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Those who know football know the game is won or lost in the trenches, along the line. We start the play and if we are good we finish it. We are the O-Line, we set the examples, we “LEAD FROM THE FRONT.”
– Offensive lineman for the NY Giants, Grey Ruegamer
Despite Pro-Bowl lineman Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph going down early with season-ending injuries, Tampa’s offensive line showed a lot of adversity in 2012; they finished 4th in the NFL in O-Line rankings giving up only 26 sacks while players were forced to move along the line to position they’re not used to.
Going into the 2013 season — cross your fingers, knock on wood and insert your other favorite superstitious rituals — the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are looking at a healthy and intimidating O-Line facing the opposing front lines.
Donald Penn (LT):
Penn has been the anchor and the franchise O-Lineman for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for seven years — drafted by Tampa in 2007. Throughout his Bucs career, Penn has never missed a game. He was elected to the Pro Bowl once in 2010, and after that season, was signed to a six-year $41.7 million dollar deal.
Earlier this offseason, an article from Pewter Report talked about how Donald Penn has a tendency to get lazy. The writer, Mark Cook, went on to say Penn has missed most weight clauses in that six-year deal.
Penn loves playing for the Buccaneers and is one of those locker room guys that coaches love to have, but also has an occasional lazy streak and has failed to meet most of the weight clauses in his most recent contract, which also drives management crazy.
– Pewter Report’s Mark Cook
Well, Donald Penn — who, if you don’t follow on twitter, likes to express himself passionately — had a few words for Mr. Cook
Right now in the best shape I been in a long time stop reporting ******** I made all my weigh in last yr n this yr
– Donald Penn (@DPENN70)
Don’t fret, Bucs fans, Penn will be ready — like he’s always been — come week 1.
Carl Nicks (LG):
In 2012, Nicks was one of three players that made Bucs fans say: “Wait, we signed a big name free agent!?” The Glazer’s, along with GM Mark Dominik, made a promise after the 2011 season that they would do whatever it took to bring a championship culture back to Tampa. Nicks was one of, if not the most, coveted free agent in 2012 after coming off back-to-back Pro Bowls. The Bucs signed the 27-year-old O-Lineman to a five-year $47.5 million dollar contract in hopes of assembling a top-five offensive line. However, those goals seemed to be lost — Tampa actually finished 4th anyways — after Nicks suffered a season-ending toe injury.
Coming into training camp, head coach Greg Schiano expects Nicks to be participating on day one. Though his participation might be limited, it’s a great sign to getting our intended O-Line back on the field.
Jeremy Zuttah (C):
Zuttah is a 27-year-old O-Lineman just coming into his own. In a recent article written by Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller, Miller predicts Zuttah to make the Pro Bowl in 2013. He’s finally able to be solidified in his true position: Center. After signing Zuttah to a four-year $16.3 million dollar deal in 2012, the Bucs showed they have confidence in both Zuttah’s potential and his ability to contribute at an All-Pro level very soon.
Davin Joseph (RG):
Joseph, like Nicks, is coming off a season-ending injury, but also, like Nicks, he is expected to participate in training camp on day one. The two-time Pro Bowler is in the second year of his seven-year $52.5 million dollar deal. He was drafted by Tampa in 2006 and has started 83 of the 84 games he has played in. He has a bit of an injury steak — as all O-Lineman tend to have — but, for the most part, Joseph has been reliable as a player on the field and as a leader in the locker room.
Demar Dotson (RT):
Dotson might be the most unknown of Tampa’s starting offensive lineman, but the undrafted free agent has proven himself worthy of a starting role — at least for the time being. In 2012, he beat out long-time starting RT Jeremy Trueblood mid-season, and because of this, the Bucs signed him to a four-year $4.6 million dollar contract earlier this offseason. This certainly doesn’t solidify his place as a franchise lineman, but it does show that the Bucs have confidence in his abilities to start.
Ted Larsen and Gabe Carimi (OL):
Larsen and Carimi will be the first O-Lineman off the bench for substitutions and fill ins. Though both of these player have a spot on the depth chart — Larsen at C and Carimi and RT — they have the ability to play anywhere on the line. Larsen was a reliable fill in for the injured Nicks and Joseph last season, while Carimi — a former 1st round pick in 2011 — was just acquired this offseason for a late-round pick. With these two healthy and on the roster, it won’t be the end of the world if an unfortunate injury were to happen again.
Football games are won and lost in the trenches, and though all the talk may be on Josh Freeman, even he knows that he can only achieve as much as his offensive line allows him to. Evan Silva, writer for RotoWorld.com, says the Bucs have the 5th ranked offensive line going into 2013. It’s almost expected to see the Bucs name that high on the list after reading some of the contracts they’ve invested in the offensive line. GM Mark Domink has made a commitment to win on the scoreboard and in the record books, but the only way that can happen is if they first win in the trenches; it will be the O-Lineman’s shoulder that carry Tampa to the promise land.