The ten-game losing skid that concluded the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2011 season offered many a problem area for the organization to address in the offseason. The media and fans alike were quick to mention the porous secondary and the lack of separation by the receiving corps. Others noted the inconsistency of the backfield and linebackers.
The one unit often overlooked this winter has been the offensive line. That is, except by the team itself. General manager Mark Dominik and new head coach Greg Schiano went right to work on the line. With the team expected to rely on a downhill running attack, Dominik re-signed the versatile Jeremy Zuttah and brought in the most sought after lineman in this year’s free agent class, guard Carl Nicks. Center Jeff Faine, the pricey, veteran center appeared to be too expensive for his level of performance and was finally released Wednesday afternoon.
After the dust cleared, the Bucs stand with the strongest offensive line in the NFC South, if not the entire conference.
Nicks is undoubtedly among the top handful of guards in the league. His counterpart, Davin Joseph, is also among the league’s best. Both players dominate the line of scrimmage in the running game. According to statistics from NFL.com, the Bucs ran predominantly behind the right side (where Joseph resides). The same could be said for the Saints (with Nicks), just on the left side. It also works out well that Nicks is a left guard and Joseph is used to the right side. The duo should be one of the league’s best.
“Me and Davin Joseph are both physical guys and make blocks,” Nicks observed. “That's how we live.”
Zuttah, who re-upped with the team prior to the beginning of free agency, spent time at guard, center, and tackle in his NFL career. Now, with the release of Faine, Zuttah will be expected to take over the duties at center. Zuttah has been a solid, steady contributor on the line and his move to the middle of the line should cause little stir.
At tackle, Donald Penn has shown glimpses of becoming an elite NFL tackle. But over the span of the season’s last eight games of ’11, Penn looked like a player ready for the offseason. Hopefully, the new coaching staff will find Penn’s strike to succeed again. If so, the left tackle position should be of little worry for the Bucs.
The one question mark on the line is right tackle Jeremy Trueblood. Trueblood is a worker but is often beaten by more athletic players on the defensive side of the ball. The addition of Nicks and the shift of Zuttah to center should make Trueblood a considerably better player, and perhaps extend his shelf life with the organization.
One thing is certain; the Bucs have spent heavily on the line over the past three offseasons. The combined value of the Penn, Nicks, Zuttah, Joseph, and Trueblood deals is $168 million.
Now with a coaching staff committed to a power running game and a really talented new teammate, it is time for the line to shine.
Last season, the Bucs finished 32ndin the NFL in rushing yards; the only way up is up.
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