TAMPA — In training camp last year, Jeremy Zuttah was on the move, getting snaps at all five offensive line positions.
Zuttah's versatility has been a huge asset for the Bucs his first four seasons. But he is more than happy to be staying put now, entrenched as the starting center.
"It's just cool to be in one place," Zuttah said. "I'm ready to go."
The Bucs believe Zuttah is a natural fit at center, blending strength, speed and smarts, which is partly why they signed him to a four-year, $16.3 million extension in March and felt comfortable releasing Jeff Faine, their starter for four seasons.
Zuttah, 26, is familiar with the position, making nine of his 44 NFL starts there. He'll have help, and said the best part is having Pro Bowl guards Davin Joseph and Carl Nicks alongside him. Nicks, a 6-foot-5, 343-pound star, signed a five-year free agent deal in the offseason.
"You can go all around the league and you're not going to find two guards like that," Zuttah said. "So I'm going to try to do my part and try to get on the same page with them."
Bucs coach Greg Schiano, who coached Zuttah at Rutgers, said while the Edison, N.J., native isn't the biggest guy at 6-4, 308, he's got the "perfect temperament" to play center, mixing intelligence with toughness.
"He's a strong guy, but there's a lot of strong guys," Schiano said. "He's very intelligent, he can learn things very quickly and grasp concepts. A lot of times, with all the different blitz looks you get in this day and age of football, you really need someone who understands concepts because you're going to get new looks. But if your center can identify and communicate that, it kind of calms everybody else down and that's what we're counting on from Jeremy."
Zuttah, a third-round pick in 2008, impressed teammates by adapting and playing all over the line, much like he did in college. He has 30 starts at left guard, five at right guard and nine at center, filling in for Faine.
"He likes center better than guard, but it's a business and he had to play where he could play," left tackle Donald Penn said. "He did a great job but he feels comfortable at center and I think that'll help us a lot because when you have a guy playing the position he's comfortable with, it's a lot easier."
Said Joseph: "I think it's the right spot for him. He knows the offense really well, and is a real smart guy. He knows all the positions, which makes him even better. I know he'll do well."
Zuttah said having played all the spots will help him anticipate protection schemes, with one of his biggest adjustments trying to get a consistent snap with quarterback Josh Freeman.
"Everyday, coming out here, there's something to work on," Zuttah said. "But it's nice to try to specialize a little bit."
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]