Bucs' Zuttah uses brains and brawn

Jeremy Zuttah (76), participating in drills Wednesday, is listed as the third-string center on 
the Bucs’ depth chart. But the rookie from Rutgers can play guard and tackle as well.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

Jeremy Zuttah (76), participating in drills Wednesday, is listed as the third-string center on the Bucs’ depth chart. But the rookie from Rutgers can play guard and tackle as well.

Rookie offensive lineman Jeremy Zuttah keeps different notebooks in his locker to help him digest the Bucs' complicated offense. One is categorized by practice day, another by formations.

If book smarts alone made good football players, Zuttah, a third-round draft pick, would already be an All-Pro. A Rutgers product who graduated in 3½ years, he turned down offers from Ivy League schools to play Division I-A football.

From the head up, the 22-year-old Zuttah is in a class by himself.

But what has impressed the Bucs most about Zuttah is how he reacts on the field. As a freshman at Rutgers, he played all five positions on the offensive line before settling in at tackle.

He has done the same this preseason, grasping coach Jon Gruden's complicated offense well enough to know each piece of the offensive line chess game and how it works.

"He plays the game one step at a time," Gruden said. "He doesn't get flustered and come unglued when something bad happens. Normally in a game, something bad is going to happen.

"He has shown tremendous poise. You're a rookie. You come in here from college. And you're playing tackle; and you're moving to center; and then you're right guard; and then you're left guard. You're going up against this defense and the multiplicity that they have. We're audibling. We're changing plays."

Zuttah, who played in his first pro game in the opening victory against Miami on Aug. 9, is listed as a 6-foot-4, 303-pound third-string center. Lauded early in training camp, he hasn't caught the Bucs off guard with his emergence.

"There would be disappointment if he didn't do as well," offensive line coach Bill Muir said. "We scouted him well. Some guys are robotic. He just gets it. Don't send him to (the Hall of Fame) yet. But for right now, the arrow is pointing in the right direction."

Zuttah is realistic. From the first day of college, books had just as much value as football. He knows firsthand how the game can be taken away. Older brother Jeffrey had a scholarship to Michigan but lost it when he failed the introductory physical because he has sickle cell anemia. Jeffrey, instead, earned a degree from Stanford.

"He will probably make more money than me," Zuttah said.

Still, for now, every day there's a new page in the notebooks. He will go over them regularly just as he did while earning a degree in economics.

Class is still in session.

"I definitely haven't mastered it yet," Zuttah said. "I know that's one of the things that separates people in the NFL, how they are from the neck up. I'm just trying to focus on that aspect a lot because everybody is physically talented. So that's what's going to separate you from the next man."

>>Up next

Bucs vs. Patriots

8 p.m. Sunday, Raymond James Stadium, Tampa

TV/radio: Ch. 38, NFL Network; 620-AM, 103.5-FM

Griese to start at QB, 3C

>>Fast facts

Jeremy Zuttah

Position: Offensive lineman

Height/weight: 6 feet 4, 303 pounds

Acquired: 2008 third-round pick (83rd overall) out of Rutgers

Highlights: Four-year starter anchored the offensive line with 28 straight starts at right tackle. … Did not allow a sack as Scarlet Knights ranked second in Division I-A in 2007 and first in 2006 in fewest sacks allowed. … Went 698 pass plays without allowing a sack.

Bucs' Zuttah uses brains and brawn 08/15/08 [Last modified: Monday, August 18, 2008 11:58am]

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