When you begin every play with your hand in the dirt, it doesn't take much to get your reputation soiled. Just ask tackle Jeremy Trueblood, the enforcer on a Bucs offensive line that is becoming the talk of the NFL. Last week, Trueblood was fined $5,000 for punching Bears defensive end Adewale Ogunleye during an altercation in overtime. He wasn't penalized on the play, but it was the sixth time the league has confiscated money from him for inappropriate conduct. What torques Trueblood is that he was reacting to an unidentified Bears player who grabbed him in the groin, the subterranean stuff that isn't supposed to happen in pileups. "It's the eye-gouging, the crotch-grabbing, there's some punching going on the side," Trueblood said. "Twisting ankles. I remember right when I was leaving college being on the bottom of the pile and getting my ankle twisted, like somebody was trying to snap it. (Stuff) like that goes on all the time. Ever since that's happened to me, I've done it myself. "But I've never, ever grabbed anyone by the crotch, and that's why (Sunday) I freaked out."
He is not alone.
Tackle Donald Penn was fined $5,000 for unnecessary roughness against the Bears. In fact, the Bucs have 221 yards in penalties this season, third in the league behind the Packers — who visit Raymond James Stadium today — and Cowboys. Three personal fouls have been called in three games on the offensive line, including two on Trueblood.
"I think games might be watched a little closer," center Jeff Faine said. "That's just part of it. I don't necessarily think we're a dirty group. I don't think we're cheap-shot artists or anything. We're just guys who play hard, who play to the whistle, and sometimes it goes a little after the whistle. We're not taking shots to end guys' careers.
"But I definitely love the idea that defensive lines are complaining about our play."
Dirty or not, the Bucs offensive line is also getting noticed because of its talent and tenacity. Against the Bears, quarterback Brian Griese attempted a club-record 67 passes — without being sacked.
On the ground, the Bucs average 5.5 yards per carry — second in the NFL — and they boast the seventh-ranked offense in the league at 372.3 yards per game.
"We don't want anybody to play dirty," coach Jon Gruden said. "We've already made a big issue here with the penalties. This is a hard game, okay? We're not playing chess. It's hard to block these guys when they're in the gaps every play blitzing. They just don't turn their back and let you block them. So you've got to be a physical man to be here. You talk to Trueblood and Faine and (Davin) Joseph and tell them to cool it. They won't listen to you. They're physical guys, and they like to play the game."
It's a common thread of nastiness that the Bucs looked for when building their offensive line with high draft picks such as Joseph (first round in 2006), Trueblood (second in '06) and guard Arron Sears (second in '07). This year they added guard Jeremy Zuttah (third round) and made Faine, a free agent from the Saints, the highest-paid center in the game. Faine is the oldest of the bunch at 27.
"Faine says we're all cut from the same mold," Trueblood said. "But I see myself and him very similar — just how nasty we are. We just want to get physical. It's not that you just want to block. You want to knock the guy over. Blocking isn't enough. Sears is like that, and Penn is like that.
"Davin is probably the most mild-mannered of all of us. But if you (tick) him off, he's the one person you don't want to mess with. If he gets angry, he's the one person that's probably a little scary. When I think of Davin, I think of a mauler in the run game. If you want a yard, just go right behind his (butt)."
Together, they're as much fun as watching a demolition derby or monster trucks. The 6-foot-8 Trueblood says he doesn't understand why he is considered the enforcer, but he doesn't seem to mind it, either.
"It's a mutual respect line that I try to tiptoe every week," Trueblood said. "I try to be respectful, but every once in awhile, tempers flare. Every other Sunday, it seems like someone's getting a little chippy. But it's a game that's meant to be physical. If we're going to run around here and not hit each other, we wouldn't wear pads. That's the way I look at it."
The patriarch of the unit is offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Bill Muir, who is in his 31st NFL season. He's an old-school teacher who worked seven seasons under Bill Parcells with the Jets. And no, he says, he doesn't teach his linemen to play "dirty."
"If you want to take a cheap shot at somebody, that ain't being tough," Muir said. "And as hard as it is, we tell them, 'Hey, don't retaliate because that's the guy who gets caught.' Let's be honest, there are other ways to retaliate less conspicuously."
Defensive tackle Chris Hovan, who had some epic dustups with Faine when the center was in New Orleans, likes what he sees from Tampa Bay's nasty boys. He insists the group gets its attitude from Faine and that filters down from there.
"It's a nasty line, and I think it all starts with Jeff," Hovan said. "He brings that mentality. He's got his two henchmen with Sears and Joseph. Then he's got the freakin' twin towers on the outside. I guess everybody has a role on this offensive line. But they're up-and-coming. They're putting it on tape every week. They're physical as hell.
"Obviously, Chicago was getting frustrated because they couldn't get the job done. When you can't get the job done, you either accept defeat or you start making excuses. Chicago did the latter."
Sunday, September 28, 2008, Section C
Bucs "dirty"? Packers don't say so, but they'll be ready — and wary. 13C