G Davin Joseph believes the rookie camp gave him a strong foundation for when he has to mesh with the Buc veterans in a couple weeks
A week ago, Davin Joseph stood in front of a podium in a natty tan suit-and-tie combination and introduced himself to the Bay area. He certainly looked the part: massive, powerful, drive-blocking guard, and he said all the right things at the podium, smiling throughout.
Passing the eyeball test doesn't mean much, though, if you don't look as good when the uniform goes on and the defensive linemen start attacking. Well, a week after that introduction, at the conclusion of a three-day rookie camp, it's clear that Joseph looks the part dressed in red and pewter, too.
The weekend camp may not have been the perfect stage for evaluation, given that roughly half of the participants were in town on tryout contracts. Still, the Bucs came away from the three days of intense meetings and practices with a good feeling about their two new offensive linemen, Joseph and tackle Jeremy Trueblood. That's good, considering the team invested its first two draft picks on those big bodies the previous weekend.
Joseph and Trueblood "started" on the right side together during camp, though that was mostly because no veterans were allowed to participate. It's still not certain where they will land on the initial training camp depth chart, or how much the team hopes to use them during their rookie campaigns, but it is quite obvious that there is going to be more quality competition for those jobs than ever this summer.
"Davin Joseph is a good player, he showed that today," said Head Coach Jon Gruden after one of the weekend practices. "We're really happy he's here. He and Trueblood did a good job on the right side. [In those two] you see size, you see athletic ability. The big fella at right tackle was a fine high school basketball player. He's making a transition to right tackle where he played left tackle at Boston College. But you have two big athletic people that have a physical status about them that's going to help us and it's going to make things very competitive out there."
Joseph and Trueblood played side-by-side at the Senior Bowl in January, too, and at the time both were switching positions. Joseph's move was easier, as he had played right guard for two seasons at Oklahoma before holding down the left tackle position as a senior. He feels like he's back in his natural position, though he knows better than to assume he'll never see any action elsewhere. He also isn't assuming that he knows all there is to know about the right tackle job.
"There are still some things I have to learn, though, so it's still an adjustment," said Joseph. "There are things that you did in college that you can't do on the pro level. So it's adjusting to small things about my game that will help me become a dominant guard, then also still play some left tackle and right tackle and learn how to play center. So it's going to be a long summer but I look forward to it."
The Bucs have seen the benefit of having versatile men up front in recent seasons. Sean Mahan, for instance, started at center for the second half of the 2004 season, opened up training camp in competition for the left guard spot then ended up starting all 16 games at right guard. They've also seen situations in which moving a player from his normal position didn't pan out perfectly. So nothing has been written in stone about where Joseph and Trueblood will end up, but the team currently thinks it's right-side placement will work. Trueblood is making that idea look good by taking to the position switch rapidly.
"It's where we're going to start him at," said Gruden of Trueblood. "That doesn't mean that two weeks into training camp or before training camp we move him back to his natural side. We want to see him in a right-hand stance and see how he handles himself over there. We're looking at Torrin Tucker at this time, at left tackle. That gives us a two-deep situation that we're comfortable with as we get moving here. But he did show some real instincts and some natural-ness as a right tackle in the Senior Bowl and he blocked some pretty good people in that week of practice and during the game."
Joseph knows that it is up to him and his draft-mate to make those plans work.
"It's just a matter of trying to get the concept, trying to get on the same page with the guys," he said. "It's everybody trying to learn and make calls at the same time that makes it kind of a challenge. Being aware and staying focused out on the field will help us get through that."
Gradkowski's Good Start
Joseph and Trueblood spent most of the weekend protecting quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, the team's first sixth-round draft pick of a week ago. Gradkowski was one of just two quarterbacks in camp, along with tryout player Jay Davis of North Carolina State.
Gradkowski is making a transition of his own, learning a more traditional offense in which he starts out under center after guiding a shotgun-oriented spread attack at Toledo to great success. So what kind of impression did he make on Coach Gruden in his first few days of work in the system: "Strong, very strong."
Gruden knows what hurdles Gradkowski has to clear to become a trusted leader of the Bucs' attack, and his first impression tells him the Pittsburgh native is capable of clearing them.
"He's not used to being in the huddle calling plays," said the coach. "He's called the majority of his plays himself at the line of scrimmage with some help from the sidelines. So just the language, speaking the language, is a challenge for him at this point. But he's got a lot of talent, he's very mobile and we're really pleased with what we saw."
In one sense, Gradkowski has less immediate pressure on him than Joseph or Trueblood, in that the Bucs are set at the starting quarterback spot with Chris Simms and are also possessed of two backups who have NFL starting experience. So it would be a major upset if Gradkowski were needed to start the season in any significant role. On the other hand, that same QB depth means he will have to prove himself in order to win a roster spot in the first place.
He got off to a good start in that regard over the weekend.
"It's going well," said Gradkowski. "I have a great opportunity in front of me to learn under Coach Gruden, so I'm going to take advantage of it and do everything I can possibly do. For now, I'll just be working hard, staying in shape and getting this offense down."