aid on a gaping wound.

Rather, the addition of Faine to the front line continues a plan that has clearly been in motion for years. Reviewing the team's personnel moves of the last few offseasons, has there been any more obvious initiative than the one to revamp the offensive line?

In 2006, the Buccaneers devoted their first and second-round picks to rebuild the right side of the line, snaring Oklahoma guard Davin Joseph and Boston College tackle Jeremy Trueblood. Last spring, the team spent a high second-round pick on Tennessee guard Arron Sears and pounced on former Giants left tackle Luke Petitgout when he became a salary cap casualty in New York. Now Faine, and the Bucs' front line has been completely remade in the vision of the coaching staff and personnel executives.

For Faine, a standout in New Orleans the past two years after three solid years in Cleveland, that means he steps into the middle of a youth movement that is absolutely critical to the team's success moving forward. It is that exact situation that made coming to Tampa seem so appealing to him…that and the short drive he now has to his home town."

"I see a bright future for the offensive line here," said Faine. "That's important for me because it's not fun to play on an offensive line that's not built that well around you. [They have] young talent. And I've always been a huge fan of Coach Gruden, his coaching style. I thought it was a really good chance to make it back into the playoffs and hopefully push for a Super Bowl. And I'm from Orlando, so this is basically coming home from me."

Faine's path to Tampa wasn't without irony. He was essentially the starter in Cleveland from the time of his drafting in 2003 through the end of the 2005 season (injuries cost him 16 games in that span but he started the other 32). During the 2006 offseason, the Browns gave an enormous contract to free agent center LeCharles Bentley, a Cleveland native coming over from the Saints. Needing a center to replace Bentley, who was indeed considered one of the league's best at his position, the Saints swung a shrewd trade with the Browns to get Faine. Bentley and the Browns were almost immediately struck by misfortune when the newcomer suffered a serious knee injury on the first play of the team's first offseason practice.

Meanwhile, Faine emerged as one of the league's best centers in his own right and, two years later, was the one coveted on the free agent market. Several other teams expressed significant interest, but Faine took little convincing to choose the Buccaneers when he witnessed all the emerging talent on the offensive line. He believes he can emerge as a leader on that youthful group, as centers have so often been in the Bucs' history at that position.

"It will be easier to mesh with these young guys than with a bunch of older veterans who are set in their ways," said Faine. "I think that will be an advantage for me. Watching tape and talking with some of these guys, I'm really impressed. I'm really, really impressed with Davin. He showed me some really great things on tape. I'm looking forward to it and they're looking forward to playing with me. They've expressed that a lot, so I'm looking forward to the situation."

Faine has been welcomed with open arms in the Bucs' locker room – even by defensive tackle Chris Hovan, with whom he has memorably clashed in the past – and he's already comfortable with his teammates on the O-line. That comes as no surprise to the new Buccaneer, as he did a little homework on his possible teammates in Tampa when he was considering his options in free agency. For instance, he asked Saints lineman Jammal Brown about Joseph, as Brown and Joseph had formerly been teammates at Oklahoma.

"I wanted to know what kind of guys they were," said Faine. "That's important to me as well, that good chemistry throughout the entire team and especially good chemistry on the offensive line. I heard nothing but good things [about that], and I heard nothing but good things about their play as well."

Faine replaces Wade, a respected and intelligent veteran who had held the Bucs' center job for most of the last five seasons. Before Wade, the position was filled admirably by such team leaders as Jeff Christy, Tony Mayberry, Bubba Grimes and Steve Wilson…and almost nobody else. Faine could be in for a long ride at the spot, too, especially if the line develops around him the way he expects it to.

He's the latest investment in that development plan, and a big one at that. But the Bucs hadn't been skimping on the line before. In the bigger picture, he's just another piece to the puzzle, albeit a critical one. And the sizable contract that brought him to Tampa is the last thing on Faine's mind now.

"I'm here now and the pressure is what it would be if I was making league minimum or what I'm making now," he said. "The pressure is to win, the pressure is to get results. I play for respect – the respect of my teammates, the respect of my fans and the respect of my coaches. At the end of the day, that's what I want more than anything."

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