Rookie T Jeremy Trueblood received a large dose of playing time with the first team during the preseason
Through three games, Tampa Bay Buccaneers second-round draft pick Jeremy Trueblood has watched his team play from the best seats in the house – the sideline. While that may be a fan's dream, it has been unfamiliar territory for the three-year starting tackle from Boston College.
It's a perspective that will change dramatically for the rookie lineman this Sunday when he makes his first start against the New Orleans Saints. Trueblood's promotion was announced Wednesday by Buccaneers Head Coach Jon Gruden, who informed reporters that starting right tackle Kenyatta Walker had been placed on injured reserve after undergoing knee surgery, ending his season.
Combined with Bruce Gradkowski's promotion in the wake of Chris Simms' injury, it's a move that potentially could result in the Buccaneers suddenly starting three rookies on the offensive side of the ball. That could be the case once first-round pick Davin Joseph – the slated starter at right guard at the end of the preseason – returns from an injured knee. To borrow a phrase from Hall-of-Fame catcher Yogi Berra, that would be déjà vu all over again for the Bucs, who last year started three rookies on offense: running back Cadillac Williams, left guard Dan Buenning and tight end Alex Smith.
"To heck with you guys who said I don't like young players" joked Gruden. "We had three starting rookies last year and we might have three more this year before it's all said and done."
There will be at least two on Sunday in the Big Easy. While he's excited to be one of those rookies getting a chance to play, Trueblood said it was unfortunate it came about because of Walker's ailment.
"I didn't want Kenyatta to get hurt," Trueblood said. "I wanted a chance, and the coaches gave me that chance. I'm going to try and take [advantage] right now and see what happens. I really like Kenyatta as a player and a person, so I was sad to hear that, but you don't play football to just cheer everybody on from the sidelines, to just have good seats. I want to play."
Gruden believes the rookie is ready, thanks in part to an intense training camp in which Trueblood worked hard to make the switch from the left tackle position he played in college to the right tackle spot Buccaneers coaches envisioned him one day solidifying.
"I think he's going to do pretty well," said Gruden. "It's not easy coming in here as a left tackle your whole life and being a right tackle…he's got a great challenge. But he is doing a good job. He's being coached as hard as you can be and he's responded to it."
For Trueblood, the transition initially presented its fair share of difficulties but is now something he considers a non-issue.
"It's difficult in the sense that your whole body is just like muscle-memory," Trueblood said of changing positions. "You do things over and over and over, and you get used to doing it that way. I guess one thing is that I never learned how to pass block out of a right-hand stance. That was my only major adjustment, which is fine now.
"I think it was well-documented in a few publications in the very beginning how rough it was, but since then everything has gone smoothly. I've had enough time to practice it, so it should be comfortable by now."
It has to be. Against New Orleans, the Buccaneers will count on the 6-8, 316-pound rookie to help neutralize the Saints' pass rush, particularly left defensive end Charles Grant. That's no small task. Since 2002, Grant has amassed 30 sacks – more than any other Saints' defender. Defending against the 6-3, 290-pound Grant will require every bit of Trueblood's size and agility. Unlike the smaller, quicker Buccaneers' defensive ends who Trueblood is accustomed to practicing against, Grant is a larger end who is just as likely to use his power to bull-rush Trueblood.
And though he may be bull-rushed, Trueblood isn't expecting to be bullied. He acknowledges that the Saints' defensive linemen are talented, but he says he is approaching his assignment with the utmost confidence.
"I'm going to take everything everybody has told me to heart, but as far as I am concerned, my biggest thing for making sure I do well is to just go in there with an extreme amount of confidence," he said. "I have to just to go in there and know that I can do it – not just play well but dominate.
"I just want to go out there and play ball. I've been standing on the sidelines this whole season just waiting to play. Now I'm ready to do that."