Offensive Line Coach Chris Foerster (left) believes C Jeff Christy (62) will fit well into the team's new offensive scheme
Summer workouts have ended and training camp is still more than a month away. As the Bucs' 80-some players scatter to the winds for a last bit of rest and relaxation, the team's coaching staff will also take a few days off. Still, the four long weeks of just-concluded workouts will likely keep their minds busy on what they've seen, what they're excited about and what they're anxious about.
You don't have to wait for camp to find out what those thoughts are. Between now and the beginning of training camp on July 23, Buccaneers.com will track each assistant coach down and get a player-by-player rundown of his position. To kick it off, we spoke with Offensive Line Coach Chris Foerster, whose group may have seen the most dramatic changes since last season. The starting lineup has been bolstered by the arrivals of erstwhile Viking Pro Bowlers Jeff Christy and Randall McDaniel, and the resulting depth is encouraging. That was clear upon hearing Foerster heap praise on his players and what they have accomplished this spring.
"No question, we've got more depth and players that we can win with on the field than we have ever had before," said Foerster. "Not to say that we couldn't win before. We could still win, but you feel better going in now. If, all of a sudden, a guy goes down and he's out for six games, that's okay. If the next guy goes down, we're still okay. We've brought in enough strong players over the years of drafting and free agency, we've replaced some players with better players and we've managed to hang onto some players that we've been working to develop. That's been the key."
Tampa Bay hopes that a stronger front wall will be a key ingredient in the effort to improve on its 28th-place ranking of 1999. And, since the NFL season that doesn't include a significant injury or two is a rare one, the Bucs also know the importance of having more than five quality linemen. Foerster took a great deal of time to examine the cast of characters that will provide the necessary blocking and depth, presented here in alphabetical order. The list does not include Paul Gruber, who is recovering from a broken leg and is currently not under contract, but Gruber's stellar 12-year career pretty much speaks for itself.
John Blick: "John is a free agent kid out of Penn State, very young. His best chance this year, as it is with most rookie free agents, is the practice squad. Of course, now that I say that, we'll end up with some injuries, John will play well and he'll end up making the team. But his best chance is the practice squad because he needs some time to develop before he's really ready to play. But he's a very solid player who doesn't say a word and just works every day. Guys like that tend to have a chance."
Jeff Christy: "Jeff Christy's done a nice job in the two mini-camps. He's shown everything that he did at Minnesota athletically, leadership-wise, intelligence…all those things. We're excited about Jeff and believe he should have an outstanding season for us this year. Nothing he's shown says otherwise.
"He'll be the leader of the line. He'll be the guy that steps up and does what he's supposed to do to lead the group, make all the calls and do all those types of things. He's definitely been top-flight that way and should be the guy that we lean on.
"You get him out in space where's he able to move and do different things, pull and block linebackers, pull and block secondary guys, get out in front of the outside running plays…those are his strengths. I think that will help us in our perimeter running game. Things that we haven't done before, we'll be better at because of Jeff's ability to get out on the perimeter and pull."
Cosey Coleman: "Cosey had a real nice mini-camp. He came in and has done a really nice job. Coming in as a junior out of college, he's done a tremendous job of adjusting so far to the pro game. Now, through preseason and everything else that is to come, he's got a lot of development to do, but he's a guy that's going to continue to push Frank (Middleton). Or if anything were to happen to Randall (McDaniel) or Frank, he's a guy that could help us out, definitely. I expect Cosey to play some this year if, inevitably, something does happen. Now, if nothing happens, probably he won't, but he's going to push to do that.
"He's just a big guy that's a good player. If he would have weighed 300 pounds we would have drafted him. He just happens to be 322 or so. He has definitely worked hard and done a good job, and I think he's going to be a fine player for us."
DeMarcus Curry: "DeMarcus is a guy that we took as a free agent out of college last year. He came in and impressed us and we put him on our practice squad. I think he had some chances to leave last year when other teams tried to take him off our practice squad, but he stayed with us. DeMarcus has a chance to really make things interesting at that tackle position. You've heard me sing the praises of George and Pete and Jerry and Jason, and this kid's right in there with them. He has a tremendous amount of future potential. He could turn into a real good starter, or he could remain a solid backup. He's showing signs of putting it all together, and this could be the year that he makes that big jump.
"We'll see when he comes out of preseason this year…hopefully he will have made that jump and is ready to do it. We've been working him at left tackle. He probably isn't a left tackle, but the work over there has been so good for him and it prepares him. If we ever have to move him back to right, he'll be ready to go."
Eric de Groh: "Eric has worked hard. He was on the practice squad all last year and this year's he competing for that roster spot. Eric has primarily been a backup center and hasn't had a lot of work yet at guard, which is something we're going to need to get him to improve his chances. He's a very hard-working, diligent guy that, if something were to happen, is ready to step in."
Kevin Dogins: "Kevin's worked well and has filled in the last three years when we've called on him to play and done a good job. He's had another good offseason and worked very hard. You know every day what you have out of Kevin; he's going to give you a full day's work, whether it be in the weight room, the football field, the classroom or elsewhere. Anywhere you look, Kevin's always working hard to do his job as well as anybody could ask him to do. That lends itself to always being prepared when he's called upon to play. So, if he's called upon to start the first game of the year or the last game, he'll be ready."
George Hegamin: "Big George has done very, very well. He has worked his way into a position where he's pushing at right tackle behind Jerry Wunsch, and not because we're unhappy with Jerry. If something happens there, you have a very reliable guy in George Hegamin. George came to us in the middle of last season and learned the offense last year, then has been here all offseason working very, very hard to learn the new one. He's keeping his weight where it needs to be, he's in the weight room, doing everything he's called upon to do.
"He should come out and have a very good preseason and we should have a lot of confidence that if anything where to happen, we're in good shape. Or maybe he pushes Jerry, because he has started and played for Dallas, and he started and played in Philly some. This is a guy that has played a lot of football in the NFL, so if he continues to do what he's doing with the seriousness with which he works and the dedication he's showing, he's got a chance to really do something this year."
Kendell Mack: "Kendell's only been here a couple of weeks (signed on June 2), so I can't speak much for him except that he works hard and is a good kid."
Randall McDaniel: "Randall has really been a pleasure. When a guy gets toward the end of his career, he's worried about one thing: winning. Randall has come down here with the idea that this is his best chance to be involved with a team that could win a lot of games. They did the same thing in Minnesota, but for whatever reason, it didn't work out there while he was there. Now he's down here, and I can't tell you how happy I am with his attitude, his effort, his leadership. His leadership is not all that vocal, but the guy is always there and he's on top of the details. He wants to do things right, he wants to be the first one in line, he wants to lead the drills. He has been very, very good for us. He has been everything that he was advertised to be. Is he the same guy that he was when he was 24-years-old? Probably none of us are. But he really keeps himself in tremendous shape."
Frank Middleton: "This is a big year for Frank, one where he should step up and have his best year as a pro player. He's done a nice job up to this point, been very active for us in the middle, started a lot of games, started playoff games, blocked good people. Frank's been through the wars. He hasn't yet taken that next step up to be a great, great player, but he's got a very good chance to do that this year. He's been a very solid player for us and we've been very happy with Frank, no question. But Frank has that chance to be a unique player in this league, with his athleticism and size. He can really be a special player. So we're hoping that this year is a real breakout season for him, and he has a lot of motivation to play well for us."
Jason Odom: "I'm real fired up for Odom. I think that this is a good chance for him to really show what he can do. He came out of Florida as a left tackle, but when he was evaluated on film, almost every NFL scout had him moving inside to guard. But he had too much tackle ability not to try him at tackle, at least, and that's one of the reasons we took him (with the first pick of the first round in 1996). We actually had another guard on the board at the time that I wanted – I was fighting for the guard, because that was more of a need area in '96 – but (Director of College Scouting) Tim Ruskell argued with Tony (Dungy), and rightly so, that Jason had tackle ability. The point with Jason was that he wasn't athletic enough to be a left tackle coming out – you questioned that – and he wasn't really the prototypical big right tackle like Jerry Wunsch or George Hegamin. So, then what's going to happen with Jason? That was my point, I thought he was going to get stuck. But he went over to right tackle and did a really, really good job and is probably one of the more athletic right tackles in the league.
"So now, he's proven he can play tackle in the league, and he really is more suited to play left tackle. I think he should be able to make that step. He's dealt with (Robert) Porcher, (Michael) Strahan, Reggie White…I mean, those three guys right there are a horror show for offensive lineman and he's faced those guys twice a year. Half of his NFL career has been playing against Reggie and those guys on the right side, so I can't imagine it getting a lot worse for him on the right side. It's just a matter of getting over there in his left-handed stance and getting accustomed to working over there.
"Now he's got an 11-time Pro Bowl guard lined up next to him, which isn't going to hurt him either. It should all go well for Jason. With the (back) injury, obviously we assume we corrected things with the surgery and he'll be ready to go. I'm fired up for him. I think that he has a great chance to really prove that he can start and play and be a solid left tackle in this league."
Pete Pierson: "Pete Pierson…George Hegamin…you're going to have a hard time with any of those tackles trying to get me to say anything bad. Pete came in last year against Marco Coleman in the playoff game against Washington and did a great job. Now that I've said that about 10 times, he'll probably have to play against him again this year and Marco will have a big game, but Marco just couldn't get in the hole (last year). Part of it was that we ran the ball, and part of it was that we set up the offense to help Pete a little bit, but he did a very nice job against a guy that's a good player. Pete was a backup, and has been throughout his career, but yet he stepped in and did well when he was called upon to do it. Against St. Louis, when it was crunch time and we were moving the ball down the field, Pete did a nice job.
"Pete is a reliable guy. Like I mentioned with John Blick, who doesn't say one word but just works, that's what Pete has done from the first day I got here. All he did, when (Paul) Gruber couldn't practice, when Gruber was out, when this and that were going on, was take every rep. He did the scout team in practice as well as our reps…he did it all, and always has. He's a very versatile guy that has worked himself into a solid, solid player. We've got four tackles right now that, if one goes down and another comes in, we're going to keep marching."
Todd Washington: "Todd understands the urgency right now, as the roster starts to shake out. There's a lot of competition for the spots in the middle, and Todd has understood the urgency, as has Dogins and de Groh and the rest of them. Todd has really picked up his game between the end of last season and these mini-camps. In every drill, every practice, every rep, there were no slow steps in Todd. That's a great thing in our line right now, all that competition. Todd has really stepped it up and I hope that he continues that work."
Jerry Wunsch: "Jerry Wunsch came in last year when Jason Odom got hurt and got his first chance to play a whole season. And Jerry responded by playing very solid football. He's everything that we drafted him to be (in the second round in 1997). Often, a team's best rusher is lined up over the right tackle these days. Jerry did fine in those situations (in 1999), and he did very, very well the rest of the time. Jerry doesn't make mental errors, he's on top of his game, he plays hard, he plays with enthusiasm, he runs down the field to make extra blocks. He does everything that he is able to do to help us win every Sunday, and he does it without any complaining or griping. There are no problems with Jerry. He does his work every day and he's a real pro. He learned from Gruber and he has just fallen in line and done what he was supposed to do. He understands the areas that he has to improve and he has worked very hard to improve them."