Jeremy Zuttah played tackle last year at Rutgers but could figure into the Bucs' O-line plans almost anywhere
At the end of the 2007 season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offensive line had the youngest average age of any starting front in the NFL – 25 years and 331 days.
Donald Penn, Davin Joseph, Aaron Sears and Jeremy Trueblood were all finishing either their first or second year in the league, and only veteran center John Wade, who was in his 10th year, had a significant amount of NFL experience.
Somehow, the Bucs have gotten even younger – and, they believe, better – along the line since the end of 2007. The first move in that direction occurred when Wade departed as a free agent and six-year veteran Jeff Faine, formerly of the New Orleans Saints, signed on with the Bucs to replace him.
Yes, 10-year veteran left tackle Luke Petitgout will be returning from the knee injury that cost him most of the 2007 season, and that obviously adds a wealth of experience to the line. But, on the other hand, the Bucs have also added another youthful cog to the offensive line unit in the form of Rutgers' Jeremy Zuttah.
The Bucs took Zuttah with their third-round pick on Sunday, the 83rd selection overall, and they believe he can step in and immediately provide depth and versatility at a number of spots along the offensive line.
In fact, the youthful nature of the Bucs' offensive front was one of the main topics of discussion between Zuttah and his new coaches, and he's excited to be a part of the Bucs' efforts to construct a dominant and long-lasting line.
"Coach [Jon] Gruden and Coach [Bill] Muir told me that they have a very young offensive line right now, a lot of guys that are familiar to me from the college football ranks, guys like Arron Sears and Jeff Faine," said Zuttah. "It is good to have everybody young and everybody on the same page. We will grow up together and mature together in the league, and hopefully come together as a solid unit."
While at Rutgers, Zuttah saw action in 31 games and made 27 starts, splitting between tackle and guard. He said the position he lined up at was often based on where he was needed most, but that he had no issues filling in anywhere, just as long as he could help out his squad.
"At Rutgers, there were a couple of years where we just would find the best four other offensive linemen and I would plug myself into the last spot, whichever spot was open," Zuttah said. "Whatever is best for the team, I am willing to do."
Although the Bucs obviously will hope for an injury-free season, Zuttah's experience at multiple positions could allow him to fill in almost anywhere along the line – in short or long-term relief – in the event of an injury. In the long run, although plenty of time will pass before the depth chart is finalized this year, Zuttah said he envisions himself playing guard.
"I think I will probably be an inside [lineman]," Zuttah said. "They have a lot of young linemen, a lot of people playing a lot of different positions. I think one of the things they liked about me was my versatility, so nothing is set in stone, [but] I think right now it is likely I will be inside."
Another trait Zuttah believes helped land him in Tampa is his intensity.
"I am physical," Zuttah said. "With offensive linemen you are not going to find too many guys who describe themselves as finesse guys. I am very athletic, but I think when it gets down to it, I like to be a very physical, in-your-face player."
Zuttah also described himself as a balanced lineman, equally adept at blocking for both phases of the offensive game, and the statistics he quoted provide solid evidence for that claim.
"We ran the ball a lot [at Rutgers] but our offense was very balanced," Zuttah said. "Ray [Rice] had 2,000 yards running but we also had two 1,000-yard receivers, so obviously it was very balanced. We took pride in doing both things. We were second in the nation in [fewest] sacks [allowed] this year and first last year, so I think I am prepared to go to the next level."
As the draft came to a close and he was able to reflect on the experience, Zuttah said he was excited to begin his career and pewter and red and felt confident he could make an impact sooner rather than later.
"I hope to play as soon as possible," Zuttah said. "From my combine numbers, I am very physically mature, even though I am only 21 years old. I am strong, I am fast, I think I am physically ready; it's just a matter of how fast I can learn the system."