In each of the last two games he started at Raymond James Stadium, Jamon Meredith played offensive guard. There just happened to be 33 months and three seasons of working at offensive tackle between those two outings.
The Buccaneers tabbed Meredith to start their game against Kansas City on Sunday at right guard after two weeks of experimenting to determine the best fit for that position. That was the spot very ably filled by Pro Bowler Davin Joseph before his season-ending knee injury, and third-year man Ted Larsen had stepped in for the first four months of the season. The decision to switch to Meredith, who previously had been serving as a backup offensive tackle, created a neat little coincidence for the fourth-year pro.
"The last time I played guard in a live game was my bowl game in college my senior year," said Meredith on Monday following his first start as a Buccaneer. "It was the Outback Bowl in Tampa, matter of fact."
After capping his college career at South Carolina in that January, 2009 bowl game against Iowa, Meredith was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the fifth round. He ended up with the Buffalo Bills in his rookie season, starting four games at tackle, then played 2010 with the New York Giants and 2011 in Pittsburgh. The Buccaneers signed him as a free agent this past March.
Meredith came to Tampa ostensibly to provide depth behind starting tackles Donald Penn and Jeremy Trueblood, but the Buccaneers knew about his versatility, and that has come in handy as plans have changed significantly on the right side of the team's offensive line. Joseph's injury took him out of the picture in August and fourth-year player Demar Dotson supplanted Trueblood at right tackle in Week Two. As it turned out, Meredith's best chance for playing time was to slide inside, and he took advantage of that opportunity despite getting a relatively small amount of time to prepare.
"You would like to get more time, but sometimes when your number's called, your number's called and you've got to step in there and be ready to go," he said. "Thankfully, I'm versatile. The good Lord blessed me with the tools to be able to move around, so I was able to do that."
Joseph and Trueblood, who came in together as first and second-round draft picks in 2006 and have combined to man the right side of the Bucs' line for most of the last six seasons, have become close friends. Interestingly, their replacements have a similar bond, and Meredith thinks that is helping him make a smooth transition.
"The right tackle [Dotson] is one of my best friends on the team, so chemistry wasn't a problem," he said. "It's the terminology inside, there are different techniques inside. It's a different animal in there. I think I played pretty okay. I've got a lot of stuff to build on, a lot of stuff I need to do better. Especially with technical things, being new to the position, there's a lot of stuff I've got to fine-tune. But I feel like I'll be alright and I'll continue to get better with the more experience I get."
It can be difficult to separate one blocker's effectiveness from another's without a close breakdown of the game tape, but the Bucs' O-Line played well as a whole in Sunday's dominating win over the Chiefs. The running game produced a season-best 145 yards and a robust 6.0 yards per carry, and Josh Freeman was only sacked once. One of the men who benefitted from Meredith's blocking thought his new fellow starter performed well.
"He stepped in and played very well," said rookie running back Doug Martin. "He had a good practice and he's doing an awesome job. He did a good job staying on blocks and staying low."
Meredith will have to continue his strong play to remain in the starting lineup; Head Coach Greg Schiano frequently stresses that his team will go with whatever gives it the best chance to win that particular week. But the former reserve has already shown that he can help the Buccaneers in several ways, and he knows that's the key to his value on the roster.
"Outside, you have more of the faster, quicker guys, but inside you have more of the stronger, more power-rushing guys," said Meredith of the differing assignments of guard and tackle. "If you're able to block both of them, if you're able to be versatile in this league as an offensive lineman…you really have to be. Especially being a backup offensive lineman, you have to be able to play more than one spot."