TAMPA — Two events in the past week highlighted the best and worst of the Bucs' attempts to build an offensive line.
G Davin Joseph, their first-round pick in 2006, broke his right foot against the Patriots on Sunday.
"You feel bad for Davin because he's really on the cusp of becoming a dominant player in this league," offensive line coach Bill Muir said.
Fortunately for the Bucs, they have done a creditable job of using high draft picks on offensive linemen who could play sooner rather than later: Joseph, T Jeremy Trueblood (second round 2006) and G Arron Sears (second, '07).
They also made Saints free agent Jeff Faine, 27, the highest-paid center in NFL history, signing him to a six-year, $37.5-million deal in March.
No wonder more than a few eyebrows raised when the Bucs used their third-round pick this year on Rutgers G/C Jeremy Zuttah, even though they appeared to have a logjam of interior linemen.
Zuttah, however, will start at right guard, replacing Joseph, who could miss the first month of the regular season.
The other event was less flattering.
T Luke Petitgout, 32, was released Aug. 16 after spending training camp on the physically unable to perform list. A day later, he was informed he would be suspended for four games for violating the NFL's steroid policy.
Petitgout, who signed a three-year, $15-million contract that included a $3-million signing bonus in '07, played in just four regular-season games last season before tearing his ACL.
The timing of the release was no coincidence. The Bucs no doubt were aware of the impending penalty.
Petitgout highlights the list of failures with veteran free-agent offensive linemen, including T Derrick Deese, T Todd Steussie, G Matt Stinchcomb, T Jason Whittle, T Torrin Tucker and G/C Matt Lehr.
If there is a lesson in these examples, it's this: stay away from free-agent offensive linemen unless they are young and ascending like Faine; and utilize high draft choices to stockpile offensive linemen. The Bucs haven't had much luck in the middle rounds at those positions, however, as evidenced by Jeb Terry (fifth, '04) and Chris Colmer (third, '05) to name two.
It's the second time in three years Joseph will miss the opener. He sprained his knee as a rookie. But at least the Bucs won't have to rely on a broken-down veteran.
"That's the nature of the business," Muir said. "One man goes down, another man has got to take his place."
Rick Stroud can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.