TAMPA — Nobody is asking him to fill Davin Joseph's cleats. Just follow the footprints.
That is the next step for rookie Jeremy Zuttah, who will replace the Bucs' starting right guard in Saturday's preseason game against Jacksonville.
Joseph is expected to miss 4-8 weeks with a broken right foot. But the team has been down this road before.
Three of the five starting offensive linemen were drafted with the idea of playing significantly as rookies.
Zuttah, a third-round pick from Rutgers, finds himself in a situation that rings familiar with Joseph, tackle Jeremy Trueblood and left guard Arron Sears.
"They weren't going to be on the vine and ripen," offensive line coach Bill Muir said. "They all had characteristics in their background to indicate (starting early) was a realistic anticipation.
"I can tell you Jeremy Zuttah was well-researched. Rutgers may not be an Oklahoma or Tennessee in terms of football tradition, but they certainly do a good job in their program. If we have to go with another young man, he fits the same mold of what's gone before him and our expectations aren't any less."
Zuttah, 22, was primarily a right tackle at the Big East school, where he started 28 consecutive games. He has been alternating at guard and center since being drafted.
Veteran Dan Buenning also could move from center to right guard.
Wednesday, the Bucs signed guard Phil Bogle, who had brief stints with the team in 2005-06 but never played in a regular-season game.
But the plan is to get Zuttah ready for the regular-season opener Sept. 7 at New Orleans.
"It's definitely exciting," Zuttah said. "You never know when it's going to come. If you're not ready when it comes, it may never come again."
It's the second time in three seasons Joseph is expected to miss the opener. The team's first-round pick in 2006 was sidelined his first three games with a knee injury.
Joseph, 24, was dominant in Sunday's 27-10 win over the Patriots before he was injured late in the second quarter. He helped the Bucs rush for 114 yards and a touchdown in the first half.
Gruden said Joseph was injured on a basic power running play when a defender landed on his right foot.
"We're confident in the guys we have. We're also going to miss our team captain here, temporarily," Gruden said. "But the good news is that it's not a serious injury that's going to inhibit him or his career.
"I'm sick for Davin Joseph. He's one of the ringleaders on this football team. I'm also confident that we have the stuff to pick up the slack while he's getting himself ready to play."
The fact that Zuttah, 6 feet 4, 303 pounds, has been working at center should be a plus. He has learned to recognize defensive fronts and make protection calls.
"It's rough. It's a lot of pressure for someone, especially if you don't see it coming," Trueblood said. "The same thing happened to me. I didn't think I was going to be starting and the next thing I know, I'm in there. I can't definitely sympathize with what he's going through.
"I think if he keeps preparing the way he is right now. … He's going out here every day and working his tail off, and you can just tell how focused he is. If he keeps on doing that, he'll do just fine."
Rick Stroud can be reached at stroud @sptimes.com.