Bucs offensive line looking to get back to basics
Given the Bucs' uninspiring running game and problems protecting the quarterbacks last season, it's fair to take a hard look at the offensive line and what, if anything, could be done differently this fall.
Remember, this was supposed to be a stout offensive line that was to be among the best the Bucs had ever assembled. With two first-round picks (Davin Joseph and Jeff Faine), a second-round pick (Jeremy Trueblood) and one of the better left tackles in the league (Donald Penn), the expectations have justifiably been high.
The unit's play was way too uneven last season, and if the Bucs are going to make a significant improvement in 2010, the offensive line has to be much better -- particularly as it relates to running the football.
But in fairness, the performance of the line in 2009 wasn't totally a product of sub-par play. The linemen were done a disservice by their coaching staff and were left to deal with a change in offensive coordinator that resulted in a philosophical shift.
Under Jon Gruden, the Bucs were a power running team and they built their line accordingly. The members of that line are still here, but fired offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski changed to a zone-blocking scheme that requires more athleticism and agility. When he was relieved of his duties and Greg Olson took over, the Bucs used a combination of zone blocking and man-to-man tactics.
I asked Joseph last week whether he'd like to see the team get back to a power running game, which is certainly his strength. He seemed to be glad the question was asked.
"I hope to," he said. "I hope to get some more inside runs, more isolations, more power plays. With our backfield, it makes sense. Earnest (Graham) and Cadillac (Williams) are guys who can really run between the tackles. It would make sense to keep those guys between the tackles. And of course (we need) a change of pace with all the guys we have in here now and get some outside runs. Of course (Derrick) Ward can do it. That will definitely help."
To elaborate on what Joseph said there, Williams' and Graham's best seasons came under Gruden, when the Bucs were strictly a power running team.
But more than anything, consistency will make a difference. It might look like offensive linemen simply line up and collide into the man in front of them on each play, but really, the position is among the most complex in the sport. There are a million variables on each play and there is a great deal of communication that has to take place before each snap. When the language and the playbook change a week before the regular season, the quarterback and linemen are affected most.
"When you’re put in a position where you’re trying to figure things out on the run, it caught up with us," Joseph said. "Then you change philosophies and you’re trying to change things week after week after week. It’s different when you have a set plan and you start from March to August than when you have one week to prepare. There’s only so much you can do in a week. Now we’re starting with a solid plan in March and we’re going to take that all the way through to December. It makes things a lot easier for everybody. Backups, starters, the quarterback – everybody."
And you'll be glad to know that the linemen have been working diligently in the weight room to put on muscle. It's not necessarily an effort to gain weight, although Joseph is up a bit from last season. In any event, he looks massive -- in a good way.
"We're working on explosion and overall conditioning," he said.
If coaches will play to the strengths of these linemen -- and it appears they are -- maybe this is the season we can finally judge this offensive line fairly.