Donald Penn will be the first offensive tackle ever to represent the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Pro Bowl.
That became official on Monday morning when Penn was named to the NFC squad for the NFL's 2011 all-star game. Originally selected as an alternate by combined fan, player and coach voting, Penn was added to the Pro Bowl roster when Chad Clifton and the Green Bay Packers advanced to Super Bowl XLV on Sunday. Clifton had been one of the three tackles chosen for the game, but will now be preparing for the Super Bowl when the Pro Bowl is played in Hawaii next Sunday, January 30.
Penn was one of the three Buccaneers selected as alternates for the 2011 Pro Bowl, joining quarterback Josh Freeman and tight end Kellen Winslow. Now that he is headed to Honolulu, Penn will be the Bucs' first Pro Bowler since cornerback Ronde Barber, linebacker Derrick Brooks, guard Davin Joseph and kick returner Clifton Smith were chosen in 2008.
And Penn will be blazing a new trail for Buccaneer blockers. Until his selection, offensive tackle had stood as one of only two positions at which a Tampa Bay player had never made the Pro Bowl. Smith was the Bucs' first kick returner in the all-star game in '08, leaving tackle and special teams player as the only two spots left unconquered by a Buccaneer.
Penn is just the fifth offensive lineman of any kind to make it to the Pro Bowl as a Buccaneer. He joins Joseph, guard Randall McDaniel (2000), center Jeff Christy (2000) and center Tony Mayberry (1997, 1998, 1999).
He is certainly deserving of the honor, as in 2011 he continued to emerge as one of the dominant left tackles in the game. Penn signed a lengthy new contract just before training camp this past summer and then, according to Buccaneers Head Coach Raheem Morris, more than lived up to the deal. Despite facing a series of some of the best pass-rushers in the league, Penn supplied Freeman with outstanding blind-side protection and the Buccaneers put together one of the most productive seasons in franchise history.
In fact, 2010 marked the first time in team annals that the Buccaneers surpassed both the 3,000-yard passing mark and the 2,000-yard rushing mark in the same season. Penn's blocking helped Freeman put together his own Pro Bowl-caliber campaign, joining Brad Johnson (2002) as the only quarterbacks in team history to throw for more than 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns while also suffering fewer than 10 interceptions. Tampa Bay's rushing attack was a revelation as well, with LeGarrette Blount becoming just the second undrafted rookie in league history to rush for over 1,000 yards. The Buccaneers also set a new team record by averaging 4.64 yards per carry.
Penn was a rock for an offensive line that was otherwise in flux throughout the season. The sixth-year veteran was the only offensive lineman to start all 16 games for the Buccaneers in 2010, and he was also the only member of the opening day front-five to still be starting in the season finale. That marked just the second time that had happened in team history (also 1984). With rookies Ted Larsen and Derek Hardman starting at the two guard positions, second-year player James Lee manning right tackle and third-year man Jeremy Zuttah at center, Penn's leadership and strong play was instrumental to the Bucs' offense during the playoff stretch drive. Tampa Bay won three of its last four games to finish 10-6 and just miss the playoffs on a tiebreaker against the now-Super Bowl-bound Packers.
Penn even contributed directly to the Buccaneers' 39 touchdowns in 2011. In Tampa Bay's 21-0 win at San Francisco in Week 11, he lined up as an eligible receiver at the end of the line and caught a one-yard pass for a touchdown.
The 2011 Pro Bowl will kick off at 7:00 p.m. EST on Sunday, January 30. It will be televised by FOX.