TAMPA — To understand how Patrick Omameh is making a name for himself as the player to beat at right guard for the Bucs, just listen to his head coach.
Lovie Smith's praise of the second-year lineman hasn't changed since Saturday's preseason game, but his pronunciation of the 24-year-old's last name has evolved.
Sunday, it was uh-MOH-me. Monday, it was oh-MOH-may, and the coach stopped himself.
"First off, I need to figure out how to pronounce everyone's name," said Smith, repeating it correctly — oh-MAH-may — as he praised the son of Nigerian immigrants.
In a guard competition that has changed direction several times, Omameh is an unexpected leader. He lacks the experience of Jamon Meredith — now relegated to second-string tackle — or the investment placed by the Bucs in fifth-round draft pick Kadeem Edwards, now battling for a backup role.
But ask teammates about Omameh, and they see intelligence — he was recruited out of high school by MIT and Princeton — and strength, having added 50 pounds to his frame in his five years at Michigan.
"He's always been strong. Crazy strong," said his college quarterback and current Jaguar Denard Robinson, happy to see Omameh after the teams met Aug. 8. "He's going to be one of the smartest guys on the team, and he's going to battle his tail off. He'll fight 'til he can't fight anymore. He empties his tank out there."
Omameh, pulled out of Columbus, Ohio, by the rival Wolverines, start 41 consecutive games at right guard at Michigan. He wasn't drafted last year and was among the 49ers' final cuts, then spent a month on their practice squad before the Bucs grabbed him in October. He didn't play, only dressing out for one game.
"Pat has earned every opportunity he's gotten," right tackle Demar Dotson said. "He comes in here and works every day. He's a physical, smart young guy that deserves the opportunity. He makes the right calls, plays physically and plays hard."
Omameh stepped in at right guard Saturday against Miami and the line was much improved. He'll need to repeat that Saturday in what should be a longer showing at Buffalo, but right guard is a position that has become very natural for the 6-foot-4, 304-pounder.
"A lot of things are body-learned, are instinctual when it comes to playing a certain position," Omameh said. "There's a comfort level with reaction that's ingrained after you spend a certain amount of time doing one thing. It's a position I've definitely grown comfortable with."
In the offseason, Omameh trained in Arizona with former Saints center LeCharles Bentley, a two-time Pro Bowl player who runs an "O-Line Performance" facility, catering specifically to NFL offensive linemen. Omameh left stronger, but just as important, improved his technique by working with a committed group of about 25 linemen.
"I feel better physically, better as far as having a conceptual understanding of the game," Omameh said. "I feel it's a great advantage to work with somebody who knows the game and has played the game at such an elite level. It steered me in the right direction."
With uncertainty about the Bucs' guard play, there has been speculation Tampa Bay might try to trade for 49ers holdout Alex Boone, San Francisco's starting right guard the past two seasons. As it turns out, Boone and Omameh are close friends and even worked out together this offseason — Boone's emergence in San Francisco last summer is a reason why Omameh was released, and why he's with the Bucs now.
For now, the Bucs are moving forward with optimism about the guards they have, and Omameh is making a solid impression on the rest of the line.
"He goes about it as a professional," Bucs center Evan Dietrich-Smith said. "Pat's kind of a quiet guy. He's strong, a lot more athletic than people probably give him credit for. He does a lot of good things. He's smart out there, doesn't really make too many mistakes. … Every guy has something that we can clean up a little bit, and we'll be working on that coming into this third game, to go out and have another good showing."
Contact Greg Auman at email@example.com and (813) 226-3346. Follow @gregauman.