Tough to rate the Bucs' offensive line
The Bucs feel like the offensive line took a few steps forward this season. At times, it was hard to argue with that sentiment. But, on other occasions, the unit's performance was lackluster.
We're left to try and decipher what exactly this group is: A strength of the team or a group that needs to be re-evaluated?
Here's why this isn't a cut-and-dried debate. For one, their run blocking is difficult to assess because the Bucs lost their most productive running back, Earnest Graham, halfway through the season. In his absence, the running game was clearly not the same, which perhaps should have been expected. But there were days when there seemed to be practically nowhere for Warrick Dunn and Cadillac Williams to run during the latter part of the season. Such moments seemed to prompt coach Jon Gruden to give up on the running game prematurely, so maybe we can't get a true read of the line's performance in that regard.
In pass protection, it was sometimes an adventure. Yes, there were games like the September contest at Chicago in which the Bucs did not allow a sack despite making a remarkable 67 pass attempts. Tampa Bay yielded 32 sacks, which ranks 16th in the league -- not special, but not terrible, either.
And, yes, QB Jeff Garcia's inability to work comfortably in the pocket certainly complicates the task of protecting him. But Garcia's style also helped him avoid countless other sacks, making this effort to analyze the pass protection trickier.
So, in the end, there's probably no consensus on the play of Donald Penn, Arron Sears, Jeff Faine, Davin Joseph and Jeremy Trueblood. The guess here is the Bucs do all they can to keep this group together (Penn is a restricted free agent) with hopes it grows and improves together.