G Arron Sears has been a starter since he was drafted in the second round in 2007
As in previous years, Buccaneers.com will use the weeks leading up to the NFL draft to take stock of each position on the team. We will look at the team's draft history at that position, recent additions, current depth and potential starters and what players might be available to the Buccaneers through free agency and the draft. As usual, this analysis is not intended to reflect the intentions or strategies of the team's personnel decision-makers. Today we focus on the offensive line, where the Buccaneers return an entire starting unit intact but could always welcome new talent.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have invested heavily in their offensive line over the past four years. Now it's time to reap the benefits.
It began in 2006, when the Buccaneers signaled how serious they were in constructing a dominant front line by spending first and second-round picks on blockers Davin Joseph and Jeremy Trueblood. The next year, a high second-round pick went to guard Arron Sears, and last spring the primary target in free agency was center Jeff Faine. The Buccaneers also dipped into free agency for a starting left tackle in 2007 with Luke Petitgout, but instead ended up with a major find in undrafted Donald Penn when Petitgout was hit with injuries.
Joseph is now a Pro Bowler and all five of the above starters are both returning and potentially better in 2009 than they were in 2008. Bringing the entire O-line back for another season? That's something that hasn't happened for the franchise since…ever. That's presumptive, of course; assuming last year's five remain intact for the majority of 2009, it will mark the first time in team history that the same O-line has started for consecutive years.
The continuity up front is actually quite remarkable. In addition to the five expected starrers, the Bucs also return their three top reserves, all of whom have starting potential. Jeremy Zuttah actually started five games last year at the two guard spots as a rookie and is considered a possible standout at any of the five O-line spots. Sean Mahan is a former Buccaneer starter still in his prime who can play any of the three interior spots. And James Lee is a young tackle in the mold of Penn, unproven but obviously talented.
So is there any point in even considering the offensive line when speaking of possible changes in 2009? Of course.
The Buccaneers didn't seem to be in the market for a lineman last April, but found Zuttah too tempting to pass up in the third round. That was a good move; Zuttah was invaluable last year when injuries hit the line and could be a starter on many teams…and maybe for the Buccaneers in the near future.
Could Tampa Bay do something similar next weekend. First, let's take a look at the state of the position as the 2009 offseason continues.
|**Offensive Linemen Currently Under Contract**|
|**Player**||**Exp.**||**2008 Games-Starts)**||**Career (Games-Starts)**|
|T Anthony Alabi*||4||N/A||15-0|
|C Jeff Faine||7||16-16||82-82|
|G Davin Joseph||4||12-12||41-40|
|T James Lee||2||1-0||1-0|
|C/G Sean Mahan||7||15-0||88-52|
|T Donald Penn||4||16-16||32-28|
|G Arron Sears||3||15-15||31-31|
|T Jeremy Trueblood||4||16-16||47-45|
|T Julius Wilson**||1||N/A||0-0|
|G/T/C Jeremy Zuttah||2||12-5||12-5|
Alabi last played for the Miami Dolphins in 2007. Wilson was on the Bucs' practice squad in 2008 and last active with Miami in 2007.*
As much continuity as the Buccaneers have up front, there is still a significant amount of change ahead. After making Raheem Morris the head coach in January, the Buccaneers hired a mostly new offensive staff, including coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski and Offensive Line Coach Pete Mangurian. The plan is to use a zone-blocking running scheme, such as those recently seen in Denver and Atlanta, and the Bucs believe their current offensive line is a good fit for that approach.
The Buccaneers have also made significant investments elsewhere on offense, most notably importing running back Derrick Ward and tight end Kellen Winslow. With Ward, Earnest Graham and potentially Cadillac Williams, who is returning from a knee injury, the Bucs have the making of a potent rushing attack. That would not be particularly surprising; Tampa Bay was actually ranked as high as ninth in the league in rushing halfway through last year before dropping to 15th after a variety of injuries.
Tampa Bay will also have a new starting quarterback in 2009 after not pursuing Jeff Garcia in free agency. There are a variety of options, starting with the very mobile Luke McCown. Recently-signed QB Byron Leftwich is considered more of a pocket passer, as is Brian Griese. Second-year man Josh Johnson is a very good runner. No matter who is under center, the Bucs want to improve upon their ranking of 15th in sacks allowed per pass play in 2008.
Here's a look at the Bucs' offensive line at the midpoint of the 2009 offseason:
Offensive Line Position Numbers: